Insurance tips to keep in mind as Irene closes in

By Mark Jewell
Associated Press / August 27, 2011

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Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the East Coast. In its path are cities that haven’t taken direct hits from a hurricane in years, and in some cases decades.

It’s a good time to review how much hurricane damage coverage you can expect from standard homeowners, renters, and automobile policies. Here are six insurance tips as the East Coast braces for Irene:

1. Take a property inventory: It’s easier to file a damage claim if you know exactly what you own, and can document it. Free online software to help ease the process is available from the Insurance Information Institute at The software enables users to upload photos of property as well as scanned receipts from major purchases. Or, a homeowner can write down a list of major property in a notebook and take photos, noting key information about each item on the back.

2. Check policies: Read your insurance documents and review the scope of your coverage. Know your policy numbers, and where to call to file a claim. Call your agent or insurer with any questions. If you don’t have a hard copy of your policy, look online before the storm hits - you may not have power after the storm. Don’t expect to get a new or expanded policy in place before Irene hits. Insurers typically bar last-minute coverage changes as storms approach.

3. Know your policy’s hurricane deductible: A standard homeowner’s policy includes a deductible, meaning the homeowner must pay for a portion of the damages before insurance covers the rest. Typically, that’s $500 or $1,000. However, out-of-pocket expenses for hurricane damages can be much higher. In 18 states on the East and Gulf coasts, insurers are allowed to include hurricane deductibles in homeowners policies. These amounts apply only to hurricane-caused damage, and typically range from 1 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of a home. Deductibles may be higher in some coastal areas. For example, a policyholder whose home is insured for $200,000 with a 2 percent hurricane deductible would have to pay the first $4,000 to repair hurricane damage.

The hurricane-prone states that allow insurers to assess hurricane deductibles include Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. .

4. Water inside? You need flood insurance: Don’t expect flood-related damage from a hurricane to be covered unless you’ve got flood insurance. Standard homeowner and renter policies cover damage from wind, including hurricane wind damage, and any wind-driven rain entering a home from the sky. But damage from water on the ground, or water seeping into a basement from below, isn’t covered unless a homeowner has a flood insurance policy. Flood coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program and from a few private insurers. Consumers can find out their risk of a flood and the cost of a policy by going to the program’s website at There’s typically a 30-day waiting period from the purchase date before a flood policy takes effect.

5. Water in your car? You need comprehensive auto: If your car is damaged by flood water from a hurricane or other disaster, expect to be covered if you’ve purchased a comprehensive auto insurance policy. If you’ve only got liability coverage, flood damage to a car won’t be covered.

6. Tree damage: Standard homeowner policies cover damage to a house from a fallen tree, and tree damage to garages, sheds, fences, and outdoor pools. Comprehensive auto insurance will cover damage to a car.