Loss control for homeowners

By Christine Barlow

FC&S Online


When loss control is mentioned, most insurance professionals think of commercial risks. The fireworks factory, the packaging plant, and other such industrial risks typically come to mind. However loss control isn't limited to the commercial risk. There are ways homeowners can prevent or lessen potential losses. The average homeowner has never heard of loss control, but producers who introduce homeowners to the concept can help them protect their property, something most will appreciate.

Paint. There's been some mention of paints that are low in the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that they emit. These are green paints, but they don't protect the property itself from perils such as fire. Other paints are fire resistant and create a char barrier that cuts the fire off from the fuel supply and prevents the burning of the home. One such paint is Paint to Protect, and it is UL tested and approved and also meets certain National Fire Protection Association standards. The paint can be used both indoors and outdoors, something that would be extremely beneficial in areas that are prone to wildfires. Certain building codes require paints of this nature, but if the house is older, the insured may not be aware that this type of paint is available and complies with such codes.

Safety zones. The clearing of vegetation in zones around a home is relatively well known in fire prone areas. Typically there are three zones. In the first zone, a clearance of between 30 to 100 feet should be established from the home depending on the level of risk. Shrubs and trees between 18 inches and 6 feet tall are known as ladder fuels. These bushes tend to allow fire to reach taller trees, thus spreading the fire. Any plantings in zone 1 should be very carefully spaced and should feature species that are native to the area.

Zone 2 extends beyond the first zone. In zone 2, trees should be at least 10 feet apart, and trees taller than 18 feet should have all limbs within 6 feet of the ground trimmed. This is to prevent those limbs becoming ladder fuel and moving the fire up the tree. Tree limbs should not be within 10 feet of the home.

Zone 3 extends beyond zone 2. Zones 2 and 3 together should extend another 20 to 100 feet beyond zone 1, depending on the level of risk. In all zones dead or dying branches or vegetation should be removed regularly. Maintenance of the zones is important. The zones are not something that can be set up and then forgotten. Vegetation needs to be monitored so that overgrowth can be trimmed and dying or dead branches can be trimmed.

Flammable items should be kept away from the home. Wood piles, for example, should never be stacked next to the house. Anything flammable should be kept at a distance from the house so that if it catches fire it will not spread to the home itself.

Roof. The roof is critically important in an area prone to wildfires. Wood roofs are a disaster waiting to happen, especially in areas where strong winds tend to fan the fires. Slate or tile roofs are the best. Do not forget about the eaves, fascia, and soffits. Their construction is important as well, since firebrands can land there and start fires. The more fire resistant material is used, the safer the house becomes.

Fires are not the only hazards where extra protection is needed for the roof. Areas prone to tornadoes, severe winds, or hurricanes need extra protection as well. Sturdy roof clips that add protection against the wind lifting the roof off the structure are essential. Stainless steel straps, fasteners, and clips are recommended for dwellings within 3,000 feet of the ocean. Steel is recommended not only for strength but to resist corrosion from salt spray.

Dwelling. Windows are equally susceptible to fire and wind. Unless the windows are tempered glass, fire tends to fracture or collapse the glass creating holes that allow the fire into the dwelling. Tempered glass fractures at higher temperatures and therefore provides protection to the home for longer periods of time.

For protection from hurricanes, true storm shutters, and not plywood, are recommended. There are various types of shutters at varying costs and ease of use. The shutters provide a faster way to protect the house; times run from 15 to 45 minutes to secure an entire house while correctly installed plywood will take 1-1 ½ hours per window. Hurricane glass is another option. While expensive, it results in no preparation time in event of a storm and can withstand hurricane debris. Some hurricane glass is similar to car windshields, with a plastic layer between two sheets of glass. While the outer pane will break, the plastic will prevent a hole being created in the window and allowing debris and water to enter.

Flood vents allow flood water to flow in and out of crawl spaces or other areas, thus reducing the force of water on the walls and foundation and quickly draining flood water. This can prevent buckling and collapsing of foundation walls. The use of flood vents may get the insured a discounted premium on their flood policy. The vents can also be installed on garage doors in order to prevent damage. If the insured is in an area that floods, he may want to rethink expensive hardwood or wall-to-wall carpet on lower level floors.

Personal property protection. We have discussed how to protect the dwelling itself, including construction items and preventive clearance zones. Personal property is at risk as well, and similar recommendations may help insureds mitigate losses.

Fire protection includes smoke alarms, fireproof safes, and sprinkler systems. Extremely valuable flammables and important documents should be stored in a fireproof safe. Larger items, such as antique furniture, should be properly scheduled on the insurance policy. Photos should be taken so that the piece can be identified in event of a major loss. Aside from sprinklers, there isn't a lot an insured can do to prevent property from fire other than have extinguishers handy, and those are really for very small incidents. Insureds should not try to fight fire on their own. They should call the fire department immediately and get themselves to safety.

Flooding is an issue for anything located on the floor. Items that are easily damaged by water should be moved up off the floor. This will prevent the homeowner from having to dash around trying to save property if water starts to come inside.

Personal property is susceptible not only to natural disasters, but also to human interference. Crime is an issue in a lot of areas, so care should be taken with smaller valuable items such as jewelry, money, and credit cards. Expensive jewelry should be kept in a safe at home or a safe deposit box; some carriers even give a discounted rate for valuables in a safe deposit box. Here again, proper insurance on the item is important. Jewelry that is important and of value to the insured should be appraised and scheduled onto the policy. Stones can loosen from settings and get knocked out. Unless the item is scheduled, there is no coverage to replace the stone. Maintaining photos of such items is helpful if replacement is necessary.

Burglar alarms may also protect property. Many can be connected to a central station so that police, firemen, or an ambulance crew are sent depending on the need.

These are some basic ways that homeowners can use to prevent, or at least mitigate, losses before they occur. Preparation is key, and a well prepared insured can rest easy in the knowledge that he's done everything he can to protect his property.

*For further information, or to contact this author, please leave a comment and your e-mail address in the forum below.