Silly insurance mistakes that cost us dear
Our home is our most valuable possession. Yet many of us make silly mistakes that leave our house – and our finances - at risk.
Image: Getty Images
With many of us leading increasingly busy lives it's easy to have a momentary lapse in concentration when it comes to our homes.
But foolish mistakes can prove costly and, with household budgets tight in the current uncertain climate, the last thing you want to have to do is to pay out for an error that could easily have been avoided.
Here we look at some of the silly home mishaps many of us make - and the price of rectifying the damage.
As a homeowner - or tenant - you will have insurance in place to cover you from the unexpected. Buildings insurance is a legal requirement if you have a mortgage. And while home contents insurance is not obligatory, it should still be regarded as a necessity.
Additional accidental damage cover also means you are covered for other unforeseen circumstances. But even with this cover in place, prevention is much better than cure.
By using a bit of common sense, you can avoid having to make a claim in the first place and save yourself not only the excess, but also your no-claims discount and the hassle of having to put things right.
1. Burst pipes
If you go away for any length of time during the winter months, you are putting yourself at risk of your pipes bursting, which can be a major catastrophe - especially if it isn't spotted early.
According to price comparison service Gocompare, the worst damage is done when the winter thaw comes and the water flows through the burst pipe.
"Water can cause a huge amount of damage to ceilings and walls, as well as furniture and carpets. The cost of repairs and replacements can run into tens of thousands of pounds," Phil Patterson-Fox from Gocompare told MSN Money.
Most insurance policies will cover you for a burst pipe, but will only do so provided the house isn't left empty for more than a set continual period of days, which can be anything from 30 to 60 days, depending on the insurer.
If you're going to be away for a week or two, consider turning the water off at the mains, and leaving a tap open, also look into leaving your heating system timed to come on for a short period each day.
2. Electrical fires
When making holiday arrangements that mean leaving your house empty for a while, you also need to think about the risk of an electrical fire; figures suggest 19% of reported fires are caused by electrical faults.
If a fire really takes hold, you could be looking at a total loss. But even a small fire can lead to a lot of damage to the building, furniture and fittings caused by fire, smoke and water.
The best way to prevent this is by switching off and unplugging all but your essential electrical equipment (such as your fridge and freezer) in your home before you go away.
3. Careless cooking
Chip pan and grill pan incidents account for around 25% of all domestic fires, according to Gocompare.
Many incidents are caused when the cook gets distracted and forgets about the task in hand, leading to the food under the grill igniting or the oil in the chip pan overheating and bursting into flames.
As with an electrical fire, you could be looking at a total loss, although even a small fire could lead to damage of kitchen units and appliances totalling several hundred pounds.
"If you leave a pan on the hob and it catches fire, leaving your kitchen in ruins, it would usually be covered," Jonathan Cracknell at insurer Aviva told MSN Money.
Nonetheless, it's still worth checking your policy with your insurer; the same applies if you've damaged a kitchen worktop with a hot pan.
To avoid such incidents occurring in the first place, make sure you stay focused when you're involved in any aspect of meal preparation.
4. Forgetting to lock a door
If your mind is on other things as you leave home and you forget to lock the door, you may not be covered if you get burgled.
Most home insurance policies will only pay out for a theft if there was a forced entry into your home, or if the thief gained entry by deception.
"[Forgetting to lock your door] will null your insurance due to lack of reasonable care. The same applies if you keep a spare key under the doormat," Asia Yasir, spokeswoman for insurer Esure, told MSN Money.
The loss will depend entirely on how much the burglar can take out of the property before you return home, but with most homes now brimming with hi-tech gadgets, jewellery and other valuables, the replacement value could quickly run into thousands.
The advice is simple: make sure you lock the door every time you leave the house. If in doubt, go back and check; it's better to be safe than sorry.
5. Leaving windows open
A careless action, such as a window or skylight left open when you leave for work, could leave you in all sorts of trouble if the heavens open and heavy rain falls.
Prolonged rainfall - or even a short, sharp shower - could cause serious damage to furnishings, electrical equipment or carpets. While it's an easy mistake to make, once you look at the cost of replacing carpets, curtains and other furniture, you could easily be looking at the wrong end of £1,000.
"As with leaving a door unlocked, leaving a window open also demonstrates a lack of reasonable care," warns Yasir from Esure. "This could invalidate your cover."
Whenever you leave the house - even if it's only to pop to the corner shop - make sure you shut all the windows.
6. Leaving a bath overflowing
We all know how easy it is to start running a bath, but then get distracted by a phone call or knock at the door and to completely forget that the taps are still on.
While most sinks and baths have an overflow drain, if this is blocked or obstructed and cannot drain water quickly enough, your home could be flooded.
With baths in most houses situated on the first floor or above, the water damage to carpets, floors, furnishings and ceilings could be considerable - and the repair bill could easily run into thousands.
To avoid this, never leave a running bath unattended for more than a few minutes - or set an alarm on your mobile phone reminding you to turn the taps off.
After a hard week's work, there's nothing better than a takeaway and bottle of wine on the sofa, but you do need to consume with care, as recent findings suggests that 40% of food and drink spilt in the homes has caused permanent damage to carpets and upholstery, with nearly half of these stains never disappearing.
