Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Pool & Your Homeowner's Policy

You've lined up the contractor and the pool supplies, maybe even planned a pool party or two. In all your excitement as a new pool owner, however, it's easy to overlook a more serious matter -- the adequacy of your insurance coverage.

When you install a new pool, you should re-examine your existing homeowners policy in order to determine what additional coverage you may need. Many people fail to tell their insurance agents that they have a new pool, an omission that may prove troublesome in the future should they need insurance coverage as a result of the pool.

Generally speaking, your home insurance provides two basic things: (1) coverage for damages to your home and other structures on the premises (e.g., pools), and (2) liability protection in the event someone sues you. When you install a pool in your backyard, you increase the likelihood that you will need to call on your insurance company to cover you in one or both of these situations.

Damages to your pool

A pool is considered separate from your dwelling and, as such, is covered under the "other structures" portion of your homeowners policy. Comparable structures include sheds, detached garages, and gazebos. The standard amount of insurance for such items is 10 percent of the amount written for your dwelling, though some policies provide 20 percent of your dwelling coverage for the other structures on your property.

For example, assume your insurance policy provides $100,000 worth of coverage on your home and you have the standard 10 percent coverage for other structures. Consequently, your other structures coverage would be $10,000.

If you have several detached structures on your premises and/or if you spent a lot of money on your new pool, the standard 10 percent coverage may not be adequate. In this case, higher amounts of this coverage can be written for specific structures.

Continuing with the above example, if your pool cost $14,000 and you also have a detached garage worth $10,000 and a gazebo overlooking your pool worth $6,000, you might decide to raise the coverage on your pool.

To obtain a higher amount of coverage for your pool, contact your insurance agent.

What types of damages are covered?

The damages you are covered for depend on what type of insurance policy you have. The most common homeowners policy in the United States will protect your pool from all perils except those specifically excluded in the insurance contract. It is the broadest coverage you can obtain. By contrast, under a less common type of homeowners policy, your pool is protected only against the 17 named perils specifically listed in the contract. Make sure you know what policy type you have.

One somewhat common occurrence for which you are not covered -- no matter what policy type you have -- is damage to your pool by freezing, thawing, pressure, or weight of ice or water. If you live in colder climates, make sure your pool is properly "winterized," especially if you have an above-ground pool.

Liability issues relating to your pool

Liability issues relating to your pool are what give insurance underwriters the biggest headache. We've all seen the headlines: "Child drowns in backyard pool." Though this may be the last thing on your mind, it's a fact that a pool presents dangers, not only to your own family members and friends but also to uninvited guests, particularly children. Every year approximately 45,000 people are injured in swimming pools and nearly 300 people drown in backyard pools. So great is the risk of death or injury that some companies won't even write a policy if your pool has a diving board or slide.

The liability portion of your homeowners policy is designed to protect your assets if someone sues you. When you install a pool, you increase the chance that you will be sued if someone is injured or killed as a result of using your pool (even if such use was without your permission).

Consider increasing your liability coverage

Most homeowners policies pay up to $100,000 each time someone makes a legitimate civil claim against you (though some companies offer $200,000 or $300,000 of coverage as part of their basic policy). If the claim against you is more than $100,000, then you are responsible for the difference. As a pool owner, you should strongly consider increasing your liability coverage above $100,000.

There are two ways to increase your liability coverage. First, you can simply purchase higher liability coverage limits on your existing policy. Such coverage is relatively inexpensive; for example, you should be able to increase your coverage from $100,000 to $300,000 for less than $50 per year. Second, you can buy a stand-alone liability insurance policy that is separate from your homeowners policy called an "umbrella liability" policy. An umbrella liability policy pays up to a predetermined limit (usually $1 million) for liability claims made against you or your family. It is more than likely that you will qualify for an umbrella liability policy due to the risks associated with your new pool. Most agents will recommend that you obtain one.

Pool safety rules

There are several safety rules that go hand-in-hand with owning a pool. If you follow these rules, you will likely decrease your potential liability exposure.
  • Install a fence around the pool area to prevent people from using the pool without your knowledge
  • Never leave small children unsupervised in or around the pool -- even for a minute
  • Keep children away from pool filters because the suction may injure them or prevent them from reaching the surface
  • Be sure all pool users know how to swim
  • Don't swim alone or allow others to swim alone
  • Don't allow anyone who has been drinking alcohol to swim in the pool
  • Don't swim if you're tired
  • Never dive into an above-ground pool and always check the water depth before plunging into an in-ground pool
  • Don't allow your children to let their friends use the pool without your permission and/or supervision
  • Check the pool area regularly for glasses, bottles, or other potential hazards
  • Keep radios, CD players, blow dryers, and other electrical devices away from the pool
  • Keep a secure cover on the pool during the offseason
  • Comply with any additional local regulations

Contractor/building issuesInsurance for your contractor

In your excitement at getting your new pool installed before summer, don't forget to make sure that your pool contractor has sufficient liability insurance of his or her own. Otherwise, you may end up in trouble if a worker gets hurt on the job.

Comply with local permits, other regulations

Your city or town may also have its own rules regarding the installation of pools. For example, you may be required to obtain a permit for the installation work, or you may be required to install some type of fence or barrier around your pool to prevent it from being accessible to uninvited guests. Check with your local town or city hall to see if any such regulations exist.



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