Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Treehouses & Trampolines: What’s Insured in Your Outdoor Space

Backyard fun may come at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid splurge purchases like trampolines and treehouses altogether. Ultimately, it’s a family decision, partly based on feedback from your pediatrician on risk vs. benefit, and partly based on whether your spirit for adventure outweighs your concern for a potential accident. It’s also a decision that could impact you financially, should your children or a guest get hurt on your property.

Trampolines

First, know that when you own a trampoline, it’s impossible for you to file a homeowner’s insurance claim for an injury if it’s an injury sustained by someone who lives in your household. This would become a medical insurance claim instead, and if medical insurance coverage is denied, you’ll be paying out of pocket. Anyone else who is injured on your property would be covered by your homeowner’s insurance–but only if your policy covers trampolines. It’s possible that your policy will only cover injuries if your trampoline has a safety net, is built over a sand pit or wood chips, isn’t being used while wet, isn’t being used by more than one child at a time, etc. You’ll need to know the details of your coverage before you and your children begin to bounce. In some cases, homeowners insurance explicitly denies coverage to any “loss, damage, cost, claim expense, bodily injury, property damage or medical payments” related to trampolines.  This is why it’s important to consult your insurance company before any purchase of a trampoline. If it’s considered enough of a risk, your insurance company could cancel your coverage or refuse to renew, and you’ll need to decide if a change in insurance altogether is worth the trouble. Changing insurance companies would mean a new inspection on your home, so if you’ve got some lingering repairs or potential red-flags that would show up on an inspection, it may be more costly than you expect. 

Treehouses

About 2,800 children per year are injured playing in a treehouse, and most of those injuries fractures, cuts, and bruises that happen when a child either falls or jumps willingly from the treehouse. Similar to trampolines, you’ll have to start with a health insurance claim if someone who lives in your home experiences a fall. If it’s a guest, you’re on the hook for liability. If you want to insure your treehouse in the same way you would insure a gazebo, for example, because it’s an added asset to your home, you’ll need to contact your insurance agent and ask for coverage as an “accessory structure” and be ready to report its full value (or replacement cost). Similarly to acquiring a trampoline, however, you need to speak to your insurance agent about your policy before adding a treehouse to your yard to find out whether the addition will raise your premiums and make sure your policy doesn’t prohibit it explicitly. If not prohibited, make sure your treehouse is named specifically on your policy in order for accidents to be covered. When preparing to communicate with your insurance agent, know that being able to communicate effectively that your treehouse will be built safely will help. For example, you should select a tree that doesn’t need to be pruned, that hasn’t dried out and become fragile. The lower to the ground your plan, the better. Anything over 10 feet in the air is likely to be considered too dangerous. You also may want to research how to use an artificial limb system under the treehouse for basic support. A fence around your yard to keep out uninvited children is also in your best interest. 

In insurance-speak, trampolines and treehouses are called an “attractive nuisance” because they are completely attractive to children and yet undesirable to many due to the risk of serious injury. Having either in your backyard is something that must never be hidden from an insurance company. In fact, it must be specifically disclosed, as omission of the information is just as problematic as an out-right lie. The reason is this: should you lose your home to a fire or sustain another type of damage that needs to be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, then your insurer realizes you were dishonest about an “attractive nuisance” in the backyard, the insurer has grounds for denying any claim. The insurer simply has to state that they would have denied you coverage completely had you disclosed your backyard purchase, which means any claim you are trying to file would have never been covered to begin with.

Five Immediate Steps for Visible Water Damage in Your Ceiling

It’s a daunting moment when you look up to find a puddle in a light fixture or a growing water stain on a ceiling. Here’s what to do to minimize the damage and get help for a repair.

  1. Clear and protect the area beneath the stain. Move furniture and valuables, then lay down a tarp and a bucket that will catch any water as you triage the situation. This will hopefully protect your floors and belongings in case the leak worsens and pushes completely through the ceiling.
  2. Stop the water from traveling horizontally. This often means cutting a hole in your ceiling before professionals arrive. The problem with ceiling stains is that it’s difficult to tell where the water is actually coming from. A crack in the base of a fiberglass bathtub upstairs, for example, may not provide evidence in the ceiling immediately below the tub. Water will cling and travel along pipes and beams before absorbing into the ceiling below. You need to do everything in your power to stop the water stains from spreading, which will increase the damage and risk of mold. Poking a circular hole in the center of the water stain will hopefully expose the leak so it drips into a bucket rather than absorbing into sheetrock.
  3. Halt the flow of water. If water is moving fast, shut off your main valve and turn on a faucet in the lowest room in the house. This will get the excess water sitting in the pipes out before it has a chance to hit the leak.
  4. Call your insurance agent. In any event of damage to your home, you want your insurance agent involved immediately. He or she can recommend next-steps to protect your belongings and recommend professionals to call for help. Provided your problem wasn’t caused by a lack of maintenance (such as ignoring previous need for repairs), you should receive support from your homeowner’s insurance policy. Also, note that homeowner’s insurance will cover damage but not necessarily replace the item broke and caused the damage. So if your dishwasher goes bad and ruins the subfloor beneath the kitchen tile, you’d likely receive assistance with the flooring but not money for a new dishwasher.
  5. Dry out the damage. Moisture is the root cause of mildew and mold. Ask your insurance agent about his or her recommendations for whether it’s worth using a fan on the damp plaster or if perhaps you’d be safer long-term to cut out and replace the section of ceiling affected by the leak.

