Hurricane insurance 101: What homeowners and renters should know

Peak hurricane season runs from mid-August to late October, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As a homeowner or renter, you may wonder, “Do I have enough insurance protection to withstand a potential hurricane?”

Unfortunately, you might not want to hear the answer.

Like any responsible homeowner, you’ve got a standard homeowners insurance policy. And even though most policies offer a wide range of protections, hurricanes may only be partially covered.

When purchasing a home insurance policy, you want enough dwelling coverage to completely rebuild your home if it is destroyed by a covered peril. Remember, this is the cost to rebuild your home, which isn’t the same as what you originally paid to purchase it.

Not sure if you have enough dwelling coverage? Use a home insurance calculator to help estimate your home’s replacement value and then compare it to the amount of coverage on your policy.

If you live in an apartment, your building is likely covered by your landlord’s policy. It’s up to you, however, to purchase protection for the items in your apartment.

The perils covered by your policy depend on your specific policy and provider. Generally, wind, lightning and hail damage — all common during hurricanes — are included as covered perils. Water damage, however, can be a different story.

Flood insurance is extra

When it comes to water damage, matters can get a little complicated in regards to home and renters insurance. Standard home insurance policies often include some coverage for water damage — if a pipe breaks, for example. But if your home is damaged by flooding, you’ll be in trouble without a flood insurance policy.

With hurricanes bringing powerful storm surges and excessive rain, flooding is common — think Superstorm Sandy from late October 2012. If a flood damages your house, you could be out a lot of money.

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, just a few inches of flood water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. The program’s website, FloodSmart.gov, lists hurricanes as a common but often overlooked cause of flooding. If you weren’t already required by your mortgage lender to purchase a flood policy, you can do so through the NFIP.

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Suppose a hurricane hits your house, causing wind damage. Now you’ve got to file a claim, but you might find out your policy treats hurricanes differently than other perils. In fact, it might even have a special deductible for them.

A deductible is the amount you agree to pay out-of-pocket toward a claim. Common deductibles are $500 or $1,000. The deductible has an inverse relationship with your premium — all other things being equal, higher deductibles generally result in lower premiums. However, be sure you can afford your deductible if you need to pay it.

Many home insurance policies on the East Coast have hurricane or wind deductibles. Unlike traditional deductibles, hurricane and wind deductibles are set at a percentage of the home’s value. For example, if your home’s insured value is $300,000 and the hurricane deductible on your policy is set at 3 percent, you would pay $9,000 out-of-pocket before your insurer would step in.

Hurricane and wind deductible details and percentages vary depending on your provider and the state you live in. If you aren’t sure whether you have a hurricane deductible, call your insurer to check the details of your policy.

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Besides flooding, there may be other coverage gaps lurking in your home insurance policy. For example, you may not have enough protection for your personal items. Contents coverage is what protects the items in your home, but it has limits — usually 50 to 70 percent of the insured value of the house.

The best way to make sure the value of your possessions doesn’t exceed your coverage limits is to compile a home inventory — a listing, complete with photos and any receipts you might have, of your possessions. In addition to helping you determine the value of your possessions and whether you need more contents coverage, a home inventory can help speed the claims process.

However, there’s another potential problem. Some policies limit payouts for certain high-value items such as jewelry or artwork. Talk to your provider about scheduling endorsements to fully cover such items.

Don’t wait until a storm is in the forecast to think about insurance. Call your insurance provider now and get to know the details and limits of your policy.

Throughout hurricane season and beyond, you want to have peace of mind that your investment is fully protected.

For more information on how to protect your home and your family before a storm, check out this hurricane disaster guide.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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