Last updated Oct. 19, 2010
If you’re a homeowner with a yucky home-related issue, whether it involves bugs, critters or mold, you have a responsibility to get it corrected. But gross problems can be expensive to fix, and many people may be surprised to learn that home insurance often won’t pay insurance claims for gross things — because they’re considered a home-maintenance problem.
“Standard homeowner’s policies are designed to provide coverage for disasters that are ‘sudden and accidental,’” says Claire Wilkinson, vice president of global issues for the Insurance Information Institute, an insurance industry-funded organization. “A standard policy covers a wide range of perils, such as fire, storms and theft, but it is not designed to cover the cost of cleaning and maintaining a home.”
Here are four gross situations that home insurance typically won’t cover – plus a few exceptions to the rule.
1. Rats, mice and other vermin
Rodents and similar creatures are not only annoying, they can also cause physical damage to a home. By gnawing holes through walls and electrical wires, they can weaken structures and potentially cause fires.
A rat infestation may be costly to wipe out, but don’t expect your home insurance company to cover the expenses, says Wilkinson. From an insurer’s perspective, getting rid of rats and other vermin is considered a regular cost of owning a home. “Many standard home insurance policies specifically exclude losses due to animals, including rodents, insects and vermin,” she says.
There is a possible exception to this exclusion: If a creature gnaws through a wire and causes a fire, the fire damage would generally be covered, says Wilkinson.
Mold develops in areas of a house that have been wet for days, often because of a flood, burst pipe or everyday water issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold can grow around windows, drywall and upholstery, and it can cause or exacerbate a variety of respiratory health problems.
Due to health consequences, it’s important to remove mold as quickly as possible. This means quickly repairing leaky faucets and pipes, washing hard surfaces with a bleach solution and removing items that can’t be cleaned (such as carpet). Despite the hefty cost of mold removal, homeowners generally cannot file an insurance claim for the clean-up. Mold is not considered sudden or accidental, says Wilkinson, and is often specifically excluded in policies.
There is an exception: “If mold was the direct result of a covered peril, such as a burst pipe, there could be coverage for the cost of eliminating it,” says Wilkinson.
Termites can destroy a home, eating wooden beams that support the house structure. Unfortunately, damage due to termites is also not sudden or accidental, so home insurance generally won’t cover any claims resulting from their feasts, says Wilkinson. However, homeowners may not realize they have termites until the damage is significant. For that reason, Wilkinson says it’s best to have a termite professional inspect the property regularly. “It’s your responsibility as a homeowner to take reasonable precautions to protect your home,” she explains.
The cost of termite prevention is far less than paying for uninsured damage, she says.
4. Bed bugs
The National Pest Management Association reports that there has been an increase in bed bug infestations across the country. Homeowners who discover bed bugs are often shocked and repulsed, but just as with other gross critters, home insurance policies exclude them, says Wilkinson.
If you’re a homeowner with bed bugs, bite the bullet and call a pest management professional.
While home insurance won’t pay for bed bug elimination, your health insurance plan will pay for your visit to the doctor to treat the bites — if the plan covers office visits.
Regular maintenance and prompt clean-up can help prevent many gross problems. And knowing that your insurance policy won’t be paying for damage may compel you to nip the problem in the bud.