Fire damage – understanding what your insurance will and won’t cover

Jaco Erasmus (Director of Cornerstone Insurance Brokers)

The recent headlining fires that devastated the University of Cape Town’s Library and Table Mountain, have made the public acutely aware of the devastation an uncontrolled blaze can unleash.

What makes fire damage so traumatic to witness, is the finality that is attached to it. Fire damage is almost always final and cannot be reversed. If the fire, heat and smoke don’t destroy everything it touches, the resulting water damage from trying to contain it, will. This makes rebuilding and replacing, very difficult and extremely costly.

At this point, you are probably saying to yourself “Thank goodness I have insurance, I’ll be fine if a fire ever destroyed anything I own.”

Not necessarily.

So, before you indulge your own feelings of security, read on to find out what your insurance will and won’t cover in the event of a fire, and how to make sure you aren’t left with a rejected claim.

Read your policy wording

This may sound like an obvious first step, but the truth is that very few insured individuals bother to read their policy wording. Most of the conditions surrounding cover, criteria for claims and other important information will be found in your policy wording. Understanding how you are covered is just as important as the cover itself because it empowers you to be able to identify when a claim is unfairly rejected.

This is especially relevant to fire damage as some standard insurance policies may only have limited fire cover and will require you to have an additional add-on for more comprehensive fire cover.

Assess your fire risk and aim to mitigate it

Many fire claims are rejected simply because the property was not adequately protected against fire damage. Obviously, you cannot control or be responsible for an uncontrolled veld fire, but you can be responsible for safeguarding your home to protect it as much as you can.

This includes having the following safety precautions in place:

  • An updated certificate of compliance (COC) to ensure that your electrical setup is safe and will be responsible for any fire outbreaks.
  • Have one or more fire extinguishers handy, especially if you have a gas stove or a gas braai.
  • Install smoke alarms in and around your home
  • Bush clearing

Not only will these precautions keep you and your loved ones safe, it may lower your monthly insurance premiums and help to avoid claim rejections.

Check your cover – contents insurance vs buildings insurance

Understanding the difference between contents cover and building cover is important – especially with regards to fire damage.

  • Contents cover means everything inside your house or property will be covered. This may furniture, electronics, personal belongings etc.
  • Building insurance will cover all the structural aspects of your property including walls, roofs, floors and all fixtures and fittings attached to the building.

A blazing hot fire will not only destroy your belongings, but it can also permanently damage the structure of your home. Sometimes the structural damage can be so bad, the property will have to be demolished and rebuilt entirely. Therefore, if you have contents cover only, you won’t be covered.

The same would apply to having only contents cover with no building insurance – if a fire destroys your home, your belongings in the house might be covered, but the walls, floors, ceilings etc won’t be.

Did you find our article informative? If so, let us know on Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, remember to contact Cornerstone Insurance Brokers on 011 794 6611 or for all your domestic and commercial short-term insurance needs.

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