In 2017, Hurricane Irma tore through Jen Smith’s town of Saint Petersburg, Florida. A 100-foot-tall tree in her yard snapped and fell. It hit her roof, causing damage to the roof and attic of her home.
She filed a claim through her homeowners insurance. She got a payout of $2,500 to remove the tree and to repair the roof and fence.
“Because it was damage due to a hurricane that was considered a state of emergency, the claim filing process was pretty easy,” says Smith, founder of Modern Frugality. “When we got the check, it was made out to us. We deposited it without our mortgage company’s signature.”
Homeowners insurance doesn’t usually cover earthquakes and floods. So does homeowners insurance cover hurricane damage? Or was Smith’s situation unique?
What does a homeowners insurance policy cover?
For natural disasters, a homeowners policy covers damage to the structure of your house. It’s protected from damage caused by windstorms, explosions, lightning, and fires.
Some policies also cover damage from snow, ice or sleet, or sudden cracking of an air conditioner or hot water heating system.
Loss and damage from hurricanes are technically covered under a basic homeowners policy. But it also depends on where you live.
If you live where hurricanes are common, you’re usually charged a separate deductible for hurricane and windstorm damage. And some coastal states require you to have a separate windstorm insurance policy.
But it doesn’t cover earthquakes, floods, and sewer backup.
A standard homeowners insurance policy also doesn’t cover damage from a pest infestation or damage from mold buildup.
Do I need flood insurance?
Live in an area prone to hurricanes? You should consider flood insurance. 90 percent of disasters involve flooding.
Flood-related damage from hurricanes isn’t covered by a standard homeowners policy. So you have to add flood insurance to your coverage.
Flood insurance covers loss and damage from flood-related erosion. That could be from melted snow, heavy rain, blocked storm drainage systems, or a coastal storm surge. Flood insurance can cover personal property, your personal belongings, or both.
You don’t have to live in a high-risk area for flood insurance to be worth it. It’s coverage for people who live in areas that are low to moderate risk, too.
What’s a hurricane deductible?
A hurricane deductible applies when there’s a named storm. That means when the National Weather Service or U.S. National Hurricane Center declares a storm and also applies a name or number to it. Think of Hurricane Katrina.
The separate deductible for hurricanes and windstorm damage is a percentage of your home’s value. This can be from 1 to 10 percent.
Say your home’s value is $200,000. And maybe the percentage deductible for hurricane or windstorm damage is 5 percent. You’re looking at a $10,000 deductible.
These states have hurricane deductibles:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Smith’s monthly premium for homeowners insurance was $122.25. It included up to $172,000 in liability. And had a $3,400 deductible for hurricanes. For perils other than a hurricane, the deductible was $2,500.
Damage from hurricanes and windstorms go hand-in-hand. Look at how the deductibles for hurricanes and windstorms work in your policy.
What’s a hurricane moratorium?
It’s tempting to only buy insurance when you need it. But insurers prevent you from doing this.
When a storm is about to hit, insurers issue a moratorium. People can’t buy new policies. You can’t up the limits on an existing policy either.
Before issuing a hurricane moratorium, insurers will wait until a storm is a day or two from impact. Don’t wait last minute to buy coverage for your home. If you don’t contact your insurer before a moratorium, you’re out of luck.
Understanding windstorm insurance basics
The windstorm part of your homeowners insurance typically covers damage from any source. This includes hurricanes, tornadoes, strong storms, or tropical storms.
If you live in a coastal state, you’re required to have a separate windstorm insurance policy.
Windstorm insurance is a rider you add to your homeowners policy. It covers hail and wind damage from hurricanes. It’s for your physical property and personal belongings.
Different rules in different states
In some states, it’s more complex.
In Louisiana, there three deductibles relating to windstorms:
- Named storm
- Windstorm and hail
When do named storm deductibles kick in? Only when the National Hurricane Center reports a storm strength of 74 mph. Deductibles from windstorms and hail activate for damage from winds of other sources.
Make sure you have enough coverage. Check the policy limit to make sure it’s enough to rebuild your home.
The best tip for filing a claim after a hurricane
If you need to file a claim, do it as soon as possible, suggests Smith.
A big storm in the area means many people will be filing claims. The faster you contact your insurer, the faster the process is.
She and her family evacuated right away. They called their insurer and tree removal service before they went home.
“If we had waited a day to call them, we could’ve been waiting weeks for tree removal and damage assessment,” says Smith.