What to do after storm damage

After a thunderstorm, there are a few key things to do before you call your insurance company.

“Homeowners’ policies require that you take reasonable steps to protect the property from further losses,” says Marc A. Ragin, Associate Professor in the Department of Insurance, Legal Studies, and Real Estate at the Terry College of Business. “For storms, that often includes putting tarps and/or plywood over broken windows or damaged roofs. Rain gutters should be cleaned of debris. If any water entered the house, use a wet/dry vacuum and fans to dry it out. Look at the trees around your house and trim any branches that are in danger of falling and causing more damage. Keep in mind that these are reasonable steps you should take – hire a professional for large trees, steep roofs, etc.”

Immediately document the damage. Take photographs and videos from as many angles as possible. Document all of your efforts to mitigate the damage. Hail damage can be difficult for a layperson to spot; it’s a good idea to have an expert inspect the damage.

“Be sure to keep all receipts so you can get reimbursed by the insurance company,” Ragin says. “You should also take pictures or videos of the damage immediately after the disaster – there’s no such thing as “too much” documentation in these situations.”

Once your home is safe and you have the proper documentation, call your insurance company and start the claims process. There should be a claims number on the policy paperwork, or look online for a 24-hour claims hotline.

How to file an insurance claim for storm damage

To file insurance claims for storm damage:

  • Make minor repairs to prevent further damage
  • Collect documentation such as pictures, videos and receipts
  • Call the claims number on your policy, or find the 800 number online; many insurance carriers have 24-hour claims hotlines
  • Work with the insurance adjuster to get quotes for repairs
  • The insurance company sends an initial check so you can pay a deposit to the contractors
  • You will receive a second check to pay the balance of the repair work

Damage to your home is covered by the dwelling coverage portion of the policy, which uses replacement cost to pay a claim. This means the claim for the structure of your home will be paid based on what it costs to build at today’s prices, without depreciation. The other structures portion of your policy covers things like sheds, gazebos and fences damaged in a storm.

Once you have quotes from contractors, your insurance carrier will send a check so the work can commence and you can pay deposits. A second check will be issued once the work is complete and the final cost is known. 

The insurance company will subtract the amount of your deductible from your settlement. For instance, if your deductible is $1,500 and your repairs come to $5,000, you'll be getting insurance payouts of $3,500. You'll have to pay $1,500 out of pocket, usually up front.

If any personal belongings were damaged, they will be covered under the same claim. It’s important to note, however, that your insurance carrier will most likely only reimburse you the actual cash value (ACV) for these items, which includes depreciation. Standard homeowners policies cover personal belongings for actual cash value; however, you can add replacement cost coverage for personal property to your policy. With this coverage, you’ll get the amount required to replace the items.

In 19 states, a windstorm deductible applies, but it usually only applies to named storms like hurricanes. However, some policies do have separate hail deductibles, so be sure to read yours carefully.

How long do you have to file an insurance claim after a storm?

Most insurance companies allow you to file a claim up to one year after the storm.

However, you should file “as soon as possible once you’re sure that you’ll be making a claim,” Ragin says.

The reason for this is two-fold. After a storm, many other people will be filing claims. You want to get a jump start on yours. Also, you want to get the claims process started with the insurance company right away before any additional damage occurs. If you wait and say, more shingles fly off your roof and then a water problem turns into a mold problem, your insurance company might see that as a sign of negligence. The more time passes, the harder it is for the insurance adjuster to assess what was caused by the storm and what was caused by time passing. 

In every state, there is a statute of limitations on property damage claims; it’s most commonly two years. Make sure you file your claim within that time period to avoid the claim being denied.