The Marshall Fire was one of the most devastating fires in Colorado history. On Dec. 30, 2021, fires raged across more than 6,000 acres, through Boulder County, destroying more than 1,000 homes and structures in a day.
Unfortunately, one of the common discoveries after the Marshall Fire was that homeowners and renters often didn’t know they didn’t have adequate insurance coverage to rebuild their homes and replace their belongings. But this harsh reality didn’t come as a surprise to insurance experts.
About two out of every three homes in America are underinsured, according to www.nationwide.com. The average underinsurance amount is about 22%, though some homes are underinsured by 60% or more. This means millions of American homeowners are at risk of major financial loss should a disaster ever affect their home.
The Rocky Mountain Insurance Association claims that nearly half of Colorado renters are uninsured. They say renters are always a vulnerable group because they think that they are covered by their landlord, or they simply didn’t think about carrying renters’ insurance.
Being underinsured means that you don’t have enough home insurance coverage to protect you if your home is damaged or destroyed by a fire or another disaster. Not having enough insurance can result in you paying a large part of the repair construction costs, according to Insurance.com.
How do you make sure your home isn’t underinsured? One common mistake that homeowners make is not reviewing their home insurance policy each year. Here’s a checklist from Insurance.com with tips for ensuring you have sufficient coverage:
- Avoid home insurance coverage minimums
If you have a mortgage, your lender will require you to have a minimum amount of homeowners insurance coverage. Depending on the terms of your financial contract, that amount may be the same as the unpaid mortgage balance or a higher amount that would be enough to cover replacement costs of the home. The minimum liability protection you can get is usually $100,000, but experts recommend buying three times that. The takeaway: home insurance coverage that is equal to your mortgage balance with minimum liability limits is often not enough to fully protect you.
- Notify your insurer and update your policy if you complete home renovations or add features
Improving your home adds to its value but can also mean you become underinsured. So, it's important to notify your insurer when you improve your house and increase your coverage to protect your home adequately.
- Make and update a personal property inventory
Make sure you adequately cover your personal items, and that the inventory of what’s inside your house is current. This can include valuable personal possessions such as jewelry, art, antiques, guns and coin collections, but it also should include regular household furniture and items.
- Assess your exclusions and endorsements
You should also review your exclusions and endorsements, the parts of your policy that give or take away coverage. Endorsements (i.e., expensive personal possessions, home-based business, sewer backup, etc.) can ensure you are fully protected and are typically very affordable. Reviewing your exclusions (i.e., certain dog breeds, wind and hail damage, etc.) will help you determine how to protect your home from severe weather and whether you need to buy more liability insurance.
- Buy replacement coverage, check it against inflation
Replacement coverage for your home and personal belongings help make sure you can properly repair and rebuild your home -- and replace items damaged, destroyed or stolen. Another type of coverage is called actual cash value (ACV). This costs less than replacement coverage, but it doesn't cover you as much as replacement coverage. Instead, ACV reduces the value of your home by the amount of depreciation.
- Make sure you have enough liability coverage
Home insurance covers you if you, a family member living with you—or even your dog—is to blame for injuries or property damage. Liability coverage helps with property damage, medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. This type of coverage can also cover you for death benefits and legal costs.
- Get the right value to rebuild your home
To make sure that you have enough coverage, you will have to figure out the replacement value to rebuild your home. According to Carole Walker, executive director at Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association in Greenwood Village, one way to make sure your home is insured properly is by multiplying the local building costs per square foot by the total square footage of your house. Or you can ask a local builders association or a reputable builder for the local building costs, or check with your insurance agent. Walker said factors that will determine the cost to rebuild your home include:
- Construction costs
- Square footage
- Types of exterior wall construction, such as frame, masonry, or veneer
- House style, such as a ranch or colonial
- Number of rooms and bathrooms
- Type of roof
- Features like garages, fireplaces, and exterior trim
- You may need flood insurance
Even if you don't live in a flood zone, your home may need flood insurance. A standard home insurance policy doesn't protect your home if it floods. Instead, you need to buy a separate flood insurance policy through either the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurance company that works with the NFIP.
This checklist may ensure that a home is adequately insured, but when disaster strikes, the fallout can be scary, overwhelming, and stressful for any homeowner. Through United Policyholders, a nonprofit group whose mission is to be a trustworthy and useful information resource for consumers, here are top 10 insurance claim tips:
- Be proactive in the claim process and keep good notes. Make sure you maintain a paper trail.
- Focus on calculating the total value of your damaged or destroyed property and understanding the maximum insurance benefits that are available to you.
- Think of your insurance claim as a business negotiation—you’re dealing with a profit-oriented company and your goal is to restore your assets.
- Give your insurance company a chance to do the right thing, but don’t mistake a friendly representative for a friend and don’t be a pushover.
- Document and support your claim with proof, details, and estimates.
- Present clear requests in writing that explain what you need, when you need it, and why you’re entitled to it.
- Don’t pad or exaggerate your claim.
- Don’t sign legal documents without consulting with a qualified attorney.
- Try to resolve problems informally but complain in writing. Go up the chain of command and/or use government agency help when necessary.
- Get specialized professional help when you need it. Start in the “Find Help” section of uphelp.org.
We hope these tips are helpful as you think about securing your home or renters insurance and keeping them updated every year. Please share this information with your family and relatives as well as your colleagues and friends.
You and your family may have to evacuate in an emergency. Depending on the urgency of the situation, you may have several hours to gather your belongings or just a few minutes to grab your essentials. To ensure that you and your family are adequately prepared to leave your home safely and quickly, there are a few steps you can take in advance.
- ArapAlert: Citizen Notification
- From your phone: emergency notification system to alert citizens about emergencies such as fires, floods, tornados, severe thunderstorms, evacuation of buildings or neighborhoods, and other emergencies. To sign up, visit www.arapalert.com.
- ArapAlert covers all cities and town in Arapahoe County except for the City of Aurora. If you reside in Aurora, sign up for Alert Aurora.
- Emergency alert
- Get the latest information on the County’s website: Arapahoe County’s Emergency Alert Information.
Build Your Emergency Kit:
- Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office: Office of Emergency Management Videos
- Basic disaster supplies kit
Build A Kit:Ready.gov/kit. After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days. Being prepared means having enough food, water, and other supplies to last for several days. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency.
After assembling your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put the entire kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.
A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for several days, for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a several-day supply of non-perishable food)
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
- Manual can opener
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
- Additional Emergency Supplies
Since Spring of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended people include additional items in their kits to help prevent the spread of viruses and the flu. Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:
- Soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes
- Prescription medications. About half of all Americans take a prescription medicine every day. An emergency can make it difficult for them to refill their prescription or to find an open pharmacy. Organize and protect your prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins to prepare for an emergency.
- Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
- Prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Cash or traveler's checks
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records, all saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
- Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate, and sturdy shoes
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
- Paper and pencil
- Books, games, puzzles, or other activities for children
- Maintaining your kit
After assembling your kit, remember to maintain it so it’s ready when needed:
- Keep canned food in a cool, dry place
- Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers
- Replace expired items as needed
- Rethink your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change
- Kit storage locations
Since you do not know where you will be when an emergency occurs, prepare separate kits for your home, office, and cars.
- Home: Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.
- Office: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water and other necessities like medicines, as well as comfortable walking shoes, stored in a “grab and go” case.
- Car: In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car.