How Does Homeowners Insurance Work?

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Updated: June 12, 2024

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Home insurance works by covering the costs involved if your home is damaged or destroyed by a covered event. For instance, if your house gets damaged in an accidental fire, your home insurance policy will cover the costs to repair your home’s structure and replace any appliances or belongings.

Understanding how home insurance works entails a thorough understanding of the intricacies, including coverages, coverage types, covered perils and more. Familiarizing yourself with each aspect of home insurance will help ensure that you’re adequately protected and prepared for unexpected events.

What Is Homeowners Insurance?

Homeowners insurance provides coverage to repair or rebuild your home after events like fire, theft or vandalism, as well as coverage for personal belongings and even medical expenses if someone is injured on your property. As a whole, it offers financial protection for one of your most valuable assets: your home. By covering high-value items and additional structures such as your pool or shed, home insurance ensures that if the worst happens, you won’t be on the hook.

Home Insurance Core Coverages Explained

Understanding the core coverages in a home insurance policy is an important step in protecting your investment and ensuring that you get the right limits and have the right safeguards in place for your property. These basic protections offer coverage for your home's structure, personal possessions and more.

Take a look at MoneyGeek’s explanation of each home insurance coverage below

Home Insurance Coverages Explained

Dwelling Coverage

Dwelling coverage, typically the highest coverage limit in your homeowners insurance policy, pays for rebuilding or repairing structural components, including the frame, plumbing, electrical systems and attached structures like garages. It covers hazards like windstorms, theft, vandalism and even unexpected incidents like falling objects or vehicles striking home.

Other Structures Coverage

Other structures coverage protects the various detached facilities on your property, with a limit that’s usually set at 10% of your dwelling coverage limit. These structures include guesthouses, gazebos, detached garages, sheds, mailboxes and fences, among others.

Personal Property Coverage

Personal property coverage, also referred to as "contents insurance" or coverage C, pays to repair or replace your belongings in the event of covered losses, including theft or damages from incidents like fires. Commonly covered possessions include furniture, non-built-in appliances, electronics (TVs, computers, cameras), clothing, artwork and sports equipment.

Liability Coverage

Homeowners liability insurance offers financial protection for property damage or bodily injury that others may suffer due to your actions or property. It applies whether you or your insured housemates are at home or away. It may also include legal representation for lawsuits.

Additional Living Expenses (ALE)

ALE insurance provides financial support to policyholders facing temporary displacement from their homes. It covers the additional costs incurred during this period, such as food expenses from eating out and potential income loss if the dwelling was rented. ALE insurance also encompasses laundry, furniture rental, storage, moving or displacement expenses and pet boarding.

Guaranteed Replacement Cost

Guaranteed replacement cost is a higher level of home insurance coverage that pays for the full cost of rebuilding your home, regardless of your policy's dwelling coverage limit or the home's current market price. Unlike standard policies that might cap the payout based on the home's estimated value, guaranteed replacement cost offers more robust coverage.

Take, for instance, a home located in a rapidly developing area where construction costs have surged over a short period. If disaster were to strike, the rebuilding costs could be significantly higher than when the policy was first taken out. A standard policy might not cover these increased costs, but guaranteed replacement cost coverage would kick in, ensuring that the home is rebuilt without additional financial strain on the homeowner.

Named vs. Open Perils

In the context of home insurance, perils refer to specific risks or causes of damage to your property. These can include natural disasters like hurricanes and fires or events such as theft. For instance, if you live in an area prone to wildfires, a named peril policy that specifically lists wildfires as a covered risk would ensure that you are protected against that particular threat. On the other hand, if lightning is not named, any damage caused by a lightning strike would not be covered.

Understanding the distinction between named and open perils, and how they might apply to your specific situation, is important so that you can select the appropriate insurance coverage that aligns with your property's location, structure and your personal preferences.

Named Perils
Open Perils


Covers only the risks specifically listed

Covers all risks except those explicitly excluded

Coverage Scope

Narrower, specific to listed perils

Broader, includes almost all potential risks

Typical Perils

Fire, theft, vandalism

All perils except those listed in exclusions


Less flexible, limited to named risks

More flexible, offers comprehensive protection

Actual Cash Value (ACV) vs. Replacement Cost Value (RCV)

When you purchase a policy, you’ll be asked to choose between two types of coverage: Actual Cash Value (ACV) and Replacement Cost Value (RCV). These terms dictate how an insurance policy will compensate you for losses. ACV provides compensation based on the depreciated value of an item, while RCV covers the cost to replace the item with a new one, without considering depreciation.

Actual Cash Value (ACV)
Replacement Cost Value (RCV)

Valuation Method

Depreciated value

Cost of a new item


Generally more affordable

Comes with a higher premium


Depreciated value of the item

Full cost of a new item

Best For

Individuals prioritizing lower premiums and who can absorb some replacement costs.

