Hurricane damage & insurance: what you need to know

As those on the East Coast dig out from under the mess caused by Hurricane Irene, many will be reaching out to their insurance agents to discuss and make claims. We thought it might be helpful to outline the kind of damage that is typically covered by different insurance policies (home, car, flood).

What kind of storm damage is typically covered by homeowner’s insurance?

Typically, your homeowner’s insurance will cover the damage (less the deductible) to your house caused by fallen trees or limbs. It will also probably cover the cost of removing the damaged trees & limbs (up to $500 or $1,000 depending on your policy). And should your house be uninhabitable, it will also cover “reasonable living expenses” – just be sure to check with your insurance agent to see what is “reasonable” before booking your room at the Four Seasons.

A lot of communities experienced flooding caused by swollen rivers and tidal surges. If I experienced flooding in my basement or ground floor, is that covered by my homeowner’s insurance?

When it comes to water damage, insurance policy holders need to pay careful attention to the source of the damage. If your roof sustained wind damage and water leaked in because of that – it will be covered by your homeowner’s policy. Ditto if rain seeps into your house because of damaged or overwhelmed gutters and causes damage to the walls and/or ceilings .

However, any water that comes from flooding is not covered by standard homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies. For that, you will need flood insurance provided by the Federal Government.

If I don’t currently have it, how do I apply for flood insurance so I am covered in the future?

Because floods are typically confined to a few geographic areas, fewer people apply for flood insurance and insurance companies lack a large enough base to cover their costs. In response to this, the federal government stepped in with the National Flood Insurance Program.

According to

In 1968, Congress created the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves in the event of a flood. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP.

Homeowners can also supplement the basic building insurance you get through the government. Companies like Allstate offer comprehensive contents coverage, which ensures items like your washer/dryer, carpet, and furniture are covered in the event of a flood.

What happens if a car was badly damaged – either by falling trees/debris or by water?

If your car was damaged by a falling tree or limb OR by the flooding, you should file a claim under the optional comprehensive portion of your auto policy as it will likely cover both.

Additional information & resources

Most insurance agencies have a wealth of information on their sites about the kind of coverage they offer and tools for helping you determine what you need. Here are links to the big four:
State Farm

In addition, I’d be remiss if I failed to point you in the direction of our Valuables.doc – a binder for cataloging the contents of your home. Every homeowner (and renter) should have one of these. It sounds overwhelming – but if you break it down like we have in this binder, going through the items in your home and cataloging them for insurance purposes is pretty painless.

How did you fare with Irene?