Who do you call when you’ve discovered that termites have gnawed their way through your attic and you need a new roof?

Probably not your insurance agent.

Most pest infestations and accompanying damage are considered maintenance issues by insurance carriers. In other words, the insurance company’s position is that you could have prevented the mishap by eradicating the pesky bugs before they ate you out of house and home.

So the homeowner, not the insurance company, pays for any repairs.

“Homeowners insurance coverage extends to ‘sudden and accidental,'” explains Greg Baumann, technical director with the National Pest Management Association in Dunn Loring, Va. “For example, if you have a pipe that bursts, your insurance will cover it. If you have a slow leak that causes mold, the damage won’t be covered.”

But all might not be lost. While your insurance probably won’t cover damage to your home after a couple of years of termite munching, if the pests dine on a crucial support beam of your house and that in turn causes your roof to collapse, the collateral damage is covered. You can usually count on your insurance to help pay for repairs to walls, floors and roof trusses that went when the beam buckled because that damage is considered sudden and accidental.

The cost of replacing the pest-infested crucial beam, however, remains your problem.

A long and growing exclusion list

Termites have company when it comes to insurance coverage, or lack thereof. Damage caused by bats, rats, birds, and other vermin usually isn’t covered by your homeowners policy either.

In fact, exclusion lists keep getting longer and pest damage isn’t the only thing not covered by home insurance.

“One trend we’re seeing is that insurance policies are getting more specific about what’s not covered and they’re excluding more and more pest damage,” says Mike McCartin, an insurance agent with Joseph W. McCartin Insurance in College Park, Md. “The policies are getting really specific and serve notice to the homeowner that the insurer’s intent is not to cover it.”

Insure.com reports that other common home concerns not covered by the average homeowners policy include:

  • Cracks, settling, or pet damage, which are all considered typical wear and tear
  • Flood or earthquake damage
  • War or nuclear explosion damage
  • Water or ice damage to fences, pavement, patios, or swimming pools.

And if you leave your home unoccupied for 30 days or more, don’t look for insurance help to pay for any repairs if pipes freeze or thieves or vandals damage your property.

Homeowner, help yourself

“A lot of people are surprised that pest damage isn’t covered by their insurance,” Baumann says. “Unfortunately, most of the time it isn’t.”

That means that homeowners have to help themselves. When it comes to creepy-crawlies, here are five ways to lessen the financial bite of a pest infestation:

1. Thoroughly read your homeowners insurance policy. It’s not pool-side reading, but being forewarned is being forearmed. “Homeowners that understand their coverage are better prepared and are less likely to be caught unawares,” Baumann says. He also recommends asking questions about anything you don’t understand. “A super deal on insurance may turn out to be a policy that doesn’t cover anything.”

2. Know what pests are the biggest threat. Figure out what you need to prepare for. If you live in Montana, termites are a relatively low threat because they don’t thrive in the state’s dry, summer heat or very cold winters. You have more odds of a bear breaking into your home than termites munching on your home’s wood siding. However, if you live in Maryland, termites are a real possibility, but your home is probably safer from browsing bears.

3. Get your home inspected. Most states and mortgage brokers require inspections before they’ll give you a mortgage. If you happen to live somewhere that doesn’t require a home inspection, get one anyway before you buy, and make certain the inspection covers pest and vermin infestations. An expert can alert you to pest problems so you can take the findings into consideration in making an offer, know what corrective action will be needed or begin looking at other houses.

4. Contract for annual inspections and spraying. The latest trend in pest control is warranted sprayings, according to Baumann. The pest-control firm will inspect and eradicate pests and then give you a year’s warranty. Then the firm comes out a year later and the process starts all over again. What’s key is to prevent or catch infestations early, which these annual inspections should do.

5. Hire the right firm for the job. Homeowners will sometimes hire a termite firm, thinking the company will not only look for and eradicate wood-eating insects but will also give a heads-up if mold or other problems are present. Don’t count on it. These firms are specialists, so the pest-control guy isn’t likely to point out your home’s water damage.

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