Homeowners insurance was specifically developed to cover sudden, accidental risks and damage. And if you talk to any pest control firm, they will confirm one thing: a termite infestation is not something that happens overnight. Although you may initially be totally unaware that you have uninvited house guests, as long as there’s food and water they will stay. And eventually, they will cause damage far beyond their size.
That is why the average home insurance policy does not cover termite damage. The argument is that the homeowner probably had years to a) discover that he or she had a termite problem and b) do something about it to prevent damage. It’s for the same reason that damage caused by hailstorms, riots, etc., are covered by the average home insurance policy - there isn’t much the homeowner could have done to prevent the damage.
How serious can termite damage really be?
The simple answer is: serious enough to cost the homeowner a lot of money. Termites can in fact be living in a home for years before anyone discovers them, quietly causing damage. By the time most homeowners realize they’ve got a termite problem, the invaders might already have caused huge damage. Repairs might include opening flooring and walls to fix the virtually destroyed home foundations. And then there’s still the equally large cost of replacing furniture, curtains, clothing, etc., that were damaged. That is because termites don’t just eat wood (e.g. your home’s support beams), they also have an appetite for ceilings, furniture, flooring, cabinets, and even plaster and metal.
According to statistics released by the NPMA (National Pest Management Association) termite damage to property amounts to around $5 billion every year. And pest control companies report that the average cost of repairing termite damage amounts to nearly $3,000.
Are there any circumstances in which home insurance will cover termite damage?
There are very few circumstances under which a home insurance policy will in fact cover termite damage. The first one is when your whole house suddenly collapses and the cause can be traced back to termite damage. There are, however, a few conditions that must be met first:
1. The home actually has to collapse, i.e. it has to fall down and break into pieces. It’s not good enough for it to bow, sag, expand, bulge, shrink, or crack.
2. The termites that caused the damage must have remained hidden to such an extent that a reasonable person would not have known about them. If the homeowner was aware of the infestation (or should reasonably speaking have known), this protection falls away.
The second set of circumstances under which a home insurance policy might pay out a claim for termite damage is when this damage was caused by a covered incident. An example is when a pipe starts leaking in a spot where the homeowner had no way to know about this (e.g. inside a wall). This resulted in the moisture attracting termites. The homeowner will, however, have to prove that there was a link between the leaky pipe and the termites, and that the whole thing wasn’t caused by a lack of proper maintenance.
It has to be said at this stage that there are very few recorded cases of an insurance company ever paying out one of these claims.
How can termite damage to a home be prevented?
By now it should be quite clear that, when it comes to termite damage, prevention is better than cure.
The NPMA (National Pest Management Association) recommends the following steps:
- Regularly check wooden structures such as floors, ceilings, window frames, etc.
- Maintain a distance of no less than 18 inches between the ground and wooden sections of your home.
- Regularly inspect the home’s foundation for wood that has a hollow sound when tapped or paint that form bubbles.
- Prevent moisture from accumulating near the property’s foundations by using proper splash blocks, downspouts, and gutters.