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When it comes to fire, home policies have you covered

Published June 26, 2012 1:45 pm

Insurance • "They have been wonderful," say Sanpete couple who lost home to fire.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

David Taylor and his wife, Janice, were devastated by the loss of their home in Indianola to fire over the weekend. But the Sanpete couple say the real shocker came after they called their insurance company.

"We weren't really sure what to expect," said David Taylor, a volunteer member of the Sanpete County Search and Rescue unit who was away from home helping police when his house went up in flames. "But they have been wonderful to us — they are covering everything and will put us up in a hotel or apartment for up to 12 months while we rebuild."

When it comes to disasters, there's actually an advantage to having your home damaged by fire instead of by flooding or by an earthquake.

Homeowners insurance policies generally cover fire damage, while perils such as quakes and high water nearly always require a separate policy or coverage.

The Taylors are among thousands of Utahns who have been victimized or threatened by fire this summer. Although some Sanpete County residents were allowed to return home Tuesday, another fire had burned some buildings in Duchesne County. Just last weekend, 2,500 or so evacuees returned to Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs after a fire evacuation order affecting 588 homes had been lifted.

A day after their home was destroyed, Taylor was on the phone to American Family Insurance. By Tuesday, the company had sent out an adjuster and was reassuring the couple they soon could start the process of rebuilding. "I don't think they could be doing a better job working with us," Taylor said.

Homeowners insurance policies cover fire damage, as well as damage caused by smoke, soot or ash. After a homeowner pays a deductible, their policy will cover the cost of cleaning, repairing or rebuilding their home up to certain predetermined limits.

"If you have homeowners coverage, you're covered for fire," said Angela M. Thorpe, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance Co., adding that most policies also provide coverage for up to two years of temporary housing if the home is uninhabitable.

Even for those whose homes aren't threatened by fire, it's a good time to review your policy to make sure you have adequate coverage in the event of a fire or other disaster. In fact, a yearly check is considered a good idea.

When reviewing your policy, it's always a good idea to talk over any distinctive features of your home, such as a wood stove or fireplace.

Many homeowners also have long forgotten about their deductibles, ranging from $500 to $1,000, which they are responsible for paying before their coverage becomes effective. Generally, the higher the deductible, the lower the cost of coverage. But if you raise your deductible to save money, you'll want to make sure you have that amount in a savings account should you need it.

While you are reviewing your policy, it's a good time to update or create an inventory of valuables in your home. This entails listing what's in your home on a room-by-room basis, from major electronics to jewelry and clothes. Put the documentation in a file folder with any receipts you may have for big-ticket items. Photos or videos of your valuables are good to have, too.

Keep the home inventory file off-site — in a safe deposit box or in a safe in a family member's home. That way, in the event your home is destroyed, you can easily document your personal belongings for the insurance company.