Deciding whether to take out separate buildings insurance or contents insurance or both combined, and adding up the value of your home contents are key steps in deciding your insurance.
The levels of cover can vary from insurer to insurer, policy to policy, but there are a few surprising things your home insurance might already include.
If the worst happens (such as fire, flooding, or subsidence) and you can't continue to live in your home, your insurer is likely to pay for alternative accommodation while your home is being repaired. To be 'uninhabitable' your home can simply be without electricity, running water or, during the winter, heating.
Temporary accommodation should be in the local area to minimise disruption to your day-to-day life. However, in the event that several properties are affected after a flood or natural disaster, for example, local accommodation might not be possible so there might be additional compensation for travel costs.
For some insurers, the definition of 'home' may include your garden and out buildings (such as shed or garage) and their contents. Damage to outbuildings, walls, fences, or gates may be included under the buildings insurance, while garden furniture and equipment are covered under your contents insurance.
However, your shed and other outbuildings should have locks, and proof of forced is required entry for the insurer to pay out.
Many people don't realise that most home policies include not only your freezer but its contents too. So if there is a prolonged power cut, or something else causes your fridge and freezer to stop working, many insurers will pay for the spoiled food. They may even help with the cost of a temporary replacement.
This cover can depend on various factors, for instance the age of your fridge or freezer, the amount it had inside it, or if the malfunction was deliberate or caused by carelessness.
Cover outside the home
Contents insurance can protect you against theft or damage of personal belongings (jewellery, mobile phones, laptops) inside the home. Some policies also provide, or offer as an optional extra, cover for your personal property outside the home and, often, anywhere in the world.
If you do have that cover, you could get a discount on your travel insurance by excluding baggage, as that will be covered by your home insurance.
Keep in mind that some items, such as expensive and high tech gadgets, may need special cover and there will be an upper limit that is covered. All insurance includes a 'duty of care', so if you leave your smartphone on the beach while you go for a swim or a handbag on the seat of a car with the window open, then you can't expect your claim to be met.
Whether offered as standard or as an optional extra, accidental damage cover can include things like a broken television or computer, spillages (such as red wine on a light coloured fabric), or a football breaking a window.
Check what the policy does cover, as it might not include general wear and tear, damage caused by pets or vermin, technical or mechanical failures, or replacement of a 'matching set' if one item of the set (such as a three-piece suite) is damaged or intentional damage.
But if you put your foot through the ceiling in the loft, or accidentally drill a hole through a pipe hidden in the wall then you're likely to be covered.
Some home insurance policies provide protection for home emergencies. This can include problems with the central heating, electricity, flooding, roof damage, and damage that affects the security of your home. Some policies may also offer cover for pest infestation such as a wasps' nest.
Legal expenses cover
Home insurance policies can sometimes include legal expenses cover for things like disputes with your employer or neighbour, tax enquiries, faulty goods or services, or injuries. This can help protect against the cost of being sued, or if you need to make a claim against someone, but the policy will often only cover legal costs and not compensation.
Many home insurance policies won't include matrimonial issues such as divorce, or cases involving libel. In most cases, your insurer will also require your case to have a reasonable likelihood of success. Check the details of your policy before claiming.
If you're found liable for causing an injury or illness to another person (for example, a third party), damage to their property, or if their belongings are lost or damaged in your home, financial compensation might be covered.
The compensation cover may not be included in a standard policy or as part of the legal expenses cover, so you might want to buy liability insurance for extra cover.
Increased festive season cover
Your Christmas may be all the more relaxed if you know your contents insurance has an increased level of cover during the festive season.
Many policies take account of the increased value of property in your home – for instance, seasonal goods and gifts, as well as the property of family or friends who come to visit. Some policies will also increase cover for other religious festivals or for family weddings.
Increased cover during such times is not always standard, so check what cover is offered and any limitations such as maximum value.
Not all insurance policies are equal
The cheapest home insurance policies offered on price comparison sites can exclude features that you might expect to be standard, but which are optional extras. So always make sure the cover is adequate for your needs. If your contents, for instance, are significantly under-insured you'll only be paid a relative proportion of the value of your loss if you claim.
Where insurers do offer additional cover at extra cost, you can tailor the home insurance to your needs.