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5 holiday disasters that are covered by home insurance

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Posted at 10:32 PM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 22:32:40-05

You’ve decorated the tree, put up the lights and placed a lit candle in every window. But the next thing you know, you smell smoke.

Candle fires, stolen presents and other calamities can put an unwelcome damper on your seasonal cheer, but insurance can often help clean up the mess. Here are some common holiday disasters and how your homeowners insurance can come to the rescue.

1. Decorations catch fire

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” takes on a whole new meaning when the halls are decked with fire hazards. Dehydrated Christmas trees can go up in flames if placed too close to a heat source, and fires from candles make up half of December home decoration fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Fire is covered in three main ways. Dwelling coverage pays for repairs to your home, while other structures coverage is for things like a detached garage or fence. Personal property coverage will pay to replace damaged belongings, up to your policy limits.

To avoid festive fires, keep candles away from flammable objects, follow all manufacturer instructions for holiday lights outside and keep a real Christmas tree hydrated.

2. Your identity gets stolen

If you’ve shopped online for holiday gifts this year, your credit card or bank account information may be at risk of getting stolen.

Identity theft coverage can pay for out-of-pocket expenses related to identity theft or fraud. Some homeowners insurance policies automatically include this coverage for free, but you’ll probably have to add it to your policy.

You can reduce the risk of identity theft from online shopping by avoiding unsecured networks and by purchasing from trusted stores — check for a privacy policy on the site and a padlock to the left of the URL. To protect yourself from potential data breaches, reenter account information with every purchase instead of allowing online vendors to store your information.

3. Presents get stolen

If expensive holiday gifts go missing, don’t pout. Your personal property coverage covers items stolen from your home and car, up to your policy limits.

To prevent any grinches from stealing holiday presents, avoid letting packages sit unattended and consider setting up a security camera system around your home. If you leave gifts in the car, tuck them away safely in the trunk, lock the doors and park in a well-lit location.

If gifts are stolen, file a claim with your insurance company only if their value exceeds your deductible.

4. A guest gets injured

Say you undercook the turkey and send relatives to the hospital. Maybe someone breaks a hip on your icy walkway, or the dog bites a guest. You could end up on the hook for their medical costs.

The medical expense coverage in your home insurance policy pays to treat your sick or injured guests, no matter who’s legally responsible, while your personal liability coverage will cover you in case they decide to sue.

Because of the pandemic, you may be skipping holiday gatherings entirely this year. But if you do host guests, make sure you abide by the guidelines for small gatherings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, which include wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

5. A water pipe bursts

If a pipe gets cold enough, water freezes and expands inside, increasing the chance of a burst. Water damage from burst pipes is generally covered by home insurance, but check the fine print in your policy, as you’re covered only if the burst is accidental and not due to poor maintenance.

To avoid damage, watch for warning signs of frozen pipes, such as low water pressure or frost on the outside of the pipe. To offset the chance of a water burst:

  • Keep your home’s thermostat set to a minimum of 55 degrees.
  • Open kitchen- and bathroom-sink cabinets to allow for circulation of warmer air.
  • Let water drip from faucets to relieve water pressure.

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Ben Moore writes for NerdWallet. Email: bmoore@nerdwallet.com.