After Hurricane Irma, much of Florida lost power. And during Hurricane Maria, all of Puerto Rico is in the dark.
The one-two punch of storms reminded Floridians of the importance of owning a generator. If you’re shopping for a power source, here are factors to consider:
How much do you want to spend?
Stand-by generators can power your whole house and usually run on natural gas or propane. They typically cost $5,000 to $10,000, according to Consumer Reports. And you’ll need to start planning the installation months in advance. Most homeowners opt for portable generators, which usually won’t run central AC and cost $400 to $1,000. (However, Consumer Reports’ top-rated portable generator is a Honda that goes for $3,999.)
What do you want to power?
If you want to run a fridge, a fan and a few lights, a small portable generator will do the job. If you hope to keep living as if the hurricane never hit, you’ll need a stationary generator. And if you’re willing to rough it but would like to run a window AC unit, you’ll want to make sure before the storm that your generator has enough juice to run your AC. Another caveat: Cheap generators can produce power surges that will fry expensive electronics.
How much noise can you stand?
Or, put another way, how many decibels do you want to bombard your neighbors with? In general, the more expensive the generator, the quieter it is.
Technology is getting better.
For decades, Floridians have been buying portable generators that were the mechanical equivalent of muscle cars, says Paul Hope of Consumer Reports. Now, though, manufacturers are designing fuel-injected engines for generators. These models are quieter, more fuel-efficient and emit less carbon monoxide. They’re also more expensive.
The smart move, says Hope, is to shop for a generator between storms or after hurricane season. That gives you time to research what you need — and to hire an electrician to install a transfer switch or interlock device that lets the generator power your house.
If a flood swamps your home, will insurance cover the damage? That depends on the value of your home, the amount of water damage and whether you have a flood insurance policy.
Let’s look at some persistent myths about flood insurance.
Myth: You must live in a flood plain to get coverage.
If you live in a flood plain, your mortgage company will likely require you to buy flood insurance. But you can purchase it even if you don’t live within a flood zone. “Almost anybody can get flood insurance who wants flood insurance,” says Chris Hackett, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. The price through the federal flood insurance program is based on standardized rates and depends on the home’s value and whether or not it’s in a flood plain.
Myth: Flood insurance covers everything.
When it comes to the physical structure of your house, federal flood insurance policies top out at $250,000. If you have a $300,000 house that’s a total loss because of a flood, the most you can recoup through the program is $250,000 to cover the structure itself. For your personal possessions, the cap is $100,000 under the federal program.
Myth: My homeowners policy covers floods.
“Unfortunately, a lot of folks may be under the impression that their standard homeowners policy might cover flood damage,” Hackett says. But the standard policy does not! The typical home insurance policy doesn’t cover earthquakes or floods. So a homeowner wanting coverage for either of those disasters will need to pick up separate, specific coverage against those types of disasters.
Myth: Water damage is water damage. When it comes to your insurance, not all water damage is the same.
If there’s a storm and your “roof comes off and water comes through, that would be covered under your homeowners policy,” Hackett says. “Versus a flood situation where the water is rising from an over flowing riverbank overflows or an unnatural amount of rain that is rising from the street.
Myth: Flood maps don’t change.
Flood plains (and flood plain maps) change and evolve. Just because you weren’t in a flood plain when you bought your home a few years ago doesn’t mean you’re not in one now.
For more information, visit FloodSmart.gov.
Florida, Georgia and North Carolina residents affected by Hurricane Matthew will begin surveying damages to their property and belongings.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier put together the following tips to help Floridians begin the process of filing insurance claims for damaged property and belongings and this may prove useful to residents in other states as well:
Tip 1: Locate all applicable insurance policies. This may include a homeowners’ policy, flood policy (flood coverage is not covered under a typical homeowners’ policy and is separate coverage), and an automobile policy (may cover damage to your car from flooding).
Tip 2: Document all damaged property and belongings. Take photos or shoot video footage before attempting any temporary repairs. When you file an insurance claim, you may be asked for visual documentation of damages.
A photographic home inventory is a handy resource for this situation. A free smartphone app developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners called “MyHome Scr.APP.book” can help you take and store a room-by-room log of photos.
Tip 3: Contact your insurance company or insurance agent as soon as possible to report damages.Insurance policies require prompt reporting of claims, so it is important to act as soon as possible.
Tip 4: Cover damaged areas exposed to the elements to prevent further damage. Your insurance company may reimburse the expense of these temporary repairs, so keep all receipts.
Do not dispose of any damaged personal property until your insurance company adjuster has had an opportunity to survey it.
Florida consumers who have questions about their insurance coverage are encouraged to call CFO Atwater’s Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services’ Insurance Helpline. Helpline experts can be reached by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1- 877-693-5236), or online at: myfloridacfo.com/hurricanematthew.