No one likes to think of events like wildfires or tornadoes happening close to home, but it can be reassuring to know that your homeowners insurance coverage provides protection against the unpredictable. Your insurance policy will enable you to repair, rebuild or replace anything lost or damaged by unavoidable mishaps—and it may be even more reassuring to know how rare these events are.
The most recent figures indicate that fewer than six percent of insured homeowners file insurance claims in an average year. Other studies conducted by insurance company underwriters show that a homeowner will file a claim only once every 10 years.
Knowing what other homeowners have experienced can help you to more proactively protect yourself, your loved ones and the property and possessions that make your house a home. We review the most common homeowners insurance claims below and look into ways that some of these events might be avoided or their effects mitigated.
The most common type of insurance claim filed by homeowners involves property damage, accounting for over 95 percent of all losses reported in the past decade. The exact cause of damage may change from year to year, but the majority of filed losses are the result of large-scale weather events, usually powerful storms. Their effects lead our list.
Damage caused by high winds has been the leading common cause of loss over the past decade. Roofs, windows, siding and other parts of a home can be damaged or destroyed, but the dwelling coverage included in your homeowners insurance policy provides coverage for wind events.
Your homeowners insurance will help you repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by the “straight-line winds” associated with severe storms. These winds move faster than 50 miles per hour and are usually caused by the outflow created by strong thunderstorm downdrafts. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you may need specialized insurance, so it would be a good idea to check your policy.
The kind of storms that generate strong winds often also cause hail, chunks of ice that are formed when frozen droplets of falling rain are propelled back up into a storm cloud by strong updrafts. This process can repeat until the resulting hailstones are too heavy to be pushed aloft. When they finally fall, they can cause severe damage to buildings, vehicles and crops—in the US, hail-producing storms are especially common in broad, flat regions like the Midwest.
Hail damage is also covered by dwelling insurance, though anything not strictly a part of your home (like your car) may need separate property coverage. There isn’t much that can be done to protect against hail damage, though if you have advance warning you can park vehicles in garages or under other shelters, tie down any large items outside your home and move smaller items indoors.
Typically the third most common kind of claim in any given year, water damage can come from a variety of sources. Some insurance providers group water and freezing damage in a single category, as they often occur together when winter cold causes pipes to freeze and burst. It’s uncommon, but can be expensive—one out of fifty homeowners will file this type of claim annually and the average cost is around $11,000.
You should know that water damage is generally only covered by your home insurance if it is the result of something in your home, like a burst pipe. Homeowners insurance policies don’t cover natural flooding, like that from torrential rains or a river overrunning its banks. If you need this kind of coverage, you’ll want to look into the National Flood Insurance Program, managed by FEMA.
Fire and lightning damage is easily the most expensive type of insurance claim, with an average cost of almost $80,000. In the five years from 2015 to 2020, home structure fires caused a stunning $7.3 billion in damage to property.
Most fires in the home are caused by unattended cooking, but can also be the result of faulty electrical wiring, dirty chimneys choked with highly flammable soot or even improperly maintained appliances like clothes dryers.
Claims for damage caused by lightning are grouped with fire damage claims statistically and both are considered “covered perils” in homeowners insurance policies. Lightning damage can be more difficult to document and as most homeowners insurance policies generally don't cover damage from artificially generated electricity, it can be important to rule out things like power surges.
To most people, the thought of a break-in occurring in their home is likely to be as unpleasant to contemplate as some of the other events higher on this list. Only one in 400 homes will file a claim related to theft, which is generally covered by your homeowners policy, provided the loss isn’t the result of negligence, like leaving doors unlocked.
Different parts of your insurance policy will cover different types of damage that might occur. Dwelling coverage will pay for things like damaged doors or windows caused by a break-in. If something is stolen from your property but not directly from your house, that will be covered by "other structures" coverage typically included in most homeowners insurance. Personal property coverage will pay to repair or replace any personal belongings that are damaged or stolen.
There are instances of property damage that do not occur as a result of theft. Examples include a tree falling onto the roof, a car drives into the side of the house, etc. These types of claims are on average around $6,598.
There are several ways you can guard against the events mentioned above. Making efforts to minimize or even eliminate the threat of damage, even if it is covered by your policy, is a good idea. You’ll be able to avoid having to pay any deductibles associated with a claim and could avoid a rate increase.
Fire extinguishers kept in several locations in and around your home are an affordable and easy step to take, as is installing and maintaining smoke detectors. Burglar alarms and security systems are also a good preventative measure and any captured video can be used to prove your due diligence—and potentially help identify a thief. If you live in an area that is prone to severe weather events, there are doors and windows designed to help mitigate storm damage.
Having to file home insurance claims for a loss caused by any of these events is not something you can predict, but you can be prepared for it with adequate coverage. Review your policy to be sure your home and belongings are protected from threats. It may be reassuring to know how rare some of these things are—but you’ll rest even easier knowing you have the right kind of insurance in place.