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Insurance provides limited help for power outages

You're not alone if you're in the dark about home insurance coverage for power outages.

The issue sparks lots of questions, and the answers are all over the grid, depending on your insurance company, your home insurance policy and the state you live in.

Coverage also varies depending on the damage you suffer and the cause of the outage. Here's how insurance generally applies in the following situations:
  • You lose power because of a winter storm. Your home insurance may cover loss of your refrigerated food due to power loss, up to the policy's limit, which is commonly $500. However, policies generally won't pay for additional living expenses such as a hotel room if you can't live at home simply due to a power outage. Home insurance will pay for additional living expenses if your home has actual damage from a storm.
  • Lightning strikes your home and fries your electronics. Standard home insurance typically covers damage from lightning, and some home insurance policies cover electronics damaged by power surges that are the result of lightning strikes, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Some home insurance policies also cover damage due to other power surges. Keep in mind there may be a limit on the payment per damaged item.
  • You opt for a hotel room. Home insurance pays for the costs of temporarily relocating if your home is damaged by a "covered loss," such as a fire, and is uninhabitable while repairs are made. Generally a standard policy will not pay for a hotel stay simply because the power was out. Although your home might feel uninhabitable without air conditioning during an August heat wave, it technically is livable. The same goes for the winter when temperatures drop and the heat goes out.
  • Water water everywhere. If a power outage causes your pipes to freeze and burst, then home insurance would come to the rescue. However, if you purposely left your home without power and the pipes burst as a result, then you probably would have trouble getting your claim paid. Keeping your home heated is part of your responsibility to maintain the property. Here's more about insurance for water damage.
  • Food spoils when the fridge is off. Standard home insurance policies typically cover food spoilage if the power was out due to some other covered loss -- such as a fallen tree that damaged your house and knocked out electricity. But some insurance companies offer coverage for food spoilage from any type of power outage. This coverage sometimes is included in the policies or offered as an endorsement, which is a policy add-on you can purchase by paying a higher premium. The deductible for food spoilage is sometimes waived or lower than the deductible for other damage.

Your best bet for deciphering coverage for power outages is to contact your home insurance company or agent. In addition, do what you can to prevent disasters that could result from outages. Invest in surge protectors to safeguard electronics and figure out how to turn off the water, in case the pipes freeze. Shutting off the water quickly helps prevent the pipes from bursting. The III also recommends installing an emergency release valve, which protects the plumbing from the pressure caused by frozen pipes.

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