After initially getting the situation under control, if your main valve is still on and you aren’t sure whether the water is dripping from a pipe, the roof, or another water source, note that there is a simple trick for determining if plumbing is indeed the culprit. First, make a note of the number on your water meter. Next, turn off all faucets and appliances that use water. If you’ve got an issue with indoor plumbing, like a crack in a pipe or issues with caulking, within about three hours you will have found that number has increased.

The ABCs of Airbnb: Prepping Your Home as a Short-Term Rental Space

Research suggests revenue from short-term vacation rentals will surpass the hotel industry in 2020. In fact, Airbnb reports that on any given night, there are 2 million people staying at one of its properties. If you’re looking to make extra income listing your space with a hosting platform, keep in mind the following tips for preparing well:

A: Adjust Your Security Measures

If you’re not up for transporting items off property every time you have a renter, select a small bedroom to use for storage. When you’re stepping out so guests can step in, utilize this room–with door hardware that includes a lock and key–to keep pricey and personal items out of sight and out of mind. This may be where you relocate your computer, your laundry, photographs of family (should they want to remain anonymous), and important personal and business paperwork while renters are in your home. Also, consider investing in a Wi-Fi enabled doorbell camera, which will make short recordings of the space immediately outside your door as guests come and go from your property. If you’re willing, you can give your tenants access to the doorbell monitoring via their own smartphones. The added security feature will make your guests feel more secure. 

B: Be Hospitable

Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they want to see it again and bring their friends.” Set a tone that will welcome repeat visitors by keeping a binder in the living room with access codes, phone numbers, and restaurant recommendations. You can also include a friendly greeting from you as the property owner, directions to the nearest emergency room, your Wi-Fi password, and perhaps instructions on what to do with the trash before they head back home. Also, be flexible about what you leave in the pantry and fridge. Guests may not realize your Cheese-Itz and Lemon La Croix were not for their consumption. Instead of worrying about whether your snacks get touched while you’re away, consider buying bottled waters and treats you encourage your guests to enjoy while they’re on site.

C: Consider Whether You Are Properly Insured

It is unlikely your homeowner’s insurance offers you the protection you need when renting out your space on a short-term basis. Here’s why. In a perfect world, your homeowner’s insurance would step in and pay for your legal defense and settlement costs should an accident happen while a renter is in your home. And you may even find that your homeowner’s insurance allows for a one-night-a-year rental for a special event, like should you want to capitalize on your city hosting a major sporting event. However, if you’re renting your property regularly, it may seem to your insurer that you are operating a small business, which excludes you from the coverage you think you have. Landlord insurance may prove equally unhelpful, as that typically applies to long-term rentals alone. Your best coverage options for regularly renting out your home to short-term guests are threefold: You can contact your insurer about your plans and see if your current policy is enough. You can ask about an endorsement to add coverage to your existing policy. Or, you can purchase a business policy such as a bed and breakfast policy.

In addition to understanding your own insurance, look into what claims the hosting platform will cover. Some companies, like Homeaway and Airbnb, will provide you with $1 million coverage in liability insurance. But be sure to read the fine print. Some of these offerings are primary coverage, and some are not, meaning any other liability policy you already hold will also participate should a claim be filed against you. The policies may be intended for injuries a guest incurs while at your home or may also include compensation for damage a guest does to your personal property. Read your contract with the hosting platform carefully to make sure you understand what is included in the basic fee and what perhaps would come at an additional cost.

Remodeling Your Home? Don’t Forget to Adjust Your Insurance, Too

Homeowner’s insurance is directly linked to the value of your home, and the only way to be confident you have the coverage you need is to be transparent about improvements you’ve made to your property over time. Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a home renovation so you’re covered for during construction and the improvements are protected when you’re done. 

Be clear about which renovations will raise or lower your insurance rates.

Financial preparation includes not just acknowledging the cost of materials and labor but also acknowledging the fluctuation of your insurance policies to come. An addition, for example, will add square footage and value, which means your home will be more expensive to rebuild, so your premiums will rise. If you’re renovating your garage into a den and kicking your car to the curb, keep in mind the cost of your car insurance may jump a bit since it’s simply riskier to park on the street. In contrast, replacing an outdated HVAC system lowers the risk of an electrical problem, and lower risk typically means lower rates. The same goes for adding a fence around a swimming pool or backyard.

