Mold and home owners insurance

Most basic home owners insurance policies exclude coverage of damage caused by mold, fungi, and bacteria, says Mark Ferguson, property claim specialist with General Casualty Insurance in Sun Prairie, Wis. Yet that doesn’t mean a mold claim will be denied automatically.

In most cases, if mold results from a sudden and accidental covered peril, such as a pipe bursting, the cost of remediation should be covered, says Ferguson. That’s because technically the pipe burst is the reason for the claim, not the mold itself. Claims are more likely to be rejected if mold is caused by neglected home maintenance: long-term exposure to humidity, or repeated water leaks and seepage.

It’s hard to put a precise dollar figure on mold damage because most insurers don’t separate mold claims from water-damage claims, says Claire Wilkinson of the Insurance Information Institute. About 22% of all home owners insurance claims result from “water damage and freezing,” a category that includes mold remediation, according to the III. A 2003 white paper on mold from the III put the cost of the average mold claim between $15,000 and $30,000, at least five times the average non-mold home owners claim at that time.

After a rush of mold claims in the early 2000s, most states adopted limitations on mold coverage. Amounts vary, but a typical home owners policy might cover between $1,000 and $10,000 in mold remediation and repair, says Celia Santana of Personal Risk Management Solutions in New York. Most policies won’t cover mold related to flood damage. For that, home owners need separate flood insurance, which averages $540 per year through the National Flood Insurance Program.

Damage done by an inch of floodwater

Replace carpet, flooring $2,700
New baseboard molding $2,250
Replace drywall $1,350
Cleanup, materials $1,000
Bookshelves, lamps $500
Total $7,800

Source: National Flood Insurance Program

Is extra mold coverage necessary?

It might be possible to purchase a mold rider as an add-on to your existing home owners policy. Ask your agent. A rider will offer additional mold coverage. Cost and your personal risk-tolerance are the driving factors behind a decision.

Premiums will vary based on where you live and the value of your house. You could pay from $500 to $1,500 a year for a rider on an existing policy. Prices tend to climb in humid southern climates, and in Texas and California, where there have been high-profile mold cases.

In general, older homes in humid climates where mold thrives will be more costly to insure than newer constructions in a dry climate. In particular, homes built within the past five years are likely constructed with mold-resistant wood, drywall, and paints, says Santana. Newer homes are also less susceptible to water infiltration.

If your insurance carrier isn’t willing to provide a rider because the risk is too great, specialty companies such as Unitrin might sell you a standalone mold policy. Brace yourself for a hefty price tag. Annual premiums for a standalone mold policy might range from $5,000 to $25,000. Weigh the cost against risk factors including the age and value of your home, its construction, and the prevalence of mold issues in your area.

Moisture prevention is the key

The surest way to avoid having a claim denied is keeping mold at bay in the first place. Preventing mold and eliminating mold when it does occur are critical to protecting the value of your home.

To help prevent mold growth in your home, the III suggests taking the following steps:

  • Lower indoor humidity with air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans.
  • Inspect hoses and fittings on appliances, sinks, and toilets.
  • Use household cleaners with mold-killing ingredients like bleach.
  • Opt for paints and primers that contain mold inhibitors.
  • Clean gutters to avoid overflow and check roof for leaks.
  • Avoid carpet in wet areas like basements and bathrooms.
  • Remove and dry carpet, padding, and upholstery within 48 hours of flooding.