Home insurance claims that arise while you're away

You don't have to be home for calamity to ensue. Whether you're returning from a long vacation abroad or just from a short business trip, you may surprised to find your house is not in the condition you left it. Perhaps a pipe burst and flooded your home, or a thief broke in and stole your new tablet and high-definition TV, or birds have flown down the chimney and wreaked havoc on your furniture.

Whatever your misfortune involves, you should begin by photographing the damage and contacting your homeowners insurance company.

A great bit of advice: Don't discard things before your insurance carrier can inspect them.

If your water heater leaks, causing a flood, let your insurer take a look to determine if something failed and the product is still under warranty.

Your insurer also is likely to cover emergency repair costs, such as drying out a soggy home or boarding up a broken front door.

Depending on the nature of your disaster, it could be covered under the dwelling or personal property portions of your policy, or both. The dwelling portion would cover damage caused to your floor by a burst water pipe, while your personal property portion would typically cover your ruined furniture.

If your home is uninhabitable, the loss-of-use portion would cover the costs of things like temporary accommodations and clothing.

Because most homeowner insurance policies have deductibles, you should compare the amount of the loss to your deductible before filing a claim.

Every time you file a claim your insurer re-evaluates your insurability. A typical homeowner files a claim every 10 or 12 years. Filing two or three within a short period could send up a red flag.

And because of the economy, many homeowners raised their deductible as a way to lower premiums. If your deductible is $2,500 and your claim is $3,000 you're better off taking care of it on your own.