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Termites. Mold. Flooding.
These words send shudders down the spines of homeowners everywhere. They can mean both major repairs and serious expense, and most standard home insurance policies won’t cover the damage.
The specifics of what is and isn’t covered depend on the details of your policy, but even the best coverage won’t compensate you for everything. Here are 10 common home insurance exclusions and how you can fill in some of the gaps.
1. Ground movement
Earthquakes, landslides and sinkholes generally aren’t covered under home insurance. An exception is in Florida and Tennessee, where insurers must offer optional sinkhole protection.
Aside from that, you’ll need separate coverage for these disasters, which your insurer can help you find. For example, a "difference in conditions" policy can cover earthquakes, landslides and other risks, such as mudflows and floods.
Floods — like those from overflowing rivers or torrential rain — are not covered by most home insurance. Flood insurance is widely available through the National Flood Insurance Program in partnership with about 60 different insurers. It can cover both the physical structure of your home and your possessions.
Beyond floods, your home insurance policy likely excludes other types of water damage as well, such as backed-up sewer lines or overflowing sump pumps. You can fill this gap with a water backup endorsement, or add-on, to your policy. However, a standard policy will generally cover burst pipes — for example, if the water pipe behind your washing machine bursts and spews water.
Coverage for mold is complicated because it’s often hard to identify the root cause of a mold problem. For damage to be covered, your insurer must deem the cause of the mold to be sudden, accidental and a problem covered by your policy.
This means that, for example, home insurers generally won’t pay to fix mold damage if it’s caused by water associated with long-term leaks, poor home maintenance, construction defects or naturally occurring floods. However, your standard policy may cover repairs if the mold stems from a sudden leak in your plumbing, as long as you take action to fix the problem right away.
4. Wear and tear
Home insurance is meant for sudden or accidental problems, such as storms, burglaries and fires, not as a cure-all for general wear and tear. You’re expected to perform basic maintenance to keep your home from slipping into disrepair.
Maintaining your home’s roof and exterior, replacing worn-out flooring and tending to slow-leaking pipes are examples of ways you can avoid large expenses that your insurance won’t cover.
Bedbugs, termites, mice and other vermin are typically excluded from home insurance for the same reason wear and tear isn’t covered. As far as your insurer is concerned, ridding your place of infestations and fixing the damage left behind are simply part of maintaining your home.
There are two notable exceptions:
If the infestation causes a covered problem such as a fire or structural collapse, you may be covered. Example: A mouse chews through a wire that starts an electrical fire.
Similarly, your insurer may pay for damages if the infestation was caused by a covered problem. Example: A tree falls on your roof and allows termites to enter your walls.
6. Nuclear hazards
Home insurance doesn’t provide coverage for nuclear accidents. Fortunately, you're unlikely to need it. Nuclear power companies are required to provide their own liability insurance to cover damages if you live within the affected area of a hazard.
7. Government action
Acts of public authorities are not your insurer’s problem. If the government confiscates your belongings, for instance, or condemns your home and takes over the land, your policy won’t cover the cost to repair or replace your property.
8. Dangerous or aggressive dogs
Insurance companies spent nearly $800 million paying claims for dog bites in 2019, with an average claim amount of nearly $45,000. Because of these high costs, insurers may not cover certain aggressive or dangerous dogs, and having one could even prevent you from getting approved for a policy.
Some companies blacklist breeds that are known for inflicting severe injuries, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers and wolf hybrids. Other insurers, such as State Farm, won’t deny coverage based on breed alone but instead will look at an individual dog’s history of aggression.
If you own a potentially dangerous dog, you may get leeway from your insurer by improving your pet’s behavior through training and socialization.
9. Wind damage in hurricane-prone states
If you live along the Atlantic or Gulf coasts, where hurricane risk is highest, you may need to buy separate windstorm or hurricane insurance. Even if wind coverage is included in your home insurance policy, wind damage can cost you. In 19 states and Washington, D.C., insurers may charge a special wind deductible. Instead of a dollar amount, these deductibles are calculated as a percentage of your home’s insured value, usually between 1% and 5%.
This can really add up. For example, if your home is insured for $500,000 and you have a 5% wind deductible, you’re responsible for paying the first $25,000 in repairs for wind damage. Not all companies allow you to select your deductible percentage, but if yours does, going low at 1% or 2% can make a big difference if you ever have a claim.
10. Intentional loss or neglect
If your insurer determines that damages to your home could have been prevented or were inflicted intentionally, you will not be covered. What’s more, you could be charged with insurance fraud if you file a claim for damages you intentionally caused.
Read your home insurance policy thoroughly. You don’t want to find out too late that a problem isn’t covered.
If you see any coverage gaps, talk to your insurer. You may be able to add endorsements — add-ons that will cost extra — to get more coverage, or learn about other ways to avoid potentially large out-of-pocket expenses.