Does homeowners insurance cover hurricane damage?

If you live in a possible path of a hurricane, it’s important to understand what your homeowners insurance covers — and what it doesn’t.

Pat Howard 1600

Pat Howard

Published December 6, 2019

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Homeowners insurance covers your home against windstorms and wind-driven rain from hurricanes, but it won’t cover the ensuing flood damage

  • Homeowners insurance companies in certain Atlantic coast counties charge separate hurricane or named storm deductibles before they’ll cover tropical storm damage

  • Homeowners insurance companies may issue moratoriums on coverage during storms, so update your policy in advance of hurricane season

With homeowners insurance, your home and personal property are protected from windstorm damage — including damage from tropical hurricane winds and wind-driven rain. Unfortunately, the storm surge and any catastrophic flood damage following a hurricane is not protected by homeowners insurance. For that, you need to add flood coverage onto your policy or get a separate flood insurance policy altogether.

There’s also an important caveat to be aware of in regards to home insurance and windstorm damage: Many insurers in coastal states now require a separate named storm or hurricane deductible if a tropical storm is named or declared by the National Weather Service. When you update or finalize your homeowners insurance policy limits, your insurer will give you the option to choose your hurricane deductible amount or leave the deductible off the policy altogether for a reduced insurance premium.

Keep in mind that if you choose to omit the hurricane deductible from your policy, your insurance company won’t reimburse you for hurricane damage to your home. It’s also common — once a storm has been officially named — for a moratorium to be placed on new and existing policies. A moratorium on insurance means insurance companies refuse to insure new customers and existing customers are prevented from making updates to their existing policy — so if you decide you need a hurricane deductible after a moratorium has already been issued, you’re out of luck.

In this article:

How much hurricane insurance do you need?

Prior to the start of hurricane season — which runs from June through November every year — be sure that every section of your policy is optimized to reflect your home’s hurricane risk. That includes updating the policy limits of the six basic protections in your policy as well as adding enhanced coverage and policy endorsements to fill in the various coverage gaps.

Pay special attention to the following coverage areas:

Dwelling coverage

Dwelling coverage covers the structure of your home, your roof, and built-in appliances inside your home like your water heater and kitchen cabinets.

Your dwelling coverage limit should be equal to the total rebuild cost of your home. Remember, hurricane damage is expensive and could drain you financially if you’re underinsured and forced to pay too much out of pocket. To be extra safe, consider extended or guaranteed replacement cost coverage for higher coverage limits.

Talk to a licensed representative at Policygenius to make sure that your home and personal property are fully insured.

Personal property coverage

Personal property coverage covers property not physically attached to your house, such as clothing, furniture, appliances, plants, and trampolines. Take a careful inventory of everything you own and make sure your belongings are insured at their replacement cost instead of their actual cash value or depreciated value, so you can replace them with new items of equivalent value if they’re damaged or destroyed

Additional living expenses

Also known as loss-of-use coverage, additional living expenses will cover temporary housing and food costs if your home is uninhabitable after a hurricane.

You’ll want to make sure there is enough here to pay for the extensive and exorbitant costs associated with hurricanes. For instance, if a Category 5 storm rolls through and wipes out everything in its path — including your home — you’ll need to be reimbursed for temporary shelter and restaurant meals while your home is being rebuilt, a process that can last months or even years.

For that reason, most insurers will offer the option of higher loss-of-use coverage limits depending on where you live. If you live on the coast, look into increasing your loss-of-use coverage amount and time limits for the coverage.

Additional hurricane insurance considerations

Consider filling in your coverage gaps with the following coverages to make sure you’re fully insured against tropical storm damage:

Flood insurance

Your homeowners insurance policy won’t cover flood damage caused by hurricanes, but they may offer a flood coverage endorsement that you can add onto your policy. If not, most large insurance companies offer flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program — a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

However, many policyholders who live in high-risk coastal states don’t necessarily live in a high-risk flood zone and aren’t aware that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding. When a hurricane makes landfall and causes flood damage to their home, they’re shocked to find out that nothing is covered.

