The forecasts are out, and we're told to brace ourselves for an active storm season -- particularly those of us on the East Coast. June marks the beginning of the seven-month hurricane season, and you'll want to make sure you're as prepared as you can be.
As homeowners insurance premiums continue to rise at double-digit rates, especially in catastrophe-prone areas, it's important to do what you can to lower your premium -- no one else is going to do it for you. Some improvements you can make on your own, while others require a professional.
Insurance companies offer discounts based on certain features and what they call "loss mitigation measures" you've taken with your house. It's a jargony way of saying "home improvement."
The discounts vary by company and often depend on where you live. Some states require companies to offer certain discounts. For example, Florida requires insurers to offer discounts for protecting your home against damage caused by hurricane winds.
States in which tornadoes, earthquakes, fires or other natural disasters are prevalent may also require insurers to offer discounts related to those events.
Call your insurance agent, or the company directly, and ask specifically what things you can do to take advantage of any discounts offered. Here are some steps the company may suggest:
1. Install Hurricane Shutters
Protecting your windows from flying debris is one of the most cost-effective measures you can take to safeguard your home from hurricane damage. If you're thinking of buying new shutters or upgrading the ones you have, first talk to a licensed professional who can explain the kinds of shutters available and what codes they meet.
The level of compliance with the building code will directly affect the discount on your homeowners policy.
2. Reinforce Your Concrete Roof Deck
Securing your roof is another cost-effective way to safeguard your home from damage. Insurers may give double-digit discounts for strong roof construction. However, before you do anything you should first consult with and get estimates from two or more professionally certified roofers.
You must weigh the cost of making certain improvements against the amount of the insurance discount and determine if it's worth it. Some states provide homeowners grants for making these types of improvements.
Again using Florida as an example, the state provides grants of up to $5,000 for "approved risk mitigation measures" through its Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program. Check with your state to see if there is a similar program where you live.
3. Attach Your Roof With Long Nails
It might sound silly, but it's worth finding out how long the nails are that attach your roof. The longer they are, and the closer together they are nailed in, the greater the discount. This discount generally is not as significant as the others mentioned here, but it can still save you a couple of hundred dollars a year on your premium.
4. Connect Your Roof to Your Walls as Tightly as Possible
Just imagine a giant showing up one day and ripping the roof off your house and dumping millions of gallons of water into it. That's pretty much what happened to homeowners in south Florida when Hurricanes Frances and Jean hit in 2004.
Frances blew the roofs off and Jean came along and poured torrential rains on them, causing homes to be completely gutted. That's why it's important to make sure the lid to your house is screwed on tight. That may sound crazy, but believe it or not, there are things you can do to make sure your roof is attached as tightly as possible.
They involve things called toe nails, clips, single wraps and double wraps. You should make it your business to know what they are, whether you have them, if you can upgrade to them, how much it costs and how much they can help you can save on your insurance premiums. You may already qualify for the discount and not even know it.
The bottom line is that you are the only person who can make sure that you're getting the lowest premium possible. You need to understand what discounts your insurer offers and if you qualify for them. You can't control Mother Nature, but you can be an educated consumer and get the best price possible.
Melissa Gannon is director of insurance and bank ratings for TheStreet.com Ratings, formerly Weiss Ratings, where she directs the operations of the company's insurance and bank ratings division.
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