According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tornado events are drastically increasing. In 1950, the administration reported 197 tornadoes in the United States, and in 2019, almost 1,500.
The force of a tornado can level an entire town, leaving homes and businesses in piles of rubble. You can take certain steps to keep your family safe during a tornado, but the best way to protect your home is by buying a homeowners insurance policy with sufficient coverage. The second-best way is to understand what’s in your policy and how it works.
Standard home insurance provides good protection for tornadoes, but you may need to adjust certain coverage limits for maximum protection.
- Standard home insurance policies cover tornado damage.
- Following tornado damage, most homeowners policies will help pay additional living expenses, such as hotel bills and restaurant meals.
- Many home insurance policies include actual cash value personal property coverage, which only pays the depreciated value of personal items.
- You’re responsible for the deductible amount in your home insurance policy.
- Homeowners policies do not cover automobiles damaged by tornadoes.
Does Home Insurance Cover Tornado Damage?
Most standard home insurance policies protect your dwelling, other structures, and personal property from damages that result from “covered perils.” A covered peril is another way of referring to what causes the damage (such as wind).
Home insurance may also help pay if you lose the use of your home (if it’s uninhabitable, for example) and for your personal liability (if someone gets hurt on your property). Most policies cover losses caused by perils common during tornado events, such as falling objects, hail, lightning strikes, water damage, and wind. Some policies also cover damages caused by power surges, which can occur during tornadoes as well.
Warning: Heavy rainfall often accompanies tornadoes. Most standard homeowners policies do not cover flood damage to your home or its contents. However, major home insurance companies sell flood insurance provided by the National Flood Insurance Program.
A home insurance policy is a collection of coverages. Following a tornado, individual coverages will apply to different types of losses. Most types of coverage are subject to a deductible—this is the amount of money you’re responsible for paying toward losses.
Dwelling coverage pays to repair or rebuild your home’s main structure and attached structures, like a garage. For instance, if a tornado destroys your house’s roof, your policy’s dwelling coverage would help pay to replace it.
Your policy should include enough dwelling coverage to completely rebuild your house. Some insurers require policyholders to carry dwelling coverage equal to at least 80% of a home’s rebuild costs to cover the total replacement cost of damages—even if that amount is less than your coverage limit.
Important: A tornado can completely destroy a home. Homeowners who live in tornado-prone areas should purchase dwelling coverage equal to 100% of replacement costs, if possible.
Other Structures Coverage
Other structures coverage pays to repair or replace detached structures, like fences, garages, gazebos, or sheds. The amount of this coverage is usually determined by how much insurance you have on your main dwelling—most standard policies limit it to 10% of that amount. So, if your main dwelling is insured for $300,000, your insurance policy would cover up to $30,000 of damage to other structures.
Personal Property Coverage
Tornados can leave a home in rubble, with personal items such as clothing and furniture ruined by water damage and toxins from destroyed building materials. Personal property coverage helps replace personal items, up to the policy’s limits.
Many standard home insurance policies only pay a depreciated value for personal property losses. For example, if you paid $600 for a television five years ago, an insurance company may assess its current value at $150.
But some homeowners policies feature personal property replacement cost coverage or offer the protection as an endorsement. Replacement cost coverage pays to replace your personal items at current market prices.
Note: Homeowners policies typically limit personal property coverage to 50% to 70% of the amount of insurance you carry on your main dwelling. If, for example, your house is insured for $300,000, and personal property is covered up to 50%, you’d have up to $150,000 of personal property coverage.
Loss of Use Coverage
If tornado damage leaves your home uninhabitable, loss of use coverage can help pay additional living expenses such as hotel bills, rent, and restaurant tabs. This coverage is also limited by the amount of insurance you have on your main dwelling—such as 20% to 30% of that amount.
A standard home insurance policy might not cover all tornado losses. Due to the destructive force of a tornado, trees and vehicles can become projectiles, damaging your home or the homes of neighbors.
At times, you may not know which party’s insurance should cover damages or even what type of insurance should cover it. For this reason, it’s crucial to gather any evidence you have, such as pictures and eyewitness accounts, as soon as is reasonable once the damage has occurred.