Homeowners seeking full compensation for items, ensuring minimal out-of-pocket expenses for replacements

Filing a Homeowners Insurance Claim

Filing a claim is a necessary step if your home sustains damage, whether it's due to a natural disaster, theft or other unforeseen circumstances. It's a structured process that allows your insurance provider to assess the situation and determine the appropriate compensation. Here's how to file a claim:

Detail the Damage

Get details on where the damage is, what kind it is and when it happened. Try to involve a professional where possible so they can provide a quote for repairs.

Gather Proof

Submit pictures or permit a claims adjuster to assess the damage.

Initiate the Claim

Depending on your provider, you can file claims online, through a mobile app or with an agent. Make sure to provide all the details and proof of the damage.

Wait for Instructions

Your insurance provider will guide you through the next steps once the claim is initiated.

How Are Home Insurance Rates Determined?

Insurance rates are determined by a complex set of factors reflecting the risk of insuring the property. Generally, the greater the risk, the more expensive the policy will be. Here's an overview of the key elements that can affect home insurance rates:

  • Type of Coverage: Replacement cost is more expensive than actual cash value.
  • Location of Home: Areas with dense populations or frequent weather events may have higher rates.
  • Amount of Dwelling Coverage: The value of the home affects the cost to repair or rebuild.
  • Personal Property Coverage Level: This involves how much coverage you want to be able to replace your personal property — the belongings in your home — in case your items get damaged in a covered event.
  • Deductible Choices: Higher deductibles can lower premium costs.
  • Home's Age: Older homes may result in more expensive payouts for repairs.
  • Credit History: Credit history is a factor in most states, except California, Maryland and Massachusetts.
  • Claim Frequency: Frequent claims can increase the cost of insurance.

Is Homeowners Insurance Required?

Homeowners insurance is not a legal requirement, but most mortgage lenders will require homeowners insurance to safeguard their interest in the property. Even if it’s not required, having home insurance is a vital part of protecting your investment in your home. Without it, the risk of losing a significant financial asset due to unforeseen disasters like fire, tornado or theft becomes a real concern.

Below are three reasons to get home insurance:

  • Mortgage Requirements: If you have a mortgage, the lender will likely mandate homeowners insurance.
  • Protection Against Loss: Insurance covers damages or losses caused by perils listed in the contract.
  • Optional Coverage: Additional coverage for specific problems like floods or earthquakes can be purchased separately, which can protect you against the unique risks of your location.

How Long Do Home Insurance Policies Last?

Home insurance policies typically last for one year. Once this term concludes, homeowners have the opportunity to renew their policy. It's wise to assess any changes in the property's value or contents during this time. Reviewing your insurance annually ensures that your coverage remains adequate, offering optimal protection against unforeseen events and safeguarding the homeowner's financial wellbeing.

Home Insurance vs. Other Insurance Types

The insurance landscape offers a plethora of options, each tailored to specific needs and situations. While home insurance focuses on safeguarding a homeowner's property and belongings, it's not the only coverage you might encounter. Understanding different types of insurance can help you navigate the diverse world of insurance with confidence and clarity.

Home Insurance vs. Mortgage Insurance

When you purchase your property, you might encounter two types of insurance: home insurance and mortgage insurance. While both are important in the realm of property ownership, they serve distinct purposes. Mortgage insurance, or private mortgage insurance (PMI), protects the lender if you fail to repay the mortgage. Meanwhile, homeowners insurance offers financial protection for your home and its contents against unforeseen events.

Mortgage Insurance
Homeowner Insurance


Protects the lender in case the borrower defaults on the loan

Protects the homeowner's property and belongings from damages


Typically needed if down payment is less than 20%

Generally required by lenders before they fund a loan


Can be canceled once the homeowner achieves 20% equity

Continues based on the homeowner's preference, even after the loan is settled

Home Insurance vs. Landlord Insurance

If you’re thinking of renting out your property, you might be wondering if you need home insurance or landlord insurance. Landlord insurance, tailored for rental scenarios, focuses on shielding you from potential damages to the rental property, lost rental income and specific liabilities. Conversely, homeowners insurance is crafted for primary homeowners, ensuring your primary residence and personal belongings are well-protected.

Landlord Insurance
Homeowners Insurance

Primary Role

Provides coverage for rental properties and associated risks

Ensures protection for one's main residence and belongings

Dwelling Protection

Covers rental property and detached structures

Encompasses the main home and other structures


Doesn't cover tenants' personal items

Protects personal assets like clothing, furniture and electronics

Liability Aspect

Addresses injuries on the rental premises

Covers accidental harm or property damage to others

Income/Expense Coverage

Reimburses lost rental income during repairs

Covers additional living costs during home restoration

Home Insurance vs. Home Warranty

Home insurance offers protection against unexpected damages like weather-related incidents or theft, ensuring the structural integrity of your home and the belongings within it. Conversely, a home warranty focuses on wear-and-tear damage, covering the repair or replacement of essential household appliances and systems. Both home insurance and home warranties offer a comprehensive safety net, ensuring that both your home's structure and its internal systems are well-protected.

