What does home insurance cover? Top tips to understand what your policy protects against

It is an essential piece of cover, but do you know what exactly your home insurance covers?

What does home insurance cover? It’s an important question, but one that many of us might struggle to answer, because the cover can seem a little confusing.

Part of that confusion comes down to the fact that home insurance is actually made up of two different types of cover. So what’s the difference? Which cover do you need? And what else will your home insurance policy cover?

What does home insurance cover?

Home insurance is a bit of an umbrella term, for two main categories of cover: buildings insurance and contents insurance.

Buildings insurance covers the various elements that make up the structure of the property. That means things like your walls, floors, roof and windows.

house exterior with teal blue font door

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Sarah Poulter, communications manager at Aviva, notes that this includes permanent fixtures inside the home like built-in wardrobes, kitchen surfaces, taps, basins, baths and showers. 'Many policies also cover outbuildings, boundary walls, gates, pools, drives and paths as standard,' she adds.

By contrast,contents insurance protects the items within the property, your possessions. This can include everything from furniture and furnishings to clothes, TVs and gaming consoles.

Sarah says: 'Many insurers will also cover money, valuables, home office equipment and even food in the freezer, usually up to a specified limit.'

The first thing to bear in mind is that not everybody needs both sorts of home insurance. If you own your property on a leasehold basis, then you usually won’t need buildings insurance ‒ this will instead be the responsibility of the freeholder. You will only need contents insurance. This is also the case if you’re a tenant.

While most policies cover broadly the same items, there will be variances between different policies from different insurers. Some will have higher limits on how much you can claim to replace a single item, for example. As a result, it’s crucial that you read the small print before signing up for a policy so that you understand exactly what’s included in your cover.

Similarly, if there are any queries or concerns about what’s covered in your policy, it’s a good idea to speak to the insurer to clarify the issues.

Does home insurance cover water leaks?

One of the most common reasons people claim on their home insurance ‒ both buildings insurance and contents insurance policies ‒ are for damage caused by the ‘escape of water’. In other words, water leaks.

Generally, your home insurance policy will cover the damage caused by a water leak, as well as “reasonable costs” for removing any part of the internal structure of the property so that they can get to the source of the leak.

In practice, this means that if a plumber needs to remove some tiles from the kitchen in order to get to a leaking pipe and repair it, the costs incurred here will likely be covered by your policy. In addition, the policy may cover the costs of ‘making good’ once the issue has been rectified.

However, exactly how much is covered will vary between different insurers.

Ceri McMillan, home insurance expert at GoCompare, explains: 'The levels of cover will be outlined in your policy documents so it’s important to read through these and check that you have the right level of cover in place.'

bathroom with tiled walls and white bathtub

(Image credit: Future PLC/Joanna Henderson)

Will home insurance cover plumbing?

A plumbing emergency is not always the same as a water leak. For example, you might find that you have a blocked drain or toilet, or even your boiler has broken down.

Standard home insurance policies may not cover these sorts of issues. Instead, you may have purchased an additional service called ‘home emergency cover’ with your general home insurance policy.

This add-on is often sold as an optional extra for home insurance policies, or even as a standalone product, and will likely provide cover in the event of a plumbing emergency.

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from rain?

'Home insurance can cover water damage from rain, but it is dependent on how that rain water entered the property,' warns Ryan Fulthorpe, home insurance expert at gocompare.com* (opens in new tab). 'If, due to poor upkeep and maintenance of the property rain water is able to damage the property, then Insurers may class this as wear and tear and not cover this incident.'

'However if the rain water has come in through a storm event with wind removing roof tiles leaving the property unprotected this could be an incident covered under your policy.'

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from rain?

It’s not only burst pipes that can lead to water damage in a property, of course; you could have a situation where rain water enters your home and does some damage. But will your home insurance policy come to the rescue?

Ultimately, it all comes down to how that rain water got into the property. If it came into your home because of a storm ‒ say the wind removed tiles from the roof, and the rain then found its way in ‒ then you may be covered by your home insurance policy.

However, if rain got in because of poor upkeep and maintenance of the property ‒ failing to replace old and damaged roof tiles, for example ‒ then you may find that you are not covered.

Is there a home insurance that covers everything?

There are an awful lot of different insurers out there, all of whom offer their own unique home insurance policies. Exactly what is covered, and the terms and conditions of the policy, will vary between them.

Perhaps the easiest way to find the right policy for you is to make use of a price comparison site. This way you can filter out unsuitable policies and find cover that delivers exactly what you need, as well as getting a really good idea of how much home insurance costs.

Ceri says: 'The type of home insurance you need will depend on the type of home you have, and the level of cover you require. For example, a couple who live in a flat will probably need a different type of insurance to a family of five living in a detached house, so considering your requirements is key to finding the right home insurance policy.

'And as always, with any type of insurance, it’s best to compare quotes for buildings and contents from a number of different providers to find the right cover for your budget, needs, and circumstances.'

However, it’s really important that you don’t focus solely on price, and instead go through the small print on any policy before purchasing. You need to be confident in understanding exactly what is and isn’t included.

Sarah explains: 'Customers should consider their individual circumstances and choose a policy which reflects their needs, including relevant add-ons. For example, a customer may benefit from ‘accidental damage’ optional cover, particularly if they have children in the home! This will cover damage caused by incidents such as a TV being knocked over or paint being spilled on a carpet.

'Another useful add-on may be for personal belongings, which can cover items away from the home, anywhere in the world.'

Does home insurance cover bad workmanship?

It’s unlikely that damage caused by bad workmanship, be that maintenance, repairs, or renovation will be covered under your buildings and contents insurance. However the contractors should have liability insurance to cover anything that goes wrong.

If it is damage caused by DIY, accidental damage cover may cover the incident but do check with the insurer.

Does house insurance cover garden walls?

country garden with brick wall and church view

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

The garden falls within the boundaries of your home, and with buildings insurance usually covering the structures within that, your garden wall will likely be included.

However, it’s a good idea to check your policy documents to get a better idea of any possible exclusions. As with all things home and insurance-related, get everything in writing for clarity. Should any claims arise in the future – you’re covered.

With thanks to John Fitzsimons for his contributions to this article.

Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.