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Does your home insurance cover wind damage?

Homeowners in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have been coping with damage from high winds. As they scramble to recover from the wind damage, these homeowners also are wondering whether their home insurance policies cover the damage, which often involves fallen or uprooted trees.

Fortunately, standard home insurance policies in most states do cover wind damage, such as fallen or uprooted trees that have damaged your house. Specifics of this coverage differ from insurer to insurer.

home insurance wind damage "While wind damage is covered under a homeowner's policy, consumers must be aware that policies read differently, so you need to be familiar with the specific language in your individual policy," California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says in a statement. "There can be some exceptions to standard insurance policies that homeowners should be aware of."

Removing trees and debris

A home insurance policy usually covers the cost of tree removal, but it's often limited, such as $500 per tree and perhaps a maximum of $1,000 for all trees removed, Jones says. If a covered loss leaves debris that must be taken away, there may be coverage for the cost of removing it. If your car is hit by a tree, damage is covered by your auto insurance policy, but only if you have optional comprehensive coverage.

Of course, your home insurance will cover damage to your house if high winds knock a tree onto, say, your roof.

If a tree falls or is uprooted in your yard but your home hasn't been touched, the expense of removing it comes out of your own pocket.

“Homeowner's insurance policies cover real property. If nothing that was insured was damaged, there is no coverage,” says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. “This is why homeowners are encouraged to inspect the trees surrounding their homes to be sure they are properly maintained and are healthy enough to stand up to high winds."

Wind-related claims are subject to your home insurance policy’s deductible, says Eustace Greaves Jr., owner and principal at Greaves Financial Services/The Bridge Insurance Agency in Brooklyn, N.Y. For instance, if your deductible is $1,000 and your wind-related damage totals $5,000, your insurer would cover $4,000.

Beware of con artists

Aside from damage and deductibles, homeowners who've experienced wind damage also must worry about con artists posing as contractors and public adjusters who offer cheap labor and quick fixes.

“Enlisting unlicensed help can be a costly mistake,” says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

Worters cautions against being rushed into signing contracts for repairs or other types of help in the wake of wind damage.

“Instead, collect business cards, check references and get written estimates for the proposed job. And never give a (check) to anyone you do not know. You may never see that money again,” Worters says.

Worters recommends checking with your insurance company to find reputable service providers such as home repair contractors. To verify the credentials of a public claims adjuster, check with your state insurance department.

Filing a wind claim

Here are four steps to follow if you need to file a wind-related claim with your home insurance company:

1. File the claim as soon as possible. Let your insurer or insurance agent know the extent of the wind damage and whether you had to evacuate your home, where you are staying and how you can be reached, Worters says.

2. Document the loss. Make a list of your damaged property and take photographs of it. If you have a home inventory, cross-reference that with your list of losses to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

3. Keep receipts. If you're unable to live in your house following wind damage, your home insurer will reimburse additional living expenses, such as restaurant meals and hotel rooms. Be sure to keep all of those receipts so that you can be reimbursed for the expenses.

4. Make temporary repairs. It's your responsibility to make basic, temporary repairs so that your home and belongings are not at risk of further damage, Worters says. Reasonable expenses for temporary repairs will be covered by your insurance, she says, but it's "important to keep receipts and not spend too much on repairs until after the (claims) adjuster has surveyed the damage."

Wind damage in hurricane zones

If you live in a coastal area of a hurricane-prone state like Florida and Texas, wind damage probably is excluded from a standard home insurance policy. If that sort of damage is excluded, you've got to buy separate windstorm insurance.

In Florida, Scott Kandell, an insurance attorney with Insurance Claim Resolution, says a windstorm policy for a 3,000-square-foot home may cost $3,000 or more a year. That's on top of the cost of a standard home insurance policy. “There isn’t a clear rhyme or reason as to how homes are priced for premiums," Kandell says.

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