Home Insurance
Home Warranty

Primary Objective

Safeguard against major perils and provide liability coverage

Address wear-and-tear damages of home systems and appliances

Coverage Scope

Home structure, personal items, liability and more

Specific appliances and systems detailed in the contract


Often a prerequisite for homeowners with a mortgage

Optional, but beneficial


Generally excludes wear and tear

Only covers specified systems and appliances

Cost Factors

Influenced by home value, location and coverage level

Monthly premiums typically between $25 and $80

How Does Shopping for Home Insurance Work?

If you're going through the homebuying process and are looking for home insurance, the steps below will help guide you and make sure that you find the best policy for you.

Shopping Around for Quotes

Shopping around for home insurance quotes is a crucial step in finding the right policy. It entails comparing quotes from multiple companies to ensure the best rate and suitable coverage. While price is a significant consideration, it's also important to balance the cost with the actual coverage needed. When shopping around, look for:

  • Comprehensive Coverage: Review the coverage levels to make sure they meet your requirements.
  • Cost Effectiveness: Compare the prices to find a cheap home insurance policy that offers the coverage you need.
  • Specific Needs: Consider whether there’s anything to need to add to your policy to meet your specific needs, such as an endorsement that can supplement your coverage.
  • Insurer's Rating: Check the insurer's rating to ensure they are reputable and financially sound.

Buying a Policy

Buying a homeowners insurance policy requires careful scrutiny and understanding of your specific needs. It's not merely about fulfilling a lender's requirement but selecting the right protection for your home and belongings. Here's how to buy a policy:

Evaluate Your Needs

Determine how much it would cost to replace your home and possessions, as well as your liability coverage needs.

Choose Coverage Limits

Select the coverage amount that can cover the replacement cost of your property.

Consider Add-Ons

Think about additional coverage like flood or earthquake insurance. This is especially important if you live in a state that is prone to such disasters.

Shop Around

Compare quotes from different insurers.

Finalize Details

Decide on a policy, billing plan and start date.

Sign the Policy

Submit your application and pay the first premium. If you have a mortgage, your home insurance premiums will typically be paid through your escrow account. In this case, make sure that your lender receives all the necessary information about your insurer and policy.

When buying a policy, you'll need to provide details such as your property’s address, appraisal information, inspection notes, prior insurance information, lender requirements and personal information.

Keeping a Policy Up To Date

Maintaining a homeowners insurance policy means ensuring it remains effective and relevant to your current circumstances. This involves making regular payments, either paying through your mortgage company (if your coverage is paid from your escrow account) or paying your insurer directly.

Apart from paying on time, any changes to your home or lifestyle, such as a renovation or getting a pet, should be communicated to your insurance carrier to ensure that your policy continues to provide the right level of coverage.

Switching Home Insurance Companies

Switching home insurance providers is a good decision to make if you’re looking to maximize benefits at a more affordable cost, but it requires careful consideration and strategic planning. The goal is to ensure that the new policy aligns with your current needs and offers the best value. Here's how to switch:

Review Your Existing Policy

Understand your current coverage and look for the gaps — ask yourself what’s missing or what you could use.

Decide if Switching is Right

Assess the need and timing. Is your home insurance coverage about to end or are you in the middle of your policy’s term?

Gather Information for Quotes

Prepare personal and home details and shop around for quotes.

Narrow Down Options

Consider the different options available to you and compare them with your existing policy.

Secure the New Policy

If you decide that a different policy is better, decide on coverages and apply for the new policy.

Cancel the Old Policy

Communicate your intent to cancel to your existing provider.

Notify Your Lender

If you’re still paying for your mortgage, make sure to notify your lender about the change.

Before switching, remember that what works for one person might not work for another. Even if you’ve heard about a cheaper policy from your neighbor, keep in mind that their coverage may not be the same as yours. It's key to consider your specific circumstances and needs when deciding to switch insurance providers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Our responses to frequently asked questions about home insurance and how it works will help you become better-informed and make decisions that align with your needs and financial situation.

Is home insurance tax deductible?
How long is the term for homeowners insurance?
Can home insurance cover rental properties?
What are the pros and cons to filing a home insurance claim?
Can you get homeowners insurance for homes in need of repair?

About Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark Fitzpatrick headshot

Mark Fitzpatrick has analyzed the property and casualty insurance market for over five years, conducting original research and creating personalized content for every kind of buyer. Currently, he leads P&C insurance content production at MoneyGeek. Fitzpatrick has been quoted in several insurance-related publications, including CNBC, NBC News and Mashable.

Fitzpatrick earned a master’s degree in economics and international relations from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. He is passionate about using his knowledge of economics and insurance to bring transparency around financial topics and help others feel confident in their money moves.