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Homeowner Damage Control – Homeowners can prevent losses and paperwork hassles by running interference on common claims.


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Prevent losses and paperwork hassles by running interference on these common claims:

  • Burst washing-machine hose
  • Slow leak around tub/shower grout and edges
  • Toilet-seal leaks
  • Refrigerator water-supply line leaks
  • Roof leaks
  • Chimney/fireplace fires
  • Hot water-tank leaks
  • Electrical-cord fires
  • Unattended cooking or candle fires
  • Garage door-opener theft

Doing it Yourself


Among the costliest of the claims are burst washing machine hoses, which along with refrigerator and hot water tank leaks, account for millions in claims. Rubber hoses on many washing machines eventually leak, and water damage often goes undetected, particularly since the laundry room is usually in a low-traffic area of the house. Anytime you get water into carpeting, walls, any type of material that absorbs water, you have the makings of a catastrophic problem. Anything related to water could lead to consequential problems with mold.

Replacing rubber hoses with steel-encased hoses also eliminates the need to change rubber hoses every three years. Leaks around the tub can lead to water-saturated walls or floors, which often aren’t covered by insurance. That’s why recaulking once a year is suggested. Once you’ve cleaned out old caulk, we recommend wiping down the tub with 10 percent bleach solution to kill any mildew that’s behind it. Homeowners who neglect bathroom water seal problems typically set themselves up for pricier, more extensive fixes. A telltale sign of toilet seal leaks is water that gathers around the base, Replacing the flap at the bottom of the tank is cheap and easy.

Maintain Pipes – Wrap pipes with heating tape and insulate unfinished rooms such as garages that frequently have exposed pipes. Also, check for cracks and leaks. Have them repaired immediately to prevent much costlier repairs.

If your hot water heater is getting up there in years, it’s especially important to check for leaks and rust. Turning off the water supply valve before weekend getaways can reduce the wear and tear.

Keep the house warm – The temperature in your house should be at least 65 degrees. The temperature inside the walls where the pipes are located is substantially colder than the walls themselves. A temperature lower than 65 degrees will not keep the pipes from freezing.

Fridge and roof leak fixes – In the kitchen, refrigerators often leak from their water-supply lines. Plastic ones also can become brittle. Inspecting metal lines for leaks and crimps and replacing damaged plastic ones can cut down on the risk.

The roof and attic should be inspected annually. Homeowners also can stave off roof leaks that result in spots on the ceiling or upturned shingles by cleaning gutters regularly and inspecting the flashing that’s used to seal penetrations such as chimneys and skylights.

Remove leaves, acorns, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming — a condition where water is unable to properly drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls. You may also consider installing “gutter guards.” Available in most hardware and home stores, gutter guards are screens that prevent debris from entering the gutter and direct the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

Trim trees and remove dead branches – Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break – damaging your home, car or injuring someone walking on your property.

Fire and burglary prevention – As for fire prevention, homeowners can cut the risk by rerouting electrical cords from under throw rugs and high-traffic areas. Checking for overloaded outlets and contact with baseboard heaters is also wise. Cords that are designed to connect lamps and things like that are not rated for abrasion resistance.

Checking for unattended cooking or candle fires is another no-brainer fix that’s especially important around flammable holiday decorations. One solution is to place accent candles in a fireplace.

Lastly, thieves often find garage door openers tucked away on the driver’s side visor or in the door pockets, allowing them entry into the house. Investing in a garage door opener that functions electronically similar to a key can stem that risk. Along with common sense, devices with rolling code technology can enhance security and mitigate losses.

Check heating systems – The proper use and maintenance of furnaces, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can prevent fire and smoke damage. Have furnaces, boilers and chimneys serviced at least once a year. Make sure that smoke and fire alarms are working properly and consider installing a carbon dioxide detector.

Consumers can prevent chimney and fireplace fires by having the debris cleaned from the flue annually and only burning dried hard wood such as oak, maple or ash. When you have a metal fireplace, they tend to burn cooler than a brick fireplace, so there’s more condensation and faster buildup of wax on chimney liner and it’s harder to clean. A common rule of thumb is to clean the fireplace once per cord of wood burned.

Make sure steps and handrails are in good shape – Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice. Make repairs now to prevent someone from falling and seriously being injured.

Get to know your plumbing – Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The quicker you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have to prevent the pipes from bursting.

Hire a licensed contractor – Have a professional survey your home for any structural damage. If damage is discovered, have it repaired immediately so further damage will not occur during the winter. Also, find out about ways to prevent water damage due to snow-related flooding. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump-pumps and other methods can prevent damage to your home and belongings.

Take special care if you plan to be away from home – If you are not going to be in your home this winter for an extended period of time, have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting. Also, hire someone to check on your home on a regular basis. If there is a problem, it can be fixed quickly — lessening any damage. Activity at your home will also reduce the likelihood that it will be burglarized.

Standard homeowners policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice dams, wind damage caused by weight of ice or snow.

Damage to homes caused by flooding is usually excluded from most standard homeowner policies. Flood insurance is available from the National Flood Insurance Program. Ask your insurance professional about flood insurance, as well as specific advice about winter-proofing your home.

How Can I Save Money?