Before you finalize renovation plans, watch for ways to achieve discounts.

You may qualify for lower premiums if you add a sprinkler system, update your plumbing or electrical system, add storm shutters, or even simply install stronger doors than you had before. New safety features will lessen your odds of filing a claim in the future, and many insurance plans will acknowledge that with reduced rates.

Don’t DIY if you’re not qualified to do the work safely.

Besides the potential to be disappointed in your own craftsmanship, the real risk is potential injury. If friends and family will be on site to help with the project, consider increasing your home insurance’s no-fault medical protection. This will allow an injured assistant to send doctor’s bills straight to your insurance company, which ultimately lowers your chance of a lawsuit.

Plan for mid-project problems.

Insurance Journal reported in 2014 that approximately one out of every three house fires can be traced back to contracting professionals working on site. Heat guns used for paint stripping or electrical sockets overwhelmed by power tools can mean disaster. Construction risk can also expand to plumbing pipes cracking under the stress of vibrations being caused by construction. You will want to discuss these potential scenarios with your insurance agent before renovations begin–and then again mid-project as plans evolve–to make sure you understand which party would be liable for each scenario and whether you and your contractor are insured properly to avoid a major financial strain.

Ask your insurance agent about weather and theft.

Large renovations are sometimes stalled by acts of nature, sometimes stalled by disappearing acts. If your project is big enough that parts of your home will be covered by a tarp or exposed to the elements, consider a “course of construction policy,” also known as a builder’s risk policy. This will offer protection if you find your home seriously damaged during construction and extends as far as vandalism and theft of construction materials you purchased yourself (think carpet, hardwood, or tile).

Be careful about gaps in coverage if you’ll be temporarily moving out.

According to the International Risk Management Institute, homeowner’s policies are really written for homes being occupied by the homeowner. If your renovation is so extensive that you’ll be leaving the premises–or if your construction will cost 10 percent or more of your home’s total replacement value–read your insurance contract carefully. These benchmarks label your project as a “major renovation,” which may limit your coverage or require you to notify the insurance company before construction begins. If you don’t follow the policy’s requirements specifically, you may find that damage during renovations is only covered at replacement cost less depreciation, rather than replacement cost alone. Your best choices in a major renovation may be to add a renovation policy to your existing coverage or add a builder’s risk policy.

Celebrate the added value to your home.

Once you’ve planned well, relax and enjoy the process. Ultimately, you’re adding beauty, functionality, and value. As you take photos to share with family and friends, made copies for your insurance files, as it is likely that you will also need to update your catalog of valuable items inside your home as well, especially if you purchased furniture or art.

How Homeowners Can Reduce Risks in Winter

Our homes protect us from the most severe winter weather, but our homes are not always protected from the same elements. Snow, ice, and even simply freezing temperatures can have drastic effects on our homes and the parts that make them work. As the temperatures drop, risk rises. Here’s how to minimize those risks. 

Leave the heat on at least 65 degrees when you leave

This is less about the temperature in your rooms than it is about the temperature inside your walls. It gets colder inside your walls than it does on the thermostat, and this can be dangerous because your pipes are inside your walls. If it gets too cold in there, your pipes could freeze and burst. A burst pipe can cause anything from light water damage to damage that forces you to vacate your home. In most cases, water damage from burst pipes will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, if your insurance carrier finds that the damage was caused by negligence on your part (such as keeping your heat at too low a temperature or leaving it off entirely when the house is vacant), you may be denied coverage. In these cases, the damage could have been reasonably prevented. This is why it’s best to keep your heat on at least 65 degrees.

Monitor any alternative heat sources you use

Some homeowners like to utilize alternative or auxiliary sources of heat such as a space heater or fireplace. If you haven’t used your fireplace or space heater since last winter, make sure it’s still in good shape before turning it on. Read up on space heater safety before use, then keep a close eye on it during the first few uses. Keep combustible materials away from fireplaces and space heaters, and never cover a space heater in any way. Fires can start in an instant and cause extensive damage in just minutes.

Remain aware of common risk areas outdoors

Outside in the elements, there are several common risks that homeowners face. First, there are risks to those that visit your home. Icy driveways and sidewalks can easily cause a visitor to slip and fall. If you know it may snow, take the time to treat your outdoor surfaces to prevent the buildup of slippery snow and ice. Keep an eye on your trees to check for dead or damaged branches that may fall on people, vehicles, or structures. You should also have your gutters cleaned routinely, especially if you notice a buildup of icy leaves and debris.

It is not only cold in winter but also full of risk. You don’t have to live in fear of disaster, but there are steps you can take to help prevent having to make any insurance claims. Reach out to your agent if you want more advice on how to reduce risks at home.