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Upgrade Your Home, Insurance Policy Before Spring Storms Hit

Mother Nature's forces of wind, water and hail account for more than half of all homeowners insurance losses.

Standard homeowners and renters policies cover the damage wreaked by wind, hail, falling water or wind-driven rain, but not from rising water from any source, including a sewer or drain backup or sump-pump failure. The cost can be substantial: Mother Nature's forces of wind, water and hail accounted for more than half of all homeowners insurance losses between 2009 and 2013, with an average claim amount of $7,610, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

If you live in a federally designated flood zone, or if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek, or water or mud running down a steep hill, you can buy flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (www.floodsmart.gov) by calling your insurance agent. The program covers homes for up to $250,000 of the cost to rebuild and insures contents for up to $100,000. The average premium is $700 per year, but rates depend on a home’s features and location.

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Prevention pays. You can take steps to minimize the risk. Visually inspect your roof for damage, clean your gutters, and attach extensions to downspouts and regrade soil to divert water away from your home’s foundation. Test your sump pump and recharge its battery.

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To avoid coming home and finding that a deluge has created a sodden (or worse, moldy) mess, install a remote alarm system, such as the Samsung Smart-Things Hub (about $300 with five water-leak sensors). It will notify you when the sensors—-placed where leaks or overflow are most likely to occur—detect water. Home insurers usually offer their biggest discount for a combination of approved protective devices, which may include a water-leak detection system. State Farm offers discounts of 10% on the ADT Pulse home-monitoring system ($636 a year) and the Comfort and Control Kit for the Iris by Lowe’s smart-home system ($339). Plus, State Farm offers customers a premium discount of up to 10% to 15% for the ADT system and up to 2% to 7% for the Iris.

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If your home (or neighbors' homes) experience sewer backups, hire a plumber to install a sewer-backflow valve ($600 to $1,400) to keep pure nastiness from backing up through toilets and drainpipes into your home. The valve allows waste to flow out but closes when the flow reverses. You can also add, say, $5,000 of sewer-backup coverage to your homeowners policy for about $50 annually.

Fortify your home. Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against the elements. When it's time to replace it, strengthen it. You can install impact-resistant shingles that are rated for superior resistance to hail damage, and you may earn a premium discount.

Four coastal states—Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina—require insurers to give homeowners a premium discount of 5% to 35% for retrofitting a roof to meet the “Fortified” standards of hurricane resistance developed by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (see www.smarthomeamerica.org). Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas have similar programs.

Also consider storm shutters ($9 to $30 per square foot of openings) or impact-resistant windows ($50 to $70 per square foot). Florida requires insurers to discount premiums by 35% to 44% for storm shutters that meet code.

Wherever you live, check with your insurance agent or state department of insurance to learn about incentives for preventing storm damage.

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