Historic home insurance policy: Be safe before it's too late

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Home Improvement Tips, In The News, Historic Preservation

courtesy the 9513

A year ago this week, I watched from my porch as floodwaters rose at a disturbing rate. Though my home was barely spared from the historic flood that inundated Nashville, Tennessee in May of 2010, many of my neighbors were not so fortunate. Our quiet street was filled with historic homes. My 1901 treasure was actually the young kid on the block–most homes in that area were built in before 1890.

When the floodwaters finally receded, we got a crash course in how important historic home insurance can be. My home suffered serious water levels in the cellar, our driveway was washed away (we never did find one of the cars!) and our backyard structures fell victim to the raging Duck River. But the house next door, a 1880 Craftsman, was filled with eight feet of water.

When the owners came back to their home, they were greeted with a sight that would make any homeowner cringe, but would make most historic homeowners cry. The delicate plaster was crumbling away in chunks. The original hardwood floors were warped beyond repair. The moisture in the house had already sparked the smell of mildew, the mud was caked several feet up the old walls and the supports underneath the porch had given way, giving the house a strange lean.

The real shock came when the insurance was filed. The homeowners had purchased a typical policy, which covered only a small portion of what restoration of their home would cost. If they had purchased an insurance policy designed for historic homes, the outcome would have been much different.

According to this article on Insure.com, there are several points to consider when looking for historic home insurance. First, the repairs must be brought up to current building codes. Second, the repairs should be historically accurate. A typical policy does not make a point of covering original materials, but an insurance policy designed for historical homes does. This can be especially important for a home built before 1800.

Homeowners who purchase the typical “fixer-upper” with the hopes of restoring it should plan on higher insurance premiums due to the age of the home. They should also plan on upgrading electrical and plumbing systems immediately, to increase their chances of getting good coverage. It is also important to make sure the home is properly valued. A professional risk assessment can help ensure proper coverage.

courtesy The Tennessean

The Nashville flood prompted a serious overhaul of my home insurance policy. Since the worst had already happened, the neighbors didn’t have that luxury. The piles of old wood and plaster on their front yard was a heartbreaking sight. They simply didn’t have the money to recreate the home’s original beauty, and soon afterward they put their damaged darling up for sale.

This month is expected to be another historic flood along the Mississippi River. It also happens to be National Preservation Month. If you haven’t checked into your insurance policy lately, now might be a good time to do it. You never know when disaster is going to strike–the sudden and unexpected Nashville flood is a poignant reminder of that–and when it comes to your historic home, it is always better to be safe than sorry.