Transparency and Your Home Insurance Policy

The insurance industry doesn’t have the best reputation. Many people fear their insurance provider will refuse to pay out, and having a claim denied can be a bitter pill to swallow. So, what can you do?

Chances are, unless you work in insurance or have a law degree, the small print on most home insurance policies doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. That’s a problem, because buried within the policy are a bunch of details that answer the only question worth asking when it comes to insurance: am I covered?

To make life easier, Square One has taken two steps. First, we’ve written our policy in simple language- see for yourself by downloading a sample. Next, we’ve come up with this transparency page. We want you to understand exactly what’s in your policy, so we’ll explain the most important parts in plain English. We’ll also underline all the technical terms, so you know what to look out for.

Let’s start with the basics. Your Square One policy is comprehensive. That means it insures against everything except for a list of exclusions. We’ll go over the list, but first we’ll take a look at the things your insurer requires of you. Then we’ll cover deductibles, how to manage your poicy, and how to make a claim.

Curious about your premium? We have a separate page where you can learn how we calculate premiums.

What is required of you?

Buying insurance isn’t like buying a candy bar. Firstly, not everyone can buy insurance. If the risk is too great, insurance providers can simply refuse coverage. Secondly, buying insurance requires something from you in return. Not only must you provide your insurer with details upon your application, but if they accept your application, then there are certain situations where you are required to contact them to provide information.

The good news is that there are only a handful of situations where something is required of you:

  • Initial application: The most important thing to keep in mind when buying insurance is to be honest. Your insurance provider can’t give you the coverage you need if you lie about what your needs are. Sure, lying about the condition of your home might save you a few bucks a month, but what if those lies result in your claim being denied? Yes, there are a lot of questions on an insurance application. But try to remember that every question on that form is there for a reason. If a question is asked, then the answer matters.

  • Material changes: There are some circumstances where you need to contact us and let us know about certain changes. Here are some examples. Let’s say you’re replacing the bathroom in your home. While you’re at it, you decide to upgrade the kitchen and replace the carpets with hardwood floors. If the value of your changes is more than $25,000, then you must contact us to let us know of the changes. We’ll change the value of your home on the policy to reflect the changes you’ve made. That way, if your house (and the new bathroom inside it) burn down, then your insurance will cover the cost of replacing the new bathroom, not the old one. You also need to inform us if there is a change of occupancy in your home- if you decide to rent out your basement to a tenant, for instance- or if your home undergoes construction or renovation. These changes represent a higher risk for insurers and many will simply refuse coverage. Square One offers a wide variety of coverages, including coverage for homes under construction/renovation, but it’s essential that you inform us of these changes. That way, we can update your policy and keep you protected.

  • Proof of value: At Square One, we let you choose the coverage that suits your needs. Optional coverage is available for specialty property, such as jewellery, watches, fine arts and collectables. If you select coverage for specialty property, then you must provide proof of the item’s value before you submit a claim. If you don’t, then the amount you receive for your lost or damaged property will be limited to $3,000-$6,000 depending on the item.

  • Leaving your home in winter: There is an exclusion in your policy relating to water damage that occurs if pipes burst after they become frozen during the winter. To avoid this, if you know you’re going to be leaving your home for more than 7 days, then you need to take action. Either leave the heating on or drain your pipes. If you’re interested, here are some useful home maintenance tips in our resource centre. While this might seem like overkill, a burst pipe can do a lot of damage, so if you know you’ll be away from home, take precautions and stay covered. Don’t worry, if you require emergency medical treatment and are forced to leave your home, then you’ll still be covered.

  • Making a claim: When submitting a claim to your insurance provider, it’s important to do so quickly. This gives your insurance provider the opportunity to take quick action by inspecting the loss and preventing any further loss or damage. Your home insurance provider needs to determine the extent and cause of the loss before they can come up with a fair settlement.

  • Pay your premiums: It almost goes without saying, but given the scope of this page, let’s say it anyway. Your insurance isn’t valid if you don’t pay for it.

That’s it! Pretty simple, right? Now, let’s look at some of the things that your policy doesn’t cover.

Exclusions

What is the point of comprehensive insurance if it comes with a list of exclusions? Good question. There are three main reasons that insurers refuse to cover certain things.

  • Some things are just uninsurable. Take war, for example. There’s no way to predict the risk involved, so there’s no way to charge a premium.

  • No need. There’s no point having two left shoes, and there’s no point having two insurance policies for the same thing. Some objects are excluded from your home insurance policy because they’re covered elsewhere. Your car, for example, is covered by your auto insurance, even when it’s in your garage.

