The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, and those who live along the Gulf and East coasts will be paying close attention to brewing storms.
Before storms move toward shore, experts recommend you review your insurance policies to make sure you’re covered for any disaster Mother Nature might throw your way.
"One of the main reasons we get our homeowner's or renter's or auto insurance is to deal with weather situations," said Ben Gonzalez, spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance. "That's one of the primary things, along with fire, that people think about when they get insurance."
Mark Friedlander, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, said the primary function of your insurance is to give you some peace of mind when a disaster strikes.
"When we talk about insurance coverage for consumers, we stress financial protection," Friedlander said. "The purpose of insurance is to financially protect you, your family and your assets."
Gonzalez and Friedlander have these tips to help you ensure your insurance is able to protect you when a storm hits.
Reviewing your policy
While it’s easy to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to insurance, Gonzalez recommended at least an annual review of your policy.
"This is the perfect time to conduct an annual review of your insurance coverage with your agent to make sure you have the right types and right amounts of coverage, so you are financially prepared for hurricane season," Friedlander said.
Gonzalez said things such as increased building costs can leave you shelling more out of pocket if your insurance isn't correctly configured.
"Lumber is costing more. Building materials are costing more. Even the labor to put things together is becoming more expensive because there's a shortage out there," Gonzalez said. "So, you know, your insurance agent should be helping you make incremental increases."
Gonzalez said that conversation should be framed around the cost of rebuilding your home, not just the value of it.
"Because that's what your insurance is trying to cover you," Gonzalez said. "So maybe every year during renewal time is a time to check that out, see if it matches up."
Deciding the deductible
Gonzalez said the level of coverage is not the only thing homeowners should evaluate. They also need to think about the deductible – the amount that must be paid out of pocket before insurance begins to cover the costs.
"The higher your deductible is, the lower your monthly premiums are going to be, but you have to consider, ‘Could I pay that deductible in the event of a total loss?’"
Separate policies or add-ons might be needed
Both Friedlander and Gonzalez said people should also keep in mind that insurance coverage varies based on where they live and the types of disasters to which their property might be subjected.
"Typically in coastal states, you have many components of your home insurance policy," Friedlander said. "One is standard coverage for perils such as fire, water leaks, things of that nature, and then you might have a separate area of your policy that covers hurricanes and windstorms, and it all varies by state."
According to Friedlander, there are 19 coastal states from Maine to Texas, plus the District of Columbia, that have different regulations when it comes to windstorm and hurricane insurance coverages. The Insurance Information Institute has put together a guide to those state-by-state rules at iii.org.
Flooding is another weather disaster that requires a separate policy from your standard homeowner's or renter's insurance. According to Gonzalez, that type of policy is typically issued by the National Flood Insurance Program.
"There’s certainly private flood insurance on the market, but your typical homeowner's policy does not cover flood from rising water outside," Gonzalez said. "It might cover water inside your home, like if a pipe bursts, like we saw during the freeze, or an appliance like a washing machine or dishwasher malfunctions and floods your kitchen … but if it's from an outside rainstorm where the water is rising and rising, you'll need a flood policy for that."
Friedlander said people should keep in mind that insurance policies for a dwelling won't cover damage to a vehicle, even if that vehicle is parked in a garage that is part of the dwelling. He said your auto insurance is responsible for covering that damage.
"You need comprehensive coverage," Friedlander said. "If the garage collapses, destroys your vehicle, you have no coverage if you don't have comprehensive. So, that's another big gap that a lot of consumers don't understand."
Inventory your home
Gonzalez also recommended people inventory their homes ahead of a storm to make the post-storm claims process easier.
"It’s incredibly difficult to remember everything that was in a room if you don't have a list about it," Gonzalez said.
He said people should go from room to room, opening all the drawers and closets, and taking pictures of things along the way. He also recommended people note the model and serial numbers of high-dollar items.