What Homeowners Insurance Doesn't Cover

What Homeowners Insurance Doesn't Cover

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Homeowners insurance covers many aspects of damage to your home and your property, but it doesn't cover everything. The most common exclusions to a homeowners insurance policy are typically related to one of the following: large-scale disasters, like floods or war; damage due to negligence or normal wear and tear; and inherently risky items, such as trampolines.

For those things homeowners insurance doesn't cover, you can purchase additional coverage to protect yourself—in some cases, you may even be required to do so. Every home insurance policy is different, so read through your policy for all the details of what is, and isn't, covered.

Types of homeowners insurance

To understand your policy's exclusions, you first need to know what type, or "form" of insurance you have. There are several forms of homeowners insurance, with different levels of coverage. They're commonly referred to by the letters HO followed by a number. HO-3 is the most common form for single-family homes in the U.S., and it's often referred to as "standard" homeowners insurance. HO-1 and HO-2 typically provide basic coverage that only protects against "named perils" specifically described in the policy, so damage from other causes would not be covered.

For example, HO-2 protects your home and the property inside it against 16 specifically named perils, such as fires and damage from falling objects, but nothing else. HO-3's hazard insurance—the part of a homeowners policy that covers damage to your home's structure—insures against damage from "open perils." This means all scenarios are covered other than the exceptions specifically named on your policy. Plus, it covers your personal property for the 16 named perils in HO-2 policies.

Forms above HO-3 provide different levels of coverage for renters, landlords and other more specialized insurance situations, each of which comes with its own particular set of risks.

Events not covered by homeowners insurance

Some specific events are not covered by homeowners insurance, regardless of which parts of your home or property they affect. These events can be roughly split into two categories: events that are too massive in scope for the insurance company to cover, and those caused by negligence or through the course of normal use.

Massively destructive events

Certain disasters that cause substantial damage across a wide geographical area are typically not covered by standard homeowners insurance. For some of these events, it is possible to purchase extra insurance to protect your home, especially for natural disasters; but for others, insurance companies may not offer coverage at all.

Events typically not covered by standard homeowners insurance include:

  • Floods
  • Earthquakes, sinkholes and other "earth movements"
  • Other natural disasters (depending on geographic location)
  • Acts of war
  • Acts by the government (such as seizure or eminent domain)
  • Nuclear accidents

Some natural disasters, such as flooding and earth movement—which refers to earthquakes, sinkholes and other natural shifts in the earth—are excluded from homeowners insurance everywhere. But there are also some disasters that are not covered in particular locations. For example, wind damage may not be covered in a coastal area that is susceptible to storms. Check the details of your policy to see what is and is not covered in your area.

However, if a non-covered disaster causes a form of damage that is covered, like if an earthquake causes a fire, your policy would pay for repairs.

You can typically buy insurance that specifically covers natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and wind. You may even be legally required to purchase separate insurance for one or more of these perils if you are especially at risk. For example, homes in high-risk flood areas are required to purchase flood insurance in order to qualify for a federally-backed mortgage.

On the other hand, insurance companies don't cover financial damages due to acts by the U.S. government, acts of war or nuclear accidents. Government acts could include having your property claimed for eminent domain when the government builds public works projects. Terrorist attacks are not considered acts of war, so they are generally covered by homeowners insurance. And while federal law prohibits insurers from covering nuclear accidents, nuclear power plants must pay for all damages as a result of a nuclear accident.

Damage caused by negligence or normal wear and tear

Homeowners insurance is designed to cover sudden accidents and other events beyond your control, so it does not help you pay for damage you can or should have addressed through the normal course of owning your home. This includes events caused or exacerbated by negligence on your part. For example, if you do not adequately trim a tree on your property and a falling limb damages the roof of your house, you would not be covered. Insurance also doesn't cover normal wear and tear, such as replacing carpet that's worn out from years of being walked on.

Common homeowners insurance exclusions due to negligence:

  • Termites, bedbugs and other infestations
  • Water damage or mold
  • Sewer backup
  • Normal wear and tear

Generally, homeowners insurance doesn't cover damage due to termites, bedbugs or infestations, as they are almost always brought into the home by you. The only exception is if your house suddenly collapses due to termites and the damage was not previously visible.

Sewer backups are also not covered, regardless of whether they are caused by improper disposal of waste or other causes like an invading tree root. However, most insurers allow you to add sewer backup coverage to your policy for a few extra dollars a month.

Keep in mind that the underlying cause is often the deciding factor in whether your policy will cover a particular type of damage. For example, if your power goes out and your pipes freeze and burst as a result, you may be eligible to have the water damage covered since it was not caused by negligence. On the other hand, if you hear a dripping noise in your bathroom but ignore it for several months, the resulting water damage would not be covered by your insurance.

One other important type of neglect is not filing a claim promptly, regardless of the original cause. If your home is damaged from a storm but you wait six months to address it, your insurer would likely deny the claim, as the problem could have gotten worse.

Types of property not covered by homeowners insurance

It’s also common for homeowners insurance policies not to provide liability coverage if you own certain hazardous items, as guests are considered to have a higher risk of injury on your premises. Normally, your liability insurance covers injuries and losses that other people experience on your property if they decide to sue. For example, if a guest trips on your rug and is injured in the fall, your liability insurance would help cover the cost of their medical care, plus other associated expenses.

However, some kinds of property are not covered under your liability insurance because of how frequently they cause injuries. Common homeowners liability insurance exceptions include:

  • Diving boards
  • Trampolines
  • Tree houses
  • Large or aggressive dog breeds

Typically, if you own one of these items, they'll have a significant impact on your average insurance rates. It's also possible that your insurer may not offer you homeowners insurance at all, or they may ask you to sign an "exclusion." An exclusion is an agreement between you and your insurer that injuries due to a specific item are not covered by your insurance.

You might be able to purchase a rider covering these items, but it's up to each insurer whether it will give you the option to do so. If not, you may have to remove the item before the insurer will cover you.

Some dog breeds aren't covered by homeowners insurance

Certain dog breeds are also sometimes not covered under your homeowners liability insurance. While the list varies by insurance carrier, breeds that are large or thought to be aggressive—like pit bulls, rottweilers and German shepherds—may not be covered under your policy. Depending on your carrier, this can simply mean the policy won't cover injuries or damage your dog causes—or it could deny coverage altogether.

If this is the case, shop around for different insurers, as different companies may allow different breeds. For example, State Farm does not consider a dog's breed when choosing whether to insure it. You can also purchase separate dog-specific liability insurance, if you wish.

Valuables have limited coverage

Another area of limited coverage in your homeowners insurance policy is high-value items, such as jewelry, furs and gold. Standard insurance policies often have dollar limits for these items, either collectively or per item. For example, a standard policy covers between $1,000 and $2,000 of loss for the theft of jewelry, but high-value items can quickly eclipse these amounts.

If you have a lot of valuables in your home, it may be worth purchasing extra insurance to cover them, either as an add-on to your current homeowners insurance or through a separate policy for valuables.

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