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Pest problems? Don’t count on your home insurance to help

Dealing with household pests is a nasty fact of life for many homeowners. But whether it’s termites crawling behind your walls, a skunk family camping out under your porch or mice scampering in the attic, there's no guarantee that your home insurance will protect you against pests.

Many homeowners don’t realize their insurance policies don't cover pest problems. For instance, a 2007 study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners found that nearly one-third of U.S. homeowners were under the mistaken impression that their homes were covered for termite infestations.

Pests are generally not covered by homeowner's insurance, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The homeowner is supposed to take appropriate risk-mitigation steps to get rid of pests so no damage occurs.

home insurance pests

The insurance commissioners association cites language directly from home insurance policies stating that insurers don't cover losses caused by rodents and insects, for instance, or even by a homeowner's pet. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, if termites eat away at your foundation, you’re probably covered under your home insurance policy. But be careful: If the termite problem was known to the insurer before the policy kicked in and you didn’t take action to remove the pests, you may not be covered.

Pests are 'not an insurance issue'

Pests are "a maintenance issue and not an insurance issue,” says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. “Potentially, a pest issue – like a termite infestation -- could devalue a home. But people have to take responsibility for it themselves, just like they would caring for their roof or other housing issue that could negatively impact its value.”

Worters recommends hiring an exterminator to check your home once a year. That's especially true in areas where pests are common, such as New Orleans and Long Island, N.Y., she says.

“Go hire an exterminator, have him check your house and pay for it yourself,” Worters says. "Don’t wait too long until a big problem comes along, and you find you’re not covered by your homeowner’s insurance.”

Termites top the list

Pest experts say termites are far and away the biggest threat to a home’s value. The National Pest Management Association says termites have "an insatiable appetite" for cellulose found in wood -- which, of course, is a key homebuilding material.

As a result of heavy participation across the country during the winter of 2010-11, many homes may have sustained damage to walls, ceilings and insulation, creating moisture that attracts termites, the pest management association says.

Termites produce $5 billion in property damage each year, the pest management association says. The average homeowner spends $3,000 to fix a termite problem, according to Termites.com.

There is a bit of good news, however, according to Termites.com. If an extensive termite infestation causes a ceiling or wall to collapse and electronics in your home are damaged as a result, the damaged items may be covered by your home insurance.

Anti-termite tactics

“Termite infestations often go unnoticed until the destruction is extensive and costly to repair,” says Brent Boles, president of Schendel Pest Services in Topeka, Kan. "Unfortunately, damage from wood-boring insects is typically not covered by homeowner's insurance policies, so it is crucial to take preventive measures to protect your home.”

Aside from regular checks by pest control specialists, the pest management association recommends homeowners follow these steps for warding off pesky termites:

• Inspect the perimeter of your home for rotting wood and mud tubes. Termites travel through mud tubes, which typically are found on foundation walls, floor joists or other parts of the house, according to North Carolina State University.

• Avoid water accumulation near the foundation of your home. Termites thrive in damp soil.

• Never bury wood scraps in your yard, as those scraps provide food for termites.

• Keep mulch at least 12 inches from your home's foundation. Mulch contributes to a stable, moist environment that's attractive to termites.

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