The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) reports that, on average, Americans experience a fire in their homes about once every five years. This number includes all accidental house fires, no matter how small. Most are put out quickly and result in little damage. However, fires can occasionally get out of control, and when they do, the damage is often significant.
Fire Facts from the U.S. Fire Administration
- Approximately 374,000 residential fires occur each year in the U.S.
- These fires result in more than $7 billion in property losses annually
- Cooking and home-heating cause about 72% of all residential fires
Understand Your Home Fire Insurance Coverage
There are several things that can trigger a fire in your home. In addition to common cooking or heating fires, a number of other fire causes including malfunction of electrical and heating systems, negligent use of candles, cigarettes and matches, and arson can plague homeowners. A policy that includes fire hazard insurance can help you recover your home and belongings after a fire.
There is no need to search for a specific fire insurance company; your current homeowners or renters insurance policy provides fire insurance coverage. However, there are many different providers and policies, and therefore a variety of coverage limits, deductibles and exclusions defining what is and is not covered. The bottom line is that you want to make sure you have enough coverage in the event of a major loss.
Make Certain Your Fire Insurance Coverage is Sufficient
Most homeowners insurance policies cover structural damage and loss of personal property, or “contents,” up to a value of about 50 percent of the covered value of the home. If your home policy provides $200,000 worth of coverage, for example, the personal property portion would provide up to $100,000 worth of coverage for personal belongings.
The actual compensation you would receive for a covered loss depends on several factors, including the type of policy you own and your deductibles. You should consider the expenses you will incur if you have to replace several items in your home due to fire damage.
While some policies only cover the current “depreciated value” of your personal belongings, a more expensive “replacement value” policy will cover the full cost replacing covered items new. If several expensive items such as furniture and clothing are lost or damaged in a fire, this replacement value rider can be highly beneficial.
Know What You Own
It is a good idea to make an inventory of all your belongings and bring it with you when you meet with an independent insurance agent. Most policies have caps on coverage for different kinds of belongings. If you own expensive items such as jewelry, artwork or electronics, you may need to purchase a separate rider that lists your valuable items and provides the additional coverage for them.
In addition to your home and personal belongings, your fire insurance coverage will typically include additional structures on your property, such as a garage or tool shed.
Many policies will also provide coverage for temporary housing if your house is uninhabitable for a period of time due to fire. These are important things to discuss with a knowledgeable agent who can help make sure you have the right coverage for your needs.
When Are Fire Claims Denied?
There are a number of reasons why a home fire insurance claim may be denied. Usually any fire that is deemed intentionally set by the homeowner or someone in the household will be rejected. Additionally, if the insurance company finds that the fire damage was preventable, the company may not pay your claim, whether or not the fire was set intentionally.
For example, the insurance company may deny the claim if:
- The property owner refused to call the fire department
- The home was not equipped with smoke alarms, fire extinguishers or other fire prevention equipment
- The fire was caused due to gross negligence from the homeowner
Tips for Filing a Fire Insurance Claim
Hopefully, you will never need to file a claim for a devastating fire in your home. However, you may need to file a fire damage claim at some point, and you probably want the best return on your insurance investment as possible. In order to make the most effective claim and get accurate compensation quickly, complete a thorough assessment of the damage and loss. Gather as much information as possible about the fire, including:
- The date and time of the fire
- The cause of the fire, if known
- How much of the house was damaged
- A list of your lost or damaged possessions
- Any receipts you may have for expensive items that were lost
- Documentation of any improvements you made on the house that would affect its value
Get the Coverage You Need at a Competitive Rate
Insurance is a product like any other - and you can shop around to make sure you're getting a good deal. Just like any major purchase, it's important, as a consumer, to get educated about what you're buying.
When you're buying your homeowners insurance or renters policy, make sure to look carefully at the fire insurance coverage. Will it fully protect your belongings? What are the exclusions? Does it seem to match the price of similar coverage from other companies? If the policy doesn't work for your items, your home, or your budget, move on.
It's also a good idea to spend some time researching the insurer you choose. These organizations are reviewed by rating agencies that publish results online. Once you've found a policy that matches your needs and a highly rated insurer, you can get peace of mind that you'll be protected in the face of fire.