Protect Your Home and Finances from Spring Storms

Find out which damages are covered under your homeowners insurance policy -- and how to fill the gaps.

My area had a lot of big storms last spring, and I’m hoping to be more prepared this year. What should I do to protect my home from storm damage, and are these damages covered under homeowners insurance?

Spring rains and the hurricane season, which officially starts on June 1, increase the chances for expensive home damage from rain, flooding, sewer back-ups and fallen trees. But many of these damages aren’t automatically covered under your homeowners insurance. Here are several steps to take to protect your home and your finances from storm losses.

Buy a rider to cover sewer backup. ”Water backup through sewers and drains from rain is an underappreciated threat,” says Bob Welther, assistant vice-president of loss prevention for ACE Insurance, a global property and casualty insurance company. Heavy rains can overburden the storm water system, causing water or sewage to back up into your house. Not only is the backup unpleasant but it also can be very expensive if it ruins your finished basement or storage space. Most homeowners insurance policies exclude coverage for sewage backup, but you can often add $10,000 to $20,000 in coverage for as little as $50 per year; the coverage pays out if a sewer line backs up or your sump pump stops working. Contact your homeowners insurance company to check on coverage and add a sewage-backup rider. You might also consider getting a battery-powered back-up sump pump, which can provide an extra layer of protection if your electricity goes out or your sump pump ends up with more water than it can handle. See the Insurance Information Institute’s Insure Against the Risk of Sewer Backup fact sheet for more information.

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Add flood insurance. Homeowners insurance covers wind-driven rain -- generally rain that comes into your house from the roof, windows, doors or holes in the walls -- but not flooding, which is water that comes into your home from the bottom up. You can buy that coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (and some mortgage companies require it). The maximum $250,000 of coverage costs $365 per year in a low-risk area ($405 if you have a basement) and can run $2,500 or more per year in a high-risk area. For price quotes and an assessment of flood risk for your address, see the NFIP’s There’s a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect, so buy the insurance before May 1 to ensure you have coverage in time for the start of hurricane season.

Storm-proof your house, save on premiums. Most homeowners insurance companies offer discounts if you take measures to protect your home from storm damage. Chubb Insurance, for instance, gives a discount of up to 25% off its homeowners insurance coverage if you add storm-proof shutters. Install an automatic back-up generator, which can help power a sump pump, and the company gives a discount of up to 5%. Welther also recommends getting a lightening rod with surge protection to help prevent damage during an electrical storm. That may also get you a discount.

Do home maintenance. Before storm season, clean gutters and ground-level drains, and be sure the ground is graded and the landscaping designed so the water flows away from the foundation, not toward it. Also, trim trees and remove dead branches, which can cause expensive damage during storms. Homeowners insurance usually limits coverage for tree damage to $500 or $1,000 -- far less than the cost of hauling away a tree or a large limb. . For more information, see When Your Tree Falls in Your Neighbor’s Yard. Finally, move electronics, papers and other valuable items so they are off the floor in your basement.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.