Prepare for a harsh winter by shoring up your home insurance policy

As you prepare for what’s shaping up to be a harsh and snowy winter for much of the country, don’t forget to make sure your home insurance policy provides adequate protection from storms and flooding.

Weather forecasting company AccuWeather.com recently released its winter projections, and the news wasn’t encouraging for much of the U.S. Major snowfall may hit the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as well as the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, the report says.

Because of Hurricane Sandy, “we have been roughed up in the East already,” says Paul Pastelok,AccuWeather.com’slead long-range forecaster.“On top of that, we are looking at a busier snow season than last year. We are going to have car issues, housing issues, power outages, damage to roofs from western Massachusetts,western Connecticut, down though the southern Appalachians.”

Elsewhere, heavy rainfall is expected for the Gulf Coast and the Southeast, especially Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. Pastelok says those areas may experience flooding. By contrast, dry conditions are forecast for the Northwest, raising concerns for drought.

Extreme weather isn’t as likely in the Southwest, but in the Midwest “we think there could be some frequent systems that may produce a lot of wind and a surge of cold that will come down through the Great Lakes area,” Pastelok says. This weather could cause some strong winds in places like Minneapolis; Duluth, Minn.; and Bismark, N.D.

Don’t count on federal aid

Edie Mermelstein, a California area attorney who specializes in insurance issues, says too many people wait until a natural disaster strikes before determining they don’t have enough insurance to repair or rebuild their homes. They mistakenly assume the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) automatically will come to their aid.

home_insurance-winter“A lot of people may live in a flood zone, but have opted out of flood insurance,” she says. “We hope the federal government is behind us in an emergency, but it is your own personal responsibility to check your coverage.”

Ron Moore, senior product consultant at MetLife Auto & Home, says you’re better off assuming you’ll have nothing to rely on but your own homeowner’s policy following a storm. FEMA typically doesn’t get involved unless a federal disaster is declared.

Even if FEMA does get involved, you still may be on the hook for repair costs, Moore says. “A lot of times FEMA does not provide you with money, it gives you a loan to cover the damage ... which you have to repay with interest,” he says.

Peter Foley, vice president for claims administration at the American Insurance Association trade group, recommends reviewing your homeowner’s insurance policy needs annually. If you determine that you lack adequate coverage, you should correct the situation as soon as possible.

What storm damage do standard home policies cover?

Standard homeowner’s policies will cover almost any damage that wind, hail, rain, snow or ice will cause, Moore says. They typically include:

  • Coverage for structural damage.
  • Coverage for damaged belongings inside your home.
  • Liability protection.
  • Extra living expenses that arise when you’re temporarily unable to live in your home.

Things not covered by standard policies include:

  • Flood damage.
  • Interior water damage from a storm, in the absence of damage to the home’s roof or walls.
  • Removal of fallen trees that haven’t hit or damaged your home.
  • Damage from backed-up drains or sewers.
  • Damage from burst pipes is covered, but generally there’s a requirement for homeowners to take reasonable action to prevent this.

Why buy flood insurance?

Flood insurance often is overlooked by consumers, yet 90percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding, FEMA says. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides coverage for up to $250,000 for the structure of a home and $100,000 for personal possessions. Flood insurance is available from NFIP and a handful of private insurers.

If you’re planning to buy flood insurance in anticipation of approaching winter storms, don’t delay, Moore says. Typically, there’s a 30-day waiting period before a policy takes effect.

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