When people think of homeowners’ insurance claims, they often associate them with major disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes or wildfires. In these situations, there’s not much that policyholders can do to avoid disaster.   Fortunately, many homeowner losses are entirely preventable.   In 2014, 5.3 percent of insured homes had a claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute and ISO data. Property damage, including theft, accounted for 97.3 percent of those claims.
Insurance agents should remind clients that homeowners’ insurance may not pay if a claim could have been avoided with proper maintenance. It pays to take care of your home
Here are 15 examples of preventable home insurance claims, followed by tips for reducing the liklihood a claim will need to be filed:
1. Washing machine mishaps
Hub International recommends that you avoid loose or damaged washing machine hoses by replacing them at least every three years, and inspect frequently for irregularities. If possible, situate your machine in an area where you will detect water problems right away.
2. Bath tub/shower grout and edge leaks
Over time, shower and tub grout or caulking can decay, or cracks can develop which allow water into the wall or floors and starts to rot the wood. Check and maintain seals.
Water that flows into your bath or shower needs to stay there, or travel down the drain. Close doors and curtains. Wipe up spills on surrounding areas quickly.
Frequently inspect and repair seals, calling in a professional when in doubt. Some contractors recommend resealing every year.
3. Toilet issues
Toilet wobbling? It might not be properly installed or the toilet seal may be worn out. Check for water around the base of the toilet.
Experiencing a leak? Call a qualified expert immediately. Consistent attention is key to sparing yourself and your family thousands of dollars in damages.
4. Refrigerator water supply leaks
The water and plastic lines that extend from your fridge can cause extensive kitchen damage in no time. If you’re comfortable or handy, check the lines regularly for kinks. If uncertain, contact an experienced professional.
5. Roof leaks and collapses
Basic roof maintenance, such as gutter cleaning and shingle replacement, is key to a longer roof life. Check overhanging tree branches and trim them away from the roof to avoid rubbing in wind. Check for loose or missing shingles.
During the winter storm season, it’s important to monitor weather conditions and roof conditions to help protect against roof collapse from snow and ice accumulation.
Be aware of any warning signs that the building structure may be under significant stress and perhaps in danger of collapse. Signs may include:
•Deflection or cracking of structural members.
•Cracks that have recently developed in interior and exterior walls and ceilings.
•Cracked or broken windows.
•Sprinkler heads that are pushed down below dropped ceiling tiles.
•Unusual creaking or popping sounds.
•Doors or windows that bind or do not open and close properly due to racked frames.
If there are signs of deflection or damage to the building’s structure, a qualified structural engineer should be contacted for an immediate inspection.
6. Chimney and fireplace fires
Cold weather regularly brings fires caused by dirty or plugged chimneys. Implement all fire safety best practices and maintain a regular chimney-cleaning schedule.
Installation of a spark arrestor on chimneys will protect cedar shake roofs. Ashes should be disposed of in a metal container, never paper or plastic.
7. Hot water heater leaks
Leaking water heaters result in countless insurance claims each year. If a small leak goes unnoticed — occurring while you are on vacation, for example — the damage can quickly escalate into a major claim.
Regularly inspect the water heater and the pipes around the unit for any signs of leakage, moisture, mold, mineral buildup and corrosion.
It’s a good idea to flush the water heater tank twice a year to eliminate sediment buildup. Putting in an inexpensive drip pan below the water heater that drains to the outside of the property can help prevent thousands of dollars in water damage in many cases.
Age is also a big factor. Many water heater manufacturers estimate the lifespan of these appliances to be 8 to 12 years, so replacing a unit when it is nearing this age can be good insurance policy against unwanted damage.
If your water heater is more than five years old, a qualified technician should inspect it at least every year.
8. Electrical fires
Here are some specific tips from SafeElectricity.org to avoid electrical fires in your home:
•Check for loose-fitting plugs in electrical outlets, which can be a fire hazard. Replace missing or broken wall plates so wiring and components are not exposed.
•Avoid overloading outlets with adapters and too many appliance plugs.
•Make sure cords are not frayed or cracked, placed under carpets or rugs, or placed in high traffic areas. Don’t nail or staple cords to walls, floors or other objects.
•Use extension cords on a temporary basis only. They are not intended as permanent household wiring.
•If an appliance repeatedly blows a fuse, trips a circuit breaker or has given you an electrical shock, immediately unplug it and have it repaired or replaced.
•Wiring defects are a major cause of residential blazes. Check periodically for loose wall receptacles, loose wires, or loose lighting fixtures. Listen for popping or sizzling sounds behind walls. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that spark and flicker.
9. Cooking or candle fires
Second only to water damage, fire devastation is a common source of homeowners’ insurance claims. An open flame, or gas, is often necessary for preparing food, warming and illuminating the home.
Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fire injuries, followed by heating equipment, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
During 2009-2013, candles caused 3 percent of home fires, 3 percent of home fire deaths, 6 percent of home fire injuries, and 5 percent of direct property damage from home fires, the association reports.
All fires should be monitored. Unwatched, a fire can spread rapidly and become a tragedy.
10. Garage door opener theft
If your vehicle is not in the closed garage, don’t leave the door opener behind in your vehicle. A garage door opener left in a car that is sitting in the driveway or on the street, gives a thief easy access to the house
11. Furnace issues
Make sure your furnace is in good working condition. Have it inspected regularly, and leave repairs to professionals. When appliances in the home wear out, homeowners’ insurance does not pay.
Homeowners’ insurance pays when pipes freeze, for example. If this happens to a furnace, the homeowner has a valid claim. Electrical surges, a covered peril, damage wiring which could require the replacement of a furnace unit. Another covered peril is the sudden cracking or breakup of hot water pipes, which could lead to a new furnace.
12. Theft and vandalism
Theft and vandalism are less common types of homeowners’ insurance claims, but they can be difficult types of losses to recover from. Even after a home is restored, the fear caused by a break-in can linger.
If you live in a high crime area, here are steps you can take to minimize your chance of becoming a victim:
•Install a security system or outdoor video cameras.
•Get a dog to help protect your property.
•Increase the amount of lights around your property to deter thieves.
•Always be sure to lock your doors when leaving.
13. Dishwasher leaks
Every three months, check all hoses for signs of wear and tear. A cracking or leaking hose can lead to serious water damage to flooring and walls around the appliance, so replace hoses accordingly.
Clean your dishwasher by running it with two cups of vinegar in the bottom. Stop the dishwasher mid-cycle and let it sit for 20 minutes; then restart and let it finish the cycle. This will prevent buildup and clogs which can cause leakage.
14. Dog-related injuries and bites
Millions of people are bitten by dogs each year, which results in a lot of costly homeowners’ insurance claims. Man’s best friend can be a big liability if he bites someone on your property. If you have a dog, consider increasing your personal liability coverage.
Even normally docile dogs may bite when they’re frightened or when defending their puppies, owners or food. The best way to protect yourself from liability is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place.
15. Slip and fall accidents
If someone slips and falls while on your property, you may be liable. Keep steps and walkways in good repair and free from snow, ice and objects that can cause trips, such as debris, toys and tools.
See the Insurance Information Institute’s “Which disasters are covered by homeowners’ insurance” for a handy outline of perils covered under standard homeowners’ policies.