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Major storms, wildfires, tornadoes, and earthquakes are all common occurrences in Tennessee, making it one of the most expensive states for natural disaster damages. Your homeowner's insurance should cover fire, wind, and hail damage, but you will have to buy separate policies for flooding and earthquakes.
Do you know what is covered by your homeowner's insurance? You might be surprised to find that a lot of major causes of damage are not covered. Over 25% of Americans wrongly believe that flooding and earthquakes are covered. Make sure you know what your homeowner's insurance policy lists and excludes as perils so you don’t get burned in the event of a disaster.
To help Americans better understand their homeowner's insurance, Jerry has compiled information for each state. Jerry specializes in helping their customers save on car insurance, but can help you find a better price for your home insurance as well, and get better deals on both by bundling your policies.
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What is homeowners insurance and what does it cover?
Homeowners insurance protects your home and its contents from damages. You can also get insurance to cover personal liability if you are sued for an accident to others’ property, medical insurance to cover injury to anyone not living in your home, and loss of use coverage to pay for expenses associated with the loss of use of your home.
In Tennessee, you can opt for either an all-risk (or open perils) or named-peril policy. All-risk policies cover everything except for named exclusions. Named-peril policies only cover perils explicitly listed in your policy. More on this later.
Homeowners insurance typically comes in four levels. Here is a quick overview of those levels.
Levels of homeowner insurance coverage
- HO-1: This is the most basic insurance that only covers the structure of your primary dwelling from named perils
- HO-2: The next step in home insurance covers your primary dwelling and your personal property. Personal property includes the contents of your home and the possessions of the people living in the home.
- HO-3: The most common level of home insurance, HO-3 policies cover the structure of your home, additional structures (fences, sheds, detached garages, etc.), personal property, loss of use, liability, and medical expenses. Commonly, HO-3 policies will be an open-peril policy for the main structure, but named-peril for personal property.
- HO-5: This is the most comprehensive level of home insurance. This will include everything in HO-3 but cover it all as an open-peril policy. As you might expect, the improved coverage tends to come at a higher price.
What perils are covered by homeowners insurance
If you have a named-perils policy, there are 16 perils that are typically included. There can be variation here, though, so it is important to carefully read your policy to understand what perils are included. If you have an open perils policy, it is equally important to read what is excluded from your coverage.
Briefly, here are the 16 perils:
- Fire and lightning
- Volcanic eruption
- Riot or civil commotion
- Hail and windstorms
- Damage caused by vehicles
- Damage caused by aircraft
- Theft or malicious mischief
- Falling objects (not usually covered by HO-1)
- Weight of snow, ice, or sleet (not usually covered by HO-1)
- Water overflow or discharge from plumbing (not usually covered by HO-1)
- Water heater cracking (not usually covered by HO-1)
- Damage from electrical current (not usually covered by HO-1)
- Frozen pipes (not usually covered by HO-1)
Notice that there are a number of common causes of damage that are not on this list. Flooding and earthquakes are two of the main causes of damage to homes in America and usually, you won’t find either on your policies named perils.
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Does homeowners insurance cover natural disasters in Tennessee?
Tennessee is one of the most costly states for environmental damages and has been listed as the fifth most dangerous state for natural disasters. Tennessee is uniquely poised to experience almost all of the main natural disasters. It is north enough for winter storms and south enough to experience residual damage from tropical storms. It is on the edge of tornado alley and sits squarely between two seismic zones–the New Madrid seismic zone along the western border and the East Tennessee seismic zone to the east.
As a result, disasters are common, with homeowners averaging two per year. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common.
Severe storms and hurricanes
Since 1953, Tennessee has experienced 35 declared severe storm disasters, and 18 declared flood disasters. This is definitely the most common cause of environmental damage to homes in the state. Relatedly, though Tennessee may not experience full-fledged hurricanes, it is common to experience tropical storms or depressions, that result from hurricanes moving inland.
While it is common that wind and hail are covered by your home insurance, the main cause of damage, flooding, is not. Flooding is never covered by homeowners insurance. As a result, you will need to purchase separate flooding coverage.
FEMA runs the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) which is the most common way that Americans protect their homes from flooding. Most insurance providers can process a request for flood coverage through the NFIP. Some companies will also offer their own flood protection policies, which can be a better option if you have a large or expensive property, or if the NFIP is insufficient for your needs.
Wildfires are the next most common disaster in Tennessee. There have been 11 fire disasters declared in Tennessee since 1953. More than 2.3 million people live in an area at an elevated risk of wildfire in Tennessee.
Fortunately, every level of home insurance from HO-1 to HO-5 covers fire damage. It is of course a good idea to double-check your policy, but you should be covered here.
Every county in Tennessee has experienced a tornado at some point, and the state averages 29 per year, making it a likely cause of damage to your home, especially if you live in the western or middle part of the state.
Though tornadoes are not explicitly named as a peril in insurance policies, damage from wind, hail, and lightning are, so you will likely be covered if a tornado hits your area.
While earthquakes are not one of the main disaster risks in Tennesse, minor quakes are relatively common. As mentioned above, the state sits between the New Madrid seismic zone and the East Tennessee seismic zone, and it is expected that a magnitude 6.0 or greater earthquake will hit the state in the next 50 years.
Unfortunately, earthquakes are not named perils, so your home insurance will not cover associated damage. You will have to buy a separate earthquake policy if you want coverage. Earthquake coverage typically covers your dwelling, additional structure, personal property, and loss of use expenses, and will have a separate deductible from your homeowners insurance policy.
The varied landscape in Tennessee means that some areas are at risk of experiencing landslides. Most at risk is anyone living in the Great Smoky Mountains region. While there haven’t been any declared disasters caused by landslides in recent history, many homes are at risk.
Like earthquakes, landslides are considered movements of Earth and are explicitly excluded from most insurance policies. As a result, you will also have to add coverage for landslides if you want protection for your home.
Winter storms are relatively common in Tennessee, and some of you might remember the Nashville Ice Storm of 1951 that left more than 80,000 homes without power, resulted in over $2 million in damages, and took two lives.
Most of the perils that would cause damage to your home from a winter storm would be covered by a typical HO-2 or HO-3 policy. When you combine coverage for wind, hail, and fire damage with coverage for the weight of snow and ice, frozen pipes, and the water damage from burst pipes, you should be protected.
Key Takeaway Your typical HO-2, HO-3, or HO-5 policy should cover you from damages from fires, tornadoes, and winter storms, but you will have to buy additional coverage for flooding, earthquakes, and landslides.
How to file a home insurance claim
If you do find yourself in the position of filing a claim caused by a natural disaster, here's what you’ll have to do:
- Document your losses. Take note of what was damaged, document all of it, and take clear, comprehensive photos of the damage.
- Inform your insurance company of the damages and they will assign an adjuster to review your claim.
- Determine how much you paid for any damaged items. This is why it is helpful to hold on to receipt for any big purchases that you make
- Fill out the claim paperwork
- Meet with the adjuster to go over the damage. When the adjuster comes to review the evidence of your claim, take them through your house. Be specific, and be thorough.
- Get repair estimates from local contractors. You will have to assess the cost of repairing damages to your home. Getting quotes from professionals will help your cause when you are discussing costs with your insurance company.
- Collect your funds and start repairing the damages and replacing what was lost
Make sure you know what is covered by your policy well before you have to make a claim.
MORE: Worst claim mistakes
How to save money on home insurance
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