“Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, how flaming are your branches … ”
That’s not the way the familiar carol goes, but it could become a sad truth for consumers who don’t regularly water the real trees they bring indoors to decorate for the holidays. “See the blazing yule before us” can have a totally different meaning for those who don’t take precautions against accidental fires.
Proper preparation also includes insurance. Whether a homeowner or a renter, it’s up to all of us to check our insurance to make sure we have a level of protection we can live with. Officials with emergency preparedness organizations and insurance professionals agree, many people don’t know what their policies cover until after an emergency happens.
With the threat of severe weather or other winter emergencies always a possibility, Maine’s superintendent of insurance says residents need to know whether they’re protected. “Too many policyholders are devastated to learn — after suffering a loss — that their homeowners or renter policy doesn’t cover a particular loss,” said Eric Cioppa in a recent news release.
Among the losses typically covered:
- Damage from wind-driven rain
- Damage from trees or other falling objects
- Collapse of a structure from the weight of ice or snow
- Frozen pipes from extreme cold, unless the damage is the result of negligence
The following are examples of damage many consumers may think are covered by homeowners or renter insurance but generally are not:
- Interior water damage from a storm when there’s no storm-related damage to the roof or walls
- Water damage from a flood
- Removal of fallen trees (if those trees don’t land on or damage your home)
- Food spoilage from a power outage
- Water damage from storm drains or sewers that back up.
Some insurance carriers offer what are called “endorsements” consumers can purchase. These add-ons provide additional coverage not included in standard plans. Homeowners and renters should consult their insurance agents and decide what “adequate coverage” means.
The superintendent suggests we take some time to prepare more than the snow shovels and ice scrapers we’ll need before the snow goes:
Plan for a potential future claim. Make an inventory of personal property; include model names and serial numbers. Take pictures or make video of your valuables, including seasonal or infrequently used items. Store the itemized lists off-site somewhere safe, such as in a bank safe deposit box.
Review insurance and make sure you have adequate coverage. Prices have gone up, so insure your home and belongings to their full replacement value.
Learn about flood insurance. Standard homeowner policies generally do not cover flooding, so ask your agent about the National Flood Insurance Program. If you rent, ask your agent about renter insurance.
Contact Maine’s Bureau of Insurance if you have questions. They can help if you’ve had recent damage or if you’re preparing for whatever might happen. Call toll-free, 800-300-5000 or visit on the website, maine.gov/insurance. That website includes a handy home inventory form and other information about winter storm and other preparations. There are also links on our blog to Maine Prepares, the state’s emergency preparedness website at maine.gov/mema/prepare.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to necontact.wordpress.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.