Overlooked areas in homes where insurance claims can happen

Ghosts and goblins may not be the only things hiding in the dark spaces of your house. Some parts of your house are insurance claims just waiting to be discovered, home inspectors say. And too often, home owners don’t realize that these scary little spots could prompt claims.

“Preventive maintenance is key to preventing most serious issues in the home,” says Matthew Steger, a home inspector who owns WIN Home Inspection in Elizabethtown, Pa. “Periodically checking some dark spaces can help catch an issue early before further damage can happen.”

Here’s an inside look at how some of the spookiest spots in your house could trigger home insurance claims -- or could leave you with thousands of dollars in repairs because your insurance doesn't cover the damage.

The attic

places in your house that could trigger home insurance claim

Small openings at stack vents, chimneys and other points let water -- the first ingredient in the recipe for mold -- into the attic, Steger says. Even if you don’t have a leaky roof, there’s still plenty of moisture in your attic. Moisture-laden air from boiling water or taking a shower, for instance, often finds its way into an attic through small gaps in your ceiling, Steger says.

Mold remediation can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Depending on your home insurance coverage and deductible, and the cause of the mold (for instance, mold triggered by water damage that resulted from a leaky roof may be covered), you could be on the hook for much -- if not all -- of that bill.

Your attic also could attract unwelcome visitors.

“We have seen and found dead mice and rats as well as a live momma possum feeding her two babies in attics,” says William Begal, president of Begal Enterprises Inc., a disaster restoration company in Rockville, Md.

In most cases, these critters enter the attic through a hole that already is there or that they've created.

Furry house guests can chew the ceiling, insulation and wiring, with the price tag for that damage possibly running into the thousands of dollars. Unless you have a costlier "all risk" policy that covers just about everything except a few named perils, you'd be stuck with the repair bill since standard home insurance policies don't cover rodent infestations.

All-risk coverage costs roughly 10 percent to 25 percent more than standard homeowner's coverage, says Mark Carrasquillo, a personal insurance agent with E.G. Bowman Co., an insurance agency in New York City. Keep in mind that not all home insurers sell all-risk coverage.

The fix: Steger says attic ventilation is one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind things that needs some attention to reduce the odds of mold. “Most attics need a certain amount of ventilation to help empty the attic of moisture,” Steger says.

The most common method of properly venting an attic is a vent at the ridge (peak) of the roof with an opening sliced through the ridge shingles. This can be installed by a roofing contractor for about $750, depending on the size of your roof.

The easiest path to keeping rodents out of your attic is making sure ventilation screens and access panels are in good condition with no tears or holes, Steger says, and that any gaps in exterior surfaces are sealed.

Also, make sure trees near your home are trimmed. “Keeping all vegetation trimmed back from the home and roof line makes it harder for squirrels, raccoons, possum and other creepy crawlers to make their way from a perch to your attic,” Begal says.

The crawl space

places in your house that could trigger home insurance claims

If your home has one, your crawl space could be a cozy nest for rodents and other small animals.

“Rodents like to hide in the insulation of a home,” says Chris Griffin, general manager of LaRocca Inspection Associates Inc. in Los Angeles. “I've seen bird nests and hornet nests and bee hives as large as a soccer ball in crawl spaces."

One of the biggest concerns with rodent infestation (aside from the obvious health risk they pose) is the damage that can be done to the insulation by rodent urine or feces.

“Left undetected and untreated for too long, this may lead to the need for removal and replacement of the insulation itself, which can be an expensive repair. Rodents may also gnaw on electrical wires or wood beams,” Griffin says.

If you have "all risk" coverage, your home insurance may pay for this after you cough up the deductible. Don’t have "all risk" coverage? You’re probably going to be footing this bill.

The fix: Keep all vegetation trimmed at least 12 inches away from the home and at least 10 feet away from the roof to help prevent the entry of critters, Steger says.

Also, sealing any access points, such as rotted or loose trim on the exterior of your home, can help keep out insects, birds and other animals, Griffin says.

The basement

Areas behind washers and dryers, fuel tanks, water heaters and furnaces often are home to a lot more than dust bunnies. Rodents love these spaces because they’re generally secluded from human visitors. And if they chew through wiring or walls, mice, rats, skunks and squirrels can cause plenty of damage, Begal says.

“Not many people check behind those things to see what’s living back there,” Begal says.

Drips from leaky appliances also boost the odds that you’ll have mold growing in the basement. That mold can damage drywall and other parts of a wall. And without all-risk coverage, you'll likely end up covering the entire bill for damage. Every policy is different, but many standard home insurance policies exclude this type of claim because appliances are supposed to be routinely maintained.

The fix: Clean out the cobwebs – and whatever else is back there – from behind appliances and other fixtures in your basement once a month. That’s the best way to spot animals or mold, Steger says.

The garage

Rodents, birds, chipmunks, snakes and other creatures love to camp out in the camping gear – and just about anything else – stored in your garage. Other places to look for them are inside a stack of tires, behind a refrigerator, inside luggage or in a bag of bird seed or pet food.

Once there, these critters chew your belongings, have babies, chew some more and have more babies. Not to mention that they use your garage as a restroom and may knock things down when they’re scurrying on shelves.

The damage from all that chewing and baby-making most likely would be paid for if you have all-risk coverage; of course, you’d still have to pay the deductible. If you don’t have that type of coverage, you're going to pay for all of the repairs out of your own pocket.

The fix: Make sure the garage door’s bottom rubber seal properly seals the door from the exterior. Gaps around the door can be routes for critters to enter your garage. Also, be sure to keep your garage door closed whenever possible.

Under the sink

Cabinets under the sinks in your kitchen or bathroom could be home to a lot more than extra soap, sponges or toilet paper. Begal says they're a breeding ground for mold.

This type of mold probably isn't covered under your insurance policy. Read through your policy endorsements and check with your agent to see whether you can file a claim. If not, you could be socked with a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.

The fix: The simplest thing to do is not put anything wet under the sinks. In addition, Griffin says, periodically check to make sure your pipes aren’t leaking. Even if they are leaking, don’t despair. If you’re handy, you can repair most leaks for less than $100 with supplies available at a home improvement center.

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