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What is buildings insurance?

The thought of our homes being either ruined by the devastating effects of fires and floods or ransacked by burglars doesn’t bear thinking about and is, admittedly, the stuff of nightmares.

Yet burying our heads in the sand and hoping something like this never happens to us is not an option. Not if you want to pick up the pieces after an all-consuming event such as this and start re-building your home and family life.

You see having suitable and far-ranging buildings insurance in place will provide the rudimentary building blocks (if you excuse the pun) to repair the physical damage, if not heal the emotional scars, should your home succumb to the ravages of a fiery or watery fate, or indeed, to the nefarious ways of fellow man. But just what is buildings insurance and how can it help?

Buildings insurance is a dedicated insurance product which covers the property (and therein the policyholder) against damage occurring to its predominant external and internal structures, as well as all fixtures and fittings. So in a nut shell everything from the roof, ceiling, floors and walls through to doors, windows, fitted kitchens and bathrooms and built-in cupboards. Literally – or rather, physically – anything that’s integral to the construct of your home.

This also extends to outdoor buildings such as garages, sheds, greenhouses and gazebos in many buildings insurance instances too. Outlying structures which aren’t usually covered and may potentially be contested if/when claimed against include boundary-marking walls, fences and gates and mains supply pipes.

Now we have a better understanding of more or less what’s covered (in terms of the infrastructure of our properties), we should take a closer look at what risks they are covered against before we go any further.

Acts of God tend to be all-consuming when you’re caught in the grip of one, and there’s little anyone can do to side-step the wrath of a higher being (Mother Nature naturally falls into this same potentially catastrophic category) as and when they unleash their unearthly powers. Normally this manifests itself in the shape of storms, thunder and lightning, avalanches, landslides, earthquakes and can also include fire, floods, falling trees, explosions (gas, etc…) and extensive freezes.

Mercifully here in the UK homeowners aren’t prone to experiencing some of the more destructive forces of nature on the grandest scales, yet we still by and large have to confront the effects (and more importantly, after effects) of tress having fallen down in strong winds (possibly on top of our property), pipes having burst as a direct result of extreme frosts, flood damage and structural damage occurring courtesy of lightning strikes.

Add into that heady destructive mix property damage consistent with contact with vehicles or vandalism along with the legacy of subsidence and you begin to see the full extent of what could easily happen to any one of us with a home. And therefore why we need to do more in readiness than just battening down the hatches or hiding under the stairs.

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Do I need buildings insurance?

The answer is yes, especially so if you’re looking to take out a mortgage on a property any time soon. Or for that matter, if you’re planning on renting out your property to a third party. And that’s due to the underlying fact that your mortgage acceptance often hinges on this and if you don’t adhere to your lender’s instruction you may jeopardise the entire mortgage agreement and put your home at risk to boot.

But then aside from legal implications there’s the very real notion that repairing a property can run into tens of thousands of pounds (dependent on the damage and its limitations), so knowing that you can arrange buildings insurance to financially address this from often under £200 per year is surely worth the bother/expense.

And for those asking, the perfect buildings insurance policy would look a lot like this, comprising as it (advisably does) the following key features:

Sum insured – allowing the policyholder to draw on enough (paid into) funds to clear the site and rebuild your home in the event of it having been totally destroyed by fire, flood, etc…

Insurance experts suggest that a sum in the region of £250,000 to £500,000 is what you should be looking to be insured for in terms of buildings insurance, and taking into account average costs. Index-linking this sum insured figure would also pay dividends over time as this amount is subject to cost of living/inflation rises.

Alternative to sum insured policies are bedroom-rated plans which account for over 50% of buildings insurance policies sold in recent years according to the industry. This policy is based on your provider calculating the cost of your home rebuild from the number of bedrooms the property has, and usually they proffer a very high sum insured to protect you against under-insurance. Almost half of these policies have a sum insured of £250,000 or more.

Alternative accommodation – this is an imperative measure to take to cover the costs (estimated by insurance industry insiders as being akin to £40,000) of staying in a hotel/rented house while the repair work to your own home is carried out, if it’s deemed unsafe to live in.

Public liability – should anyone injure themselves or die while on your property – or their property is damaged whilst on yours – then this clause kicks in and protects your financial interests; ideally to the tune of £2million we’d suggest.

Underground services – safeguards any damage to underground pipes and cables which directly bring any utilities into your home, as well as directing sewage away.

Blockage of sewer pipe/burst pipes – two separate cover entities which would be useful to figure into any underwritten building insurance documentation, with £1,000 of cover advised by respected authorities.

Accidental damage cover – self-explanatory protection which ensures the policyholder is recompensed for any accidents/damage which occurs at your property. Please note that damage substantiated by pets or construction work does not normally fall under this remit.

Legal expenses cover – employment disputes, bodily injury claims etc… can all hit you hard in the pocket, so arranging cover for a sum similar to £50,000 at least is seen as a must.

Building excess – as always, the higher you opt to go, the lower the premium comes down.

It’s worth noting what your average buildings insurance policy WON’T cover while we’re at it too, just so there aren’t any grey areas or unpleasant little surprises at a later date.

Frost is a no-no, unless burst pipes brought on by the presence of hard frosts have contributed in part to any subsequent damage), while leaking gutters are deemed the responsibility of the homeowner (or rather the regular cleaning of gutters to ensure that water/debris doesn’t build up in them and thus play its part in any inconvenience).

Likewise, damage to your property said to be caused by insects, birds and pests is generally not covered by buildings contents insurance policies, just so you’re aware. That’s on top of the outlying boundary fences and gates we mentioned above.

Also don’t expect to leave your property vacant for in excess of a month at a time and then claim for any loss or damage befalling it, unless of course you’ve informed your buildings insurance provider of the situation in advance.

How much does buildings insurance cost?

As we hinted at earlier the actual costs of building insurance policies can vary depending on the type and level of cover you request and the add-ons you look to bolt to any future agreement

What can I do to reduce the cost of buildings insurance?

While homeowners can do a lot to avoid, or at least limit, the damage caused by burglary (invest in burglar alarms, suitable portal locks etc…), there’s not a huge amount they can do to deflect their property’s structure from bearing the brunt of adverse weather conditions taking an unshakeable hold on their actual bricks and mortar.

Unless of course they are one of the 5 million UK citizens who live in the 2 million properties that are said to be located on a recognised flood plain, where it’s suggested by buildings insurance experts that you have your drainage pipes fitted with one-way valves to discourage sewage backing up into your home during a flood, raise plug socket heights to reduce the risk of electrical damage, replace existing wooden flooring downstairs with concrete and tile rather than carpet, plaster downstairs walls with a special water-resistant render and fit doors, airbricks and low windows with flood skirts which fuse together to form a watertight barrier.

Or for that matter those homeowners who know only too well about the effects brought about by subsidence, who could easily be subject to policy excesses of £2,500 if they don’t take necessary measures to minimise the risk. Such as ensuring that they don’t plant trees and shrubs too close to the property so that they don’t soak up all the moisture in the ground resulting in clay shrinkage and consequent sink holes forming.


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