Prepare for the Worst

Autumn is just around the corner, and hurricane season is still far from over, but it’s not too late to take proper steps to protect what is often a family’s largest, and most important, investment: The home. Powerful storms like Irene and Sandy are becoming more common, it’s no longer a question of “if” some Long Island homes will be damaged, but “when.”

Here on the East Coast, hurricane season typically starts in June and runs through the end of November. But storms can form later than that, too. While things like sandbags and plywood are essential for protecting the structure, sometimes there’s only so much a homeowner can do once the storm arrives.

The most important thing is to properly insure the home. It’s the best way to avoid being on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in the wake of a hurricane or nor’easter. The Island’s unique shape and proximity to water influence those concerns. On the South Shore, homeowners need to be more aware of flooding, which isn’t as much of a problem inland and on the North Shore. “People on the North Shore or the middle of the Island are going to have to contend with wind damage,” said Christina Shaw, owner of the Christina Shaw Allstate Agency in Bellmore. She referenced both the force of the wind and the debris carried in it. “It’s not that people on the South Shore don’t have to deal with wind, but they have to deal with wind and water, whereas people on the North Shore don’t have to deal with water as much.”

Flood insurance, Shaw explained, is separate from homeowner’s insurance. The federal government underwrites flood insurance through FEMA and then administers it through different insurance agencies. This means that regardless of who writes the policy, homeowners in the same flood zone will be paying the same prices. Those already living in flood zones—which, depending on the area can range five or more miles from the shore—most likely already have flood insurance. But for those looking to buy in the area, its cost could be a determining factor. “If your flood insurance is $2,500 a year, that could make or break a deal,” said Shaw.

Flood insurance will cover the home if water comes in from the outside, like excessive rain, flash floods or if a waterway overflows. But during Sandy, sewage backups also caused a great deal of damage inside homes. To prepare for that, Shaw suggested the policy cover water backup. “In Sandy, not only did people on the South Shore have water from canals and bays, but there was a backup in the sewer lines, so there was sewage in their house,” Shaw said.

“But most often, it happens from a washing machine, sink or toilet backing up.”

It’s also important to make sure that auto insurance policies are comprehensive. When the plan doesn’t cover cars damaged by floodwater, owners might not get much from their insurance.

All across the Island, wind damage from storms is also an issue. Winds can pull off siding, rip shingles off roofs and knock down trees, which can cause extensive damage. Tree damage can be a confusing issue in and of itself: No matter where the tree came from, claims are filed under the insurance policy of the home where the damage occurred. At that point, Shaw said, it’s up to the neighbors to decide who pays the deductible.

The increased frequency of stronger storms is leading many insurance companies to add wind and hurricane deductibles to their policies. The deductibles activate if the wind reaches a certain speed or if the storm is officially declared a hurricane.

“It’s important for people to know, especially on the North Shore, do they have a wind deductible or is it just a hurricane deductible?” Shaw said. “And when does that apply?”

The time to get a clear picture of the coverage in place is before a storm hits. It’s as easy as getting a copy of the policy from the agent who wrote it. It’s also worth knowing whether or not the home is in a flood zone, visiting FEMA’s website can confirm this as well. Though most flooding occurs on the South Shore, Shaw said that a quarter of flood insurance claims come from areas outside of flood zones. And many policies have a waiting period, some upwards of 30 days. Waiting until a day before a storm hits won’t render any usable coverage.