While accidents will occur, the cost of fixing them can be daunting, as the cost of using a professional carpet cleaner is around £155, while paying out to replace the carpet or upholstery can cost more than £350.
In the event of a spillage, deal with it immediately and, if in doubt, contact your insurer, who may have access to a special restoration company that can offer the best advice on how to save the item.
8. Coffee spillages on a computer
Many of us are partial to having a cup of tea or coffee while we spend 10 minutes catching up on Facebook or indulging in a bit of retail therapy online, but this could prove expensive if you accidentally knock the drink all over your computer keyboard.
If you've got a desktop PC, you may get away with just being able to buy a new keyboard. However, if it's a laptop, the chances are you'll need to get a new one.
Phil Patterson-Fox from Gocompare told MSN Money that some home policies exclude accidental damage to portable electrical devices.
"Check your policy wording before buying," he says. "Or just make your computer desk a no-drink zone."
9. Botched DIY
With household budgets tight, many of us are tempted to carry out a little decorating, plastering, plumbing or gardening to save money, but these savings could soon be wiped out if things don't go to plan.
Accidental damage insurance won't automatically cover you if you drill through a wall and rupture a pipe, as DIY claims may be excluded, leaving you with a hefty bill if you need to get a botched job put right.
In fact, recent findings from Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks show one in 10 people carrying out DIY have had to fork out up to £500 to fix their own DIY blunders.
Before embarking on an odd job, contact your insurer and ask them to quote for DIY-related incidents; some have an upgrade option to cover for this kind of claim.
The key is to check your policy before you get the toolbox out and, if in doubt, call in a suitably qualified tradesman.
10. Calling in a tradesman
If you're calling in a workman to do a job for you, make sure that any work is done to a high standard. If damage is caused to your home as a result of shoddy workmanship or faulty, poor quality materials, you will not be covered, according to Victoria Leyton from price comparison service Confused.
Andrew Ferguson from HSBC Insurance also advises checking any tradesman carrying out work on your property has current liability insurance.
Never leave contractors in your home doing repairs or decorating while your home is unoccupied without informing your insurer, as this could invalidate your insurance. And, once the work is finished, remember to inform your insurer if you've made significant improvements as this could affect your premium.
11. Falling asleep with a cigarette still lit
If you've been working late - or had a few to drink - and decide to light up when you go to bed, you can cause all sorts of damage if you then fall asleep with a cigarette still burning.
Fires started by smoking materials in homes across the UK cause £25,500 of damage on average.
The advice is simple: never smoke in bed and, if you need to lie down, don't light up, as you could easily doze off and set your bed on fire. Also ensure you have a smoke alarm fitted on every level of your home and remember to test each one regularly.
12. Putting off home maintenance
It's easy to put basic home maintenance tasks at the bottom of your "to do" list, but if your guttering becomes blocked due to leaves, this could result in damage to your property from an overflow of water.
Similarly, if you fail to get your chimney swept regularly, this can become blocked, potentially causing a chimney fire. The key is to ensure your property is well-maintained.
"You have a duty of care to look after your property to a reasonable degree," Nick Dear from insurer More Than told MSN Money. "If not, you could find you're not covered."
This means checking roofs, chimneys and gutters for unsafe tiles, cracks, leaks and blockages.
13. Advertising Christmas presents to burglars
As the festive period approaches, it may be customary to place all your wrapped Christmas gifts under the tree in full view of the street.
However, a shining tree surrounded by presents is a very inviting proposition to opportunist thieves, so make sure your tree and gifts are positioned in a less obvious place.
Some insurers, such as More Than, automatically increase your possessions cover at Christmas, as they know you will have more items in your home at that time of year - so check this out when purchasing a policy.
If you're the owner of an unruly dog, you may discover - to your horror - that your four-legged friend has knocked over a glass of red wine onto the carpet or chewed the leg off your antique table.
While the damage can run into hundreds - or thousands - of pounds, damage caused by pets is a tricky area in terms of insurance.
"If it is a genuine accident, such as the glass of red wine, you should be covered by the accidental damage section of your policy," said Nick Dear from More Than. "But in the case of the antique table, some insurers may argue that you could have prevented it - and therefore refuse to cover you."
The key is to keep a close eye on your dog's teeth and tail, as well as your cat's claws, and to ensure expensive items are kept out of reach.
Please note that articles on MSN Money do not constitute regulated financial advice, which recommends a course of action based upon the specifics of your personal circumstances. The articles are intended to provide general personal financial information. We urge you to consult an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) before making any important decisions about your finances. You can search for an IFA in your local area. Any statement regarding financial services products and tax liability is based on legislation and tax practices as at 6 April 2011, which is, of course, subject to change. The value of any tax benefits or reliefs depends upon the individual circumstances of the investor. When investment performance is mentioned you should remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Where products have an underlying investment content, in many cases the value of the investment can fall as well as rise. For with-profit based investments, there is no guarantee as to the level of bonuses that will be declared, if any. Where mortgages or secured loans are explained do remember that your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or other loan secured on it. All mortgages are subject to underwriting, status and are not available to people under the age of 18.
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