Considering that, according to the Insurance Information Institute, 90 percent of all natural disasters include some form of flooding, homeowners in coastal states should make sure their home is well-equipped with flood insurance.

You can use FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to assess your flood risk.

Debris removal coverage

If a hurricane causes debris to accumulate on your property, like a fallen tree or power line, your homeowners insurance will cover the cost of getting rid of the debris, but only up to a certain amount. Debris removal after a hurricane can cost you well into the $1000s, so check to see if your insurer offers a coverage endorsement to increase your debris removal reimbursement beyond the policy limits.

Water backup coverage

Another unwanted consequence of hurricanes is sewage overflow resulting from floods. Water backup coverage protects your home and personal belongings from water damage if sewage water backs up into your home through your plumbing or sump pump. You can add it as an endorsement to your policy.

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What’s a hurricane deductible?

Most homeowners insurance perils are covered by dollar amount deductibles — a fixed amount like $500 or $1,000 that you pay out of pocket to your insurer during a claim before they’ll reimburse you for the remainder of the loss amount.

However, if you live in a coastal community and it’s determined that the damage was caused by hurricane winds, you’re required to pay the hurricane deductible specified in your policy. Your hurricane deductible is typically a percentage — usually 1% to 5% but sometimes higher — of your home’s dwelling coverage. If your deductible is 5% and you’re covered for $400,000 and you file a claim, you’re on the hook for $20,000 before the insurer will cover the remainder of your loss.

Where can I find my hurricane insurance deductible?

Your hurricane insurance deductible can be easily located on your policy’s declaration page, which is the monthly or annual invoice for your policy.

Do I need a hurricane deductible?

Almost every state on the Atlantic coast allows insurers to charge special deductibles for hurricane damage, but depending on your insurer and state you live in, you may have the option to pay a higher premiums in exchange for a lower, fixed-price deductible.

You can also leave the deductible off of your policy altogether for a reduced premium, but this may not be the best idea if you live in a high-risk area, as you won’t be insured for hurricane damage.

When does a hurricane deductible kick in?

The event that triggers the hurricane deductible varies by state and insurance company, but companies typically wait for an official hurricane ruling from the National Weather Service. Otherwise known as a deductible trigger, the deciding factor could be that the storm was defined (Category 3 or 4), given a name (Lucy or Michael), or declared a hurricane watch or warning.

Which states have hurricane deductibles?

Homeowners insurance companies in every Atlantic coast state except New Hampshire include percentage hurricane deductibles that you can add onto your policy. We provided a list of the 19 states (and District of Columbia) where insurers require hurricane deductibles, along with links to the associations in states that offer special form hurricane windstorm coverage for people who can’t afford or are unable to buy it elsewhere.

Keep in mind that what qualifies as a hurricane during underwriting varies from state to state, so be sure to check with your state’s insurance department to find out what constitutes a hurricane trigger.

You should also see if insurers in your state offer discounts for being proactive and storm-proofing your house against powerful storms. Certain coastal areas may also have financial programs for people who can’t afford insurance.

What’s a hurricane moratorium?

An insurance moratorium is a period of time before a windstorm or natural disaster where new policies can’t be written and updates to existing policies can’t be made. Most carriers dictate that once a hurricane watch or warning has been issued by the NOAA, coverage can’t be written until a certain number of hours after the watch or warning expires — usually anywhere from 24 to 78 hours — although some moratoriums can last longer.

What to do if you’re underinsured or don’t have adequate hurricane coverage

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to limit hurricane damage to your home if you’re underinsured or don’t have a policy at all. Regardless of whether you’re underinsured or fully insured, the Insurance Information Institute recommends taking the following step in the months and weeks leading up to a hurricane or hurricane season. Please, don’t wait for the days leading up to a hurricane to do this:

  • Trim branches and trees
  • Secure outdoor furniture or anything that’s potential debris
  • Install storm shutters or put plywood over your windows and glass doors
  • Ensure garage doors are approved for wind pressure and impact
  • Seal any openings into your home like vents, power outlets, random holes, or pipes
  • Clean gutters and any direct downspouts that lead water away from your house