Oftentimes, tornadoes damage electrical infrastructure, leaving homes without power for days, leading to food spoilage. Standard homeowners policies may cover spoiled food as long as the cause of spoilage is a covered peril under your policy. Even so, coverage for spoiled food may be limited (to $500, for example). Many insurers offer optional food spoilage coverage.
Important: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refrigerated foods can remain safe for up to four hours during a power outage if you don’t open the refrigerator door. But you should throw away refrigerated foods after they reach a temperature above 40°F.
Standard home insurance policies usually don’t pay to remove fallen trees that don’t cause damage to a home. However, if a tree falls on your house, your dwelling coverage should pay to repair your home and remove the tree, up to the policy’s limits.
If a tree in your yard falls on your neighbor’s house, the neighbor will likely need to file a claim against their dwelling coverage. However, this type of scenario can get tricky, depending on whether the damage involved negligence. For instance, if the tree was healthy, the insurer would deem the damage an “act of God,” but if its trunk was rotten, the neighbor could claim negligence and you could be held responsible.
Negligence can lead to lawsuits. If a neighbor sues you over damages caused by your downed tree, the personal liability coverage of your homeowners policy can help pay legal expenses.
Named Storm Losses
When losses occur as the result of a named storm, such as a hurricane or tropical storm, named storm deductibles may apply. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, named storm deductibles apply in 19 coastal states and the District of Columbia.6
A named storm deductible supersedes your policy’s stated deductible amount. Some homeowners policies apply a fixed-dollar named storm deductible, while others calculate the deductible as a percentage of your home’s value, usually 1% to 10%. For example, if your policy applies a 10% named storm deductible and your home is valued at $200,000, you will have to pay up to $20,000 out of pocket following a total loss.
How To File a Tornado Damage Claim
Claims filing procedures vary by insurance company. Some require you to call an agent or claims center, while others allow you to file a claim online or using a mobile app. But there are certain steps all homeowners should take following tornado losses.
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to start the claims process.
- Take photos and videos of all losses to back up your claim.
- If your home isn’t completely destroyed, take steps to prevent further damage. For example, if you have a small hole in your roof, cover it with plastic sheeting to prevent water damage inside the home. But do not make permanent repairs until you meet with an insurance adjuster.
- If a tornado renders your home uninhabitable, ask your insurer if your policy covers loss of use expenses.
- Carefully document all discussions with your insurance company.
Does Home Insurance Cover Damage to Cars?
Tornadoes can damage vehicles in many ways. High winds can topple trees onto cars and hail can pummel hoods and smash windshields.
Homeowners insurance will not cover damages to your automobile. But comprehensive auto insurance covers losses caused by weather events, including tornadoes.
How To Prepare for a Tornado
Tornadoes destroy everything in their path, but you can take precautions to keep your family safe and make the insurance claim filing process go smoothly.
- Maintain an up-to-date inventory of your personal belongings. You can take a written inventory or document your possessions with photos or videos. The inventory should include each item’s purchase price, and when possible, receipts.
- Trim tree limbs that branch out over your house and remove dead or rotting trees.
- Prepare a shelter-in-place kit, with cleaning supplies, a first aid kit, medications, non-perishable foods, and bottled water. Also prepare a shelter-in-place kit for your pets and a pet evacuation kit in case you must leave your home.
- Identify the safest place in your home. Small, windowless interior spaces, like a bathroom or closet, are the safest places during a tornado. Basements and underground storm shelters provide even greater protection.
- Pay attention to weather conditions. Familiarize yourself with the signs of a tornado and stay abreast of weather reports when threatening conditions appear.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are loss of use coverage limits?
Typically, insurers calculate loss of use coverage as a percentage of your dwelling coverage, usually 20%. So, if you carry $200,000 in dwelling coverage, you might have $40,000 in loss of use coverage.
Are hail and wind losses covered by all home insurance policies?
No. Some insurers don’t include hail and wind losses in certain areas prone to hurricanes or tropical storms. For example, insurers exclude these perils for homes located along the Texas coast. However, Texas coastal residents can buy hail and wind coverage through the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.