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Got bugs? Home insurance won't help

bugTake care to keep your house free of ants, termites, moths, and other pests, because your home insurance won't pay the repair bills. Standard home insurance policies don't usually cover pest-related damage.

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Most homeowners policies contain an exclusion for animal losses, meaning damage caused by birds, vermin, rodents, insects or animals owned or kept by the policyholder.

Insurance companies regard infestations as a home-maintenance issue. For example, an annual termite inspection and treatment would head off an infestation that could lead to damage, so it falls upon the homeowner to take care of it.

There are a few situations in which a homeowners policy will cover damage involving animals. For instance, if an animal caused a fire in your house, the damage would be covered.

Under standard homeowners policies, the collapse of a home is covered if hidden insect or vermin damage caused it, explains David Thompson of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents. "Hidden" means the homeowner can't see the damage.

The damage resulting from a collapse is covered, but the actual damage done by the insects or vermin is not. For example, say termites eat a support beam under a home and the home collapses. The cost to replace the beam is $2,000. The damage to walls, floors, and roof trusses is about $25,000. The $2,000 beam is not covered, but the other damage is covered, Thompson says.

Now that you know it's your job to protect your home from pests, do you know how to battle bugs, bats, and birds? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a Virginia-based trade association representing more than 4,000 professional pest control companies, suggest homeowners prevent infestation by using an approach called "integrated pest management." It combines several methods, such as proper waste management, maintenance, and pesticides.

Here are some pest-prevention tips from the EPA and the NPMA:

       Outside your home

•             Remove piles of wood from under or around your home to avoid attracting termites and carpenter ants.

•             Destroy diseased plants and fallen fruit that might harbor pests.

•             Rake fallen leaves.

•             Keep vegetation, trees, shrubs, and wood mulch at least 18 inches away from your home. Remove tree branches that touch your home.

•             Clean up pet droppings from your yard. They attract flies that can spread bacteria.

•             Do not let litter or garbage accumulate. It draws mice, rats, and other rodents.

•             Drain off or sweep away standing puddles of water, which are breeding places for mosquitoes and other pests.

      Inside your home

•             Do not let water accumulate in or around your home. Fix leaky plumbing.

•             Remove or dry out water-damaged and wet materials. Dampness or high humidity can attract pests.

•             Store food in sealed glass or plastic containers.

•             Keep your kitchen clean and free from cooking grease and oil.

•             Do not leave food in pet bowls on the counter or floor for long periods of time.

•             Put food scraps or trash in tightly covered, animal-proof garbage cans.

•             Empty your garbage frequently.

•             Caulk cracks and crevices to control pest access. Make sure doors have gaps no larger than 1/4 inch between the floor and the bottom of the door.

•             Bathe pets regularly.

•             Avoid storing newspapers, paper bags, and boxes for long periods of time.

•             Check for pests in packages or boxes before carrying them into your home.

•             Install screens on floor drains, windows, heating and air conditioning vents, and doors to discourage crawling and flying pests from entering your home.

•             Make sure any passageways through the floor are blocked.

•             Place weather stripping around doors and windows.

•             Caulk and seal openings in walls.

•             Improve ventilation in crawl spaces.

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