5 Surprising Threats to Your Home and Valuables

HomeMiscellaneous5 Surprising Threats to Your Home and Valuables
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According to the old real estate cliché, your home will be the biggest investment you ever make. So homeowners buy insurance to guard against calamities such as theft, fire, tornadoes, falling trees, etc. Yet even the most conscientious and risk-averse homeowners probably give little thought to these hidden threats that may lurk inside their home — and several of them are not covered by most insurance policies.

 

 

5. Power Surges

Power surges from routine household appliances can damage your computer, TV and other sensitive electronics.

Lightning strike in North Carolina; The.Rohit


Lightning strikes can be devastating — the National Fire Protection Association estimates lightning causes around 5,000 home fires each year in the U.S. Lightning strikes can also fry a home’s electrical system and appliances, and it doesn’t take a direct strike to damage appliances; a lightning strike as much as a mile away can cause damage to your home electronics. One remedy to prevent this sort of ancillary damage is to unplug your computer, big-screen TV, etc., during a severe storm (don’t forget to unplug the cable line). But really, who makes the effort to do that every time there’s a storm? An easier solution is to purchase surge protector strips. While useless in the event of a direct lightning strike, the strips can protect against distant hits. They also offer protection against a more common threat — routine power surges. These surges, which are caused by power outages, utility work, and the on/off cycling of large appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators, can take a toll over time on your sensitive electronics. A whole house surge protector, which can run a few hundred dollars, including installation, offers additional protection against these surges.

4. Polybutylene Plumbing

Polybutylene plumbing was installed in as many as 10 million homes.

A polybutylene sprinkler system.


In the late 1970s, homebuilders began using a miraculous new type of plumbing, known as polybutylene. It was less expensive and easier to use than conventional copper plumbing, leading to its installation in as many as 10 million homes in the United States built between 1978 and 1995. It even earned the nickname “the plumbing of the future.” Unfortunately, that future lasted only a few years. As many homeowners discovered to their dismay, fluoride and chlorine in public water systems interacted negatively with polybutylene, leading to ruptures, sometimes within a few years of installation. In the years since, polybutylene plumbing failures have caused damage to countless thousands of homes in the United States, and led to a billion-dollar settlement in a class action lawsuit. Homeowners away on vacation have returned home to find polybutylene fittings or pipes that failed in upstairs bathrooms, leading to catastrophic water damage and loss of valuables and family heirlooms. When the plumbing fails, the water can erupt with the force of a strong pressure washer, which runs until the water is shut off at the main. Even residents who are home at the time can face cleanup and repair bills well over $10,000. Gray, blue or black piping or fittings that appear to be made of plastic signifies the use of polybutylene plumbing. As with several other items on this list, many insurance companies no longer insure against the failure of polybutylene plumbing.

3. Termites

Termites can cause thousands of dollars in damage before they are discovered.

Formosan termites; Scott Bauer/USDA


Most homeowners know about termites and the damage they can cause. Far too many, however, make the mistake of thinking termite infestations won’t happen to them. These pests can cause thousands of dollars in damage to wood structures before being discovered, and home insurance policies do not cover termite treatments and damage repairs. Most pest control firms offer a termite bond, in which the property owner pays a nominal annual fee, and the company does an annual or semi-annual inspection. If termites are found, the company will treat the house for free or a reduced cost. Some termite bonds cover the repair of property damage as well, usually up to a certain amount. Mud tunnels on your home’s foundation, exterior walls or in the crawlspace are the most visible sign of termite infestation. Also watch for winged termites, or piles of discarded wings.

2. Dryer Vent Fires

Poorly installed or clogged dryer vents cause thousands of fires a year in the United States.

A poor dryer vent installation (top), and clogged vent (below); Rick Harpenau


According to the United States Fire Administration, clothes dryer-related fires caused an average of 15,600 fires each year from 2002 through 2004, the latest figures available. Those fires caused an average of 400 injuries and 15 deaths per year. The most common culprit in dryer-related fires is a dryer vent that is clogged with lint. That can either be in the dryer itself, or in the duct that leads outside. Fire officials recommend you clean your dryer’s lint filter after each use, and periodically clean out the lint around and under the machine. Also, the dryer vent should be cleaned every two or three years. You can hire someone to do this, or purchase a vent-cleaning brush for a nominal fee from a home improvement store. These brushes fit onto a drill and extension rods allow you to reach all the way from the clothes dryer to the outside vent. Also, although flexible plastic and foil dryer vent ducts can still be found in many homes, and the foil ducts are still sold, they are much more prone to kink and collect lint, so it’s best to go with rigid metal, or corrugated metal ductwork. When installing the vent, make it as short as possible and avoid unnecessary bends.

1. Toxic Mold

Black, or toxic mold, poses numerous health risks to people.

Black mold: Flickr


Stachybotrys chartarum, better known in laymen’s terms as black or toxic mold, can cause sickness and in rare cases, death. And there are plenty of horror stories of homeowners who have been forced to permanently abandon their homes because of this unseen threat. Such mold outbreaks are usually the result of a hidden water problem, such as a leaking pipe, a leaking roof, or clogged gutters channeling water into an interior wall or ceiling. Often, signs of illness, such as headaches, flu-like symptoms, or respiratory problems, appear before the mold is discovered. Large mold infestations can usually be smelled, although environmental firms can test the air quality in a home to see if there is a problem. Homeowners can treat minor mold spots themselves, using these Centers For Disease Control guidelines, but health experts recommend letting a professional firm deal with more widespread outbreaks. Unfortunately, mold removal is not covered, or is severely limited, under most homeowners’ insurance policies.

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