7 ways to reduce common insurance claims in every room of your house

Linda Melone

A leaky roof, a dryer fire and a tree that falls on your garage all constitute reasons to file a homeowner's insurance claim. But whether you're actually covered depends on the details.

If a lack of maintenance on the part of the homeowner is the underlying reason for the claim, it won't be covered, says Kevin Foley, owner of PFT&K Insurance Brokers in New Jersey.

Here are ways you can reduce the risk of common insurance claims in every room of your house - and what it can mean for your homeowner's insurance premium if you file a claim.

Attic/roof: Mold from leak

How to prevent it: Regularly check your roof where it's most likely to spring a leak: the chimney, plumbing vents, skylights, furnace shingles or missing shingles. Trapped water in these places can cause mold.

Is it covered? If your roof has been leaking and you've done nothing about it, your insurance company likely to refuse to pay the claim, as it's a maintenance issue, says Rose Marshburn, personal lines specialist at SIA Group, an insurance agency in North Carolina. To determine whether the damage evolved over time, insurers look for missing, cracked or off-color shingles. An exception, Marshburn says, is if the mold occurred as a result of a storm. "If a storm took off your roof and you immediately did you best to get rid of the water but mold grew anyway, you may be covered," she says.

Basement: Floods

How to prevent it: If your basement floods after a small amount of rain, consult a builder to determine the cause. Flooding often is caused by a blocked gutter system, poor floor and wall sealing or improper installation of a drainage system. However, it also may be caused by a severe storm or hurricane, Marshburn says.

Is it covered? Floods never are covered by a standard homeowner's policy, Foley says, so you've got to buy separate flood insurance. You can buy flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides coverage for up to $250,000 for the structure and $100,000 for personal possessions, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Laundry room: Dryer fires

How to prevent it: Clean out lint traps before and after each load of laundry, as a build-up of lint on the screen or other areas can cause a dryer to overheat and catch fire. Do not dry clothes that contain any flammable liquids such as alcohol or gasoline.

Is it covered? Fire is covered under a standard homeowner's policy, Marshburn says, as long as it isn't started intentionally by the homeowner.

Kitchen: Cooking fire

How to prevent it: Never leave cooking food unattended, whether on the stove or in a microwave.

Is it covered? Yes, fires are included under a standard homeowner's policy, Marshburn says. Marshburn had a client who left corn cooking on the stove while she left the house to go shopping. She returned to find her house engulfed in flames. "Fortunately for her, all the damage was covered," Marshburn says.

Bathroom: Falls and slips

How to prevent it: Four out of five injuries resulting from bathroom accidents are the result of falls, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Install non-slip surfaces to reduce the risk of falls.

Is it covered? Homeowner's insurance covers you only if the person who fell is not a member of your family, Marshburn says. "If a family member falls, then it's a health insurance issue, not a homeowner's issue," she says.

The medical expenses portion covers you for injuries to friends or neighbors injured in your home) and liability claims portion pays for lawsuits brought against your or other family members) section of the homeowner's policy covers you, Foley says.

Garage: Fire, damage from falling objects

How to prevent it: Keep clutter to a minimum to avoid an object falling onto your car and damaging it, Marshburn says. Also, limit the amount of flammable and combustible materials you store in your garage. Keep these liquids in small, sealed, clearly labeled containers -- away from sources of heat or flame.

Is it covered? Fire damage is covered by a homeowner's policy. "However, fire damage to a car would be excluded under a homeowner's policy but would be covered under the comprehensive portion of a car insurance policy," Foley says.

Backyard: Tree branch falls on your house

How to prevent it: Learn how to recognize a hazardous tree, which may drop a tree branch onto your home. Trees often lose branches because of decay, which can show up as cracks and seams in the trunk. Branches often die from the top down because of insects, long periods of drought and root disease. A tree that leans more than 15 degrees from vertical should be cut down. If you're in doubt, contact your local agricultural extension service or a certified tree professional.

Is it covered? You're covered as long as the tree hits a structure that comes under your homeowner's policy, such as your house or a detached garage, Marshburn says.

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