The price you pay for your homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the size of your house and the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some ways to save money:

  1. Shop around
    Prices vary from company to company, so it pays to shop around. Get at least three price quotes. You can call companies directly or access information on the Internet. Visit the DOI’s Online Rate Comparison site where you can shop for health, home, or auto insurance.
    You buy insurance to protect you financially and provide peace of mind. It’s important to pick a company that is financially stable. Check the financial health of insurance companies with rating companies such as A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s Rating Service and consult consumer magazines.
    Get quotes from different types of insurance companies. Some sell through their own agents. These agencies have the same name as the insurance company. Some sell through independent agents who offer policies from several insurance companies. Others do not use agents. They sell directly to consumers over the phone or via the Internet.
    But don’t shop price alone. You want a company that answers your questions and handles claims fairly and efficiently. Ask friends and relatives for their recommendations. Contact your state insurance department to find out whether they make available consumer complaint ratios by company. Select an agent or company representative that takes the time to answer your questions. Remember, you’ll be dealing with this company if you have an accident or other emergency.
  2. Raise your deductible
    A deductible is the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim. The higher your deductible, the more money you save on your premium. Consider a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise it to $1,000, you may save as much as 25%.
    If you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for damage from major disasters. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible, if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail, and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.
  3. Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer
    Most companies that sell homeowners insurance also sell auto and umbrella liability insurance. (An umbrella liability policy will give you extra liability coverage.) Some insurance companies will reduce your premium by 5% to 15% if you buy two or more insurance policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying coverages from different companies.
  4. Make your home more disaster-resistant
    Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what you can do to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters and shatter-proof glass, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes. In addition, consider modernizing your heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage.
  5. Don’t confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs
    The land under your house isn’t at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don’t include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy. If you do, you’ll pay a higher premium than you should.
  6. Ask about discounts for home security devices
    You can usually get discounts of at least 5% for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies may cut your premiums by as much as 15% or 20% if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. These systems aren’t cheap and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy one, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost and how much you’d save on premiums.
  7. Seek out other discounts
    Many companies offer discounts, but they don’t all offer the same discount or the same amount of discount in all states. Ask your agent or company representative about discounts available to you. For example, if you’re at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10% at some companies. If you’ve completely modernized your plumbing or electrical system recently, some companies may also provide a price break.
  8. See if you can get group coverage
    Does your employer administer a group insurance program? Check to see if a homeowners policy is available and is a better deal than you can find elsewhere. In addition, professional, alumni and business groups may offer an insurance package at a reduced price.
  9. Stay with the same insurer
    If you’ve been insured with the same company for several years, you may receive a discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce premiums by 5% if you stay with them for three-to-five years and by 10% if you’re a policyholder for six years or more. To ensure you’re getting a good deal, periodically compare this price with the prices of policies from other insurers.
  10. Review policy limits and the value of your possessions annually
    You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don’t want to spend money for coverage you don’t need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you’ll want to reduce or cancel your floater (extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners policies) and pocket the difference.
  11. Look for private insurance if you are in a government plan
    If you live in a high-risk area — one that is especially vulnerable to coastal storms, fires, or crime — and you’ve been buying your homeowners insurance through a government plan, find out from insurance agents, company representatives or your state department of insurance which insurance companies might be interested in your business. You may find there are steps you can take that will allow you to buy insurance at a lower price in the private market.
  12. When you’re buying a home, consider the cost of homeowners insurance
    The price you pay for homeowners insurance depends in part on the cost of rebuilding your home and the likelihood that it will be damaged by natural disasters or burn down. You may pay less if you buy a house close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional rather than a volunteer fire department. It may also be cheaper if your home’s electrical, heating and plumbing systems are less than 10 years old. If you live in the East, consider a brick home because it’s more wind-resistant. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, look for a wooden frame house because it is more likely to withstand this type of disaster. Choosing wisely could cut your premiums by 5% to 15%.
    Remember that flood insurance and earthquake damage are not covered by a standard homeowners policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you’ll have to pay for a flood insurance policy that costs an average of $400 a year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at www.fema.gov/nfip . A separate earthquake policy is available from most insurance companies. The cost of the coverage will depend on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area and the construction features.
    If you have questions about insurance for any of your possessions, be sure to ask your agent or company representative. For example, if you run a business out of your home, be sure you have adequate coverage. Most homeowners policies cover business equipment in the home, but only up to $2,500 and they offer no business liability insurance.

What Constitutes High Risk?


  • If your home is located in an area prone to severe weather such as hurricanes, windstorms, tornadoes or hail.
  • If you live in an urban area with high crime, vandalism and theft.
  • If your home has an old plumbing, electrical and/or heating system, because these pose a higher chance of causing fire or water damage.

If one or two insurers turn you down, don’t despair. You do have other options. If you are buying a new home, ask the real estate agent, mortgage lender or builder for names of companies that write in your area. If it’s an existing home, find out from the previous owners who insured the house.

Contacts


Call the Delaware Insurance Department at (800) 282-8611. We can generally provide you with a list of insurers or consult the yellow pages for an agent or company that write in your area.

If you still can’t get insurance, check out the Delaware Insurance Fair Plan web site or call (800) 462-4972. Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plans were created in the 1960s to make insurance available in areas that had abnormally high exposure to risks over which they had no control. These plans are insurance pools that sell property insurance to people who can’t get coverage in the voluntary market.

FAIR Plan policies may cost more than private insurance and may offer less coverage, but they offer insurance protection where none would otherwise exist. All FAIR Plans cover losses due to fire, vandalism, riot and windstorm. About a dozen states have some form of a standard homeowners policy, which includes liability. In California, the Plan covers brush fires. Georgia and New York provide wind and hail coverage for certain coastal communities.

In order to qualify for FAIR Plan coverage, you must make improvements that limit the risk of fire, theft or water damage, such as upgrading your electrical wiring, heating or plumbing systems, repairing your roof or improving security. If you do not correct conditions that make your home prone to losses, the FAIR Plan administrator has the right to deny insurance coverage.


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