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Renovating Your Home? Renovate Your Insurance

(ARA) - Whether you are upgrading a kitchen, adding on a master suite, or gutting a newly purchased structure, you need to reassess your insurance needs both before and after your renovation.

It's common to plan every major step of the renovation. But one thing that's tough to plan for is the unexpected. What if an oily rag left unattended starts a fire and your home goes up in smoke? The remodeling work done to date may have an impact on your homeowners insurance - unless you let your insurance agent in on the plans ahead of time.

For example, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company policyholders are required to let their agent know about any renovation projected to increase the replacement cost of your home by more than $25,000 in order for the crucial full-cost replacement coverage to remain in force.

"Your insurance company and your agent can help you find gaps in your coverage related to remodeling and establish appropriate replacement costs," says Don Soss, vice president of personal insurance at Fireman's Fund. "We can also make sure your contractor and subs have adequate liability insurance in case of damage to your property from poor workmanship or carelessness."

In addition, risk managers at the insurance company can provide advice to minimize the possibility of fires, theft, and mishaps. Good risk management practices also minimize potential project delays. This may be a good time to add security and safety features such as water flow monitoring devices or upgraded burglary and fire alarm systems.

One of the most common issues is maintaining a secure environment during the work phase. For example, contractors often disable a home's existing fire alarm system because dust and particulates generated by construction tend to trigger false alarms. It is important for temporary measures such as fencing and alternate alarms to be in place to keep the property secure.

Demolition debris should also be secured so it can't become airborne in high winds. Toxic or explosive materials need to be stored and handled appropriately, and rebars should be capped to prevent injury to workmen and residents.

Often, the family moves to temporary housing during a remodel. It may be a good idea to put art collections and other valuables that could be damaged in an offsite secure storage facility for optimal protection.

Even before your work is complete, your agent can go over your current homeowners insurance and make sure you have the replacement value of your home updated. This will reflect increases in construction materials and labor, changes in building codes, installation of new safety devices, changes in square footage, and custom features and appliances.

Top tips for homeowners considering a renovation:

1. Contact your agent before construction starts for coverage of your remodeling work and the value of your completed home.

2. Make sure your contractor and subcontractors have adequate liability insurance. Many contractors carry the generally recommended limits of at least twice the replacement value of the home.

3. Ask the contractor to maintain adequate safety and security devices such as fire and burglar alarms.

4. Save all records related to your project (receipts and appraisals). Store copies of these records in a secure off-site location. Videotaping your house and possessions is also recommended.

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