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How Insurance Companies See Your House

Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Other Home & Garden Expertise:
missing downspout hazard

Insurance companies don’t see your house as a home, they see it as a risk. They don’t see maintenance issues or recreational equipment, they see hazards. If you have too many hazards on your property your rates can go up, or your policy might even be cancelled. Various insurance companies will have different standards. Almost no home will have zero identified hazards, but anyone can eliminate or downgrade some hazards.

I am currently working as a person who collects data about properties for multiple insurance companies. If I were to come visit your home officially, all I could tell you is, “I am just here to collect data. If you have any questions, contact your agent.” But, I haven’t been sent to your house, so let me tell you some things that may surprise you.

I’m not going to list all the things that are considered hazards. In the first place, it’s a long list. Secondly, a lot of it makes sense if you think about three potential problems: water damage, fire, liability.

What I can do is tell you some really easy ways to keep your insurance rate from taking a jump if you are visited by a data collector one day. You would have to agree to allow an interior survey, but exterior surveys may be taken without your permission based on what is readily observable. These tips are in reference to an exterior survey.

(Mostly) Exterior Hazards that are Easily Fixed

Gutters and Downspouts:

An unattached downspout or drain pipe- This allows water to dump onto the side of the house leading to potential damage, mold and rot. This could be fixed in about two hours or less.

Water that discharges beside the foundation- This is usually the result of the disconnection of a section that directs water away from the house. Time to fix- usually about five minutes!

Water that discharges onto a traffic surface- If your downspout delivers water to a sidewalk, driveway, patio space, etc., this is a hazard to pedestrians and vehicles. Again, the problem can be a simple as a reconnecting two pieces of pipe. If the sections of spout were originally present this could be another five-minute job. Otherwise, it might take an afternoon to devise a different drainage solution.

Exterior Walls:

Siding- More than one or two missing pieces of siding are going to raise a flag. These are places where water can reach the sheathing and cause damage. If you are putting off adding those final siding boards, it would be a good plan to get around to it.

Soffit- Missing soffit is also going to trigger a hazard notation. This is another fairly easy fix.

Trees:

Overhanging branches- any branches above a roof that are more than 4 inches in diameter should be removed.

Recreation Items:

Swimming pools are always a minor hazard even if fenced and locked, but if access is not restricted they are a major hazard. The only way to make a pool a minor hazard is if there is a fence and a gate. The gate must be locked, or have a padlock in place. If the lock is in place, but not fastened, this is still a minor hazard. This applies to all pools, inground or above-ground, with sides more than 3 feet high, including inflatables. If the sides are four feet high, this can be part of the barrier, but the ladder or deck access must be enclosed and restricted. Don’t be listed as hazardous for lack of a $5 lock.

Trampolines of all kinds are a hazard. This includes jogging trampolines. So unless you are using one of these small ones to exercise, perhaps in the driveway, keep it put away, out of sight.

Fire Danger:

If a data collector suspects that you have a wood (pellet/corn, etc.) burning stove just from looking at the exterior of the house, they must fill out another form about it, and request to see the unit. Since these “solid fuel burning appliances” (SFBA) are the single leading cause of house fires, insurance companies are, not surprisingly, very concerned about them. (This does not include fireplaces. SFBAs are sealed, so that air flow can be controlled, such as a stove. But it does include fireplace inserts, since these can control air intake) However, a surprising fact is that an insurance survey has to assume that the unit is in use, no matter what the season. For example:

Items near a SFBA- Even if it is the middle of the summer, don’t place decorative, combustible items on the hearth, such as baskets, duck decoys, etc. Don’t stack magazines on top of the stove. All combustibles must be at least three feet away. This includes rugs.

Chimney pipes- Again, even in summer, do not allow pipes to be disconnected. Rusty pipes are a hazard too, as are pipes that don’t have the metal collar in place where they pass through a wall.

Distance from walls- Woodstoves must have 36" clearance from all walls unless there is an approved heat shield in place. Stoves must be on a non-combustible base extending 12 inches beyond the stove on each side and 18 inches on the door side.

Condition- Rusty stoves and/or homemade stoves are always listed as a hazard.

Animals:

Dogs- Certain breeds of dogs will be considered a hazard even if restrained. This is not limited to the much-maligned pit bulls. I’m not sure how much I am allowed to reveal, but if you have a large dog other than a lab or retriever, you should assume that it’s considered a hazard. Contact your insurance agent for more specific info. The big surprise to me was that a small dog, the Chow, is also on the hazard list.

Any dog that is outside and unrestrained will be considered a hazard.

Farm animals, including horses, are always a hazard.

Exotic animals, such as llamas, are always a hazard.

Minimize your hazards:

In conclusion, let me reiterate that every home is likely to have one or more identified hazard. I’m not suggesting that any of us try to eliminate all hazards. Some of the “hazards” are things that we consider important to our quality of life. I’ve simply been very surprised to learn, during my training for this job, that several things that I would simply consider careless or insignificant could have an impact on the wallet in the form of increased insurance premiums.

Where simple changes can have a large impact, perhaps this information might be enough to motivate us to do some minor repairs.