The Whys & Hows of Home Insurance

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flooded living room

Here are some insurance basics for those looking for the first time, or more importantly, for those who are under-insured.


This morning, a friend of mine is having a pretty lousy day. A weekend of rain has turned his basement suite into a wading pool, and he’s dealing with everything from insurance people to furniture catalogs as he tries to unsoak his life.

At least he has insurance — a sentiment oft-echoed on his Facebook update.

home insurance post it burningSome folks never bother with insurance. It could never happen to them, right? Then it does.

I was 17 when my coworker at a fish’n’chip joint lost everything he had in life to a fire. No insurance, no savings, just a big black smoking ruin of a life where he couldn’t save anything. Since then, there hasn’t been a day in my adult life that I haven’t had home insurance. Even when my money was the tightest it’s ever been, I still had home insurance — I just had less coverage.

But how do you know how much coverage is right for you? How do you document it for the least amount of hassle if you ever have to make a claim?

Here are some insurance basics for those looking for the first time, or more importantly, for those who are under-insured.

How much insurance do you need?

I don’t know what the numbers are, but I bet the majority of people are under-insured. I live in a one-bedroom apartment with $80,000 insurance, and I sometimes question if it’s sufficient, like last night when I realized a single book I own is worth over $225.

Insurance is in the details. It really helps to go into each room with a calculator, camera, and notepad, and just spend some time really adding things up. Every book on your bookshelf might represent anything between $10 and $80 to replace. Have you really taken an accurate account?

Every DVD, every CD, all the digital media you can’t download again that’s stored on your computers and hard drives. All your photo frames, your cutlery, your knickknacks, even the cost of photo-processing for each picture you have in photo albums. Your artwork, your underwear, each t-shirt, every pair of socks, all your toiletries, your music instruments. Even your passport likely costs a lot. Have you ever really added it all up? It’s jaw-dropping how much more we own than we realize.

Every single item, at its brand-new replacement cost, should be included in your estimate for your home’s value. My $80,000 insurance costs me about $40 a month, and it’s a whole world of reassurance every time I hear about another friend with a flood, fire, or theft.

Documenting for solid coverage

Taking photographs is a really brilliant way to go. Just snap photos of everything you own, label it according to the room. Either print it or provide flash media or a CD to your insurance people, or store it in a fire-safe waterproof box in case that unfortunate day ever happens.

With bikes, high-theft items like laptops, and so on, it’s best to make note of your serial numbers for police files or insurance claims. Store them in a file “in the cloud” as a precaution.

Peace of mind: scheduling in items

There are items you can’t “schedule into” your insurance to avoid a high deductible on (like smartphones), but others, like your bike, are probably things you can. When I had my bike stolen at a parade, I was inconvenienced, but a couple weeks later I got a better bike for only a $100 deductible.

It raises the cost only a little bit if you have a good plan, but with high-theft items that are important to your quality of life, it’s a little for a lot of peace of mind. I enjoyed my next bike for a decade and never regretted using a claim for it.

It’s your life

Insurance is something you buy with the hopes that you’ll never use it. It’s easy to see it as wasted money, but if you’re like my friend who a flood so bad 10 years ago that she spent 6 weeks living in a hotel with the insurance company picking up the tab, I guarantee you, you’ll forever be thrilled for all that money spent in advance of the day you finally need it.

These things can, and do, happen to just about anyone. Even if you’re insured, it would be a smart time for you to review everything you own, and your policy, to ensure you’ve got adequate coverage. The “right” coverage probably only costs dollars more a month, but could represent thousands of dollars later.

Be thorough, be practical, and be protected. Investigate house insurance today.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.