  • Insurance companies don’t want to insure it. Some things are just out of scope. Take wear and tear, for example. If you could insure your shoes for this, you’d only buy one pair in your whole life and your insurance company would go bankrupt replacing them every year.

That last point is of more relevance to consumers than most would think. The price of insurance premiums is directly related to the number of claims in the industry as a whole. If there are a series of floods, then insurance providers must pay out several millions. The money they use to pay those claims comes from their only source of income; your premiums. Their only choice to stay afloat is to raise your premiums to cover the cost of future claims. So, the reason exclusions exist is actually to keep premiums affordable.

So, what’s excluded from your Square One policy? Well, there are three categories of exclusions. Some apply to your home, some to your liability and some to both.

Policy exclusions

The first list of exclusions applies to your entire policy; that is, they apply to both your home and your liability. Put simply, you’re not insured if:

  • you deliberately do something illegal.
  • you notice that a loss is about to occur, or that a loss has already begun, and you choose not to do anything to prevent or reduce the damage.
  • you are deliberately negligent. For example, if you refuse to fix the holes in your roof, you can’t claim for water damage done to the fur coat stored in the attic.
  • you participate in illegal activities relating to growing/producing drugs (including cannabis).
  • your house is damaged from war or civil unrest.

Liability exclusions

Liability is a term used a lot in insurance, but what does it mean? To be liable for something means you are legally responsible for it. Your policy deals with two kinds of liability; personal liability and premises liability. Both protect against actions you take that might cause someone to sue you. Personal liability protects you anywhere in the world. For example, if you hit someone with your golf ball while on holiday. Premises liability protects you for accidents that happen at home. For example, if a neighbour slips on your icy porch because you didn’t take proper care to keep it safe for visitors.

So, what are the exclusions to this coverage? You’re not insured if:

  • your claim results from terrorism or government anti-terrorism efforts.
  • your claim results from a nuclear incident that is already covered by the Nuclear Insurance Association of Canada.
  • you assume liability for other people’s property, even through a verbal contract. For example, your friend agrees to lend you his expensive laptop on one condition; you break it, you buy it. If you break it (or if it’s stolen) you can’t claim this on your insurance.
  • your claim results from the ownership/use of aircraft or any premises used as an airport.
  • you transfer a disease to someone – it wouldn’t make sense for your insurance provider to pay out every time a cold spreads through the office.
  • you sexually, physically or emotionally abuse someone, or fail to take steps to prevent such abuse.
  • data is lost in transmission.
  • you commit libel or slander.
  • your claim results from the discharge of pollutants. If the government tells you to clean or neutralize pollutants, you also can’t claim this on your insurance.
  • your claim results from fungi, spores, bacteria or mould that make others ill.

Property and Loss of Use exclusions

The second list of exclusions in your policy relates to everything other than your liability. (This includes your home, belongings, etc.) These exclusions are separated into two categories in your policy; general exclusions, and water damage exclusions.

General exclusions relate to your losses. You’re not insured if:

  • the loss is related to business activities conducted from your home (unless you disclose it to us and we still agreed to insure you).
  • your property has been vacant for 30 consecutive days (unless you contact us beforehand to let us know).
  • your house is undergoing construction or renovation (unless you contact us beforehand to let us know).
  • the police legally confiscate or seize your property. (I.e. if the police seize your computer, you can’t claim for it.)
  • acts of terrorism or counterterrorism cause loss or damage to your home. Unless the damage results from fire or the explosion of natural, coal or manufactured gas. In that case, you are insured.
  • a nuclear incident causes loss or damage to your home. Unless the damage results from fire or the explosion of natural, coal or manufactured gas. In that case, you are insured.
  • your loss/damage results from radioactive contamination.
  • your loss/damage results from the release or escape of pollutants.
  • your loss/damage results from wear and tear or deterioration.
  • your loss/damage results from a snowslide or landslide unless that damage results from an earthquake.
  • your claim is to make good any faulty design of your home. That’s not really the realm of insurance as there has been no sudden or accidental loss.
  • your loss/damage was caused by birds, bats, vermin, racoons, skunks, rodents or insects.

Water exclusions (unsurprisingly) relate specifically to water losses. You’re not insured if:

  • your loss/damage was caused by coastal flood.
  • your loss/damage was caused by groundwater rising or the water table.
  • your loss/damage was caused by seepage or leakage over time. For instance, if a pipe in your home is leaking and your drywall gets mouldy as a result, that’s not something you can claim on your insurance.
  • water damages your home while it is vacant…even if you told us it’s vacant.
  • a pipe freezes and then bursts in your home while you are away for 7 days or more unless you made sure the heating kept working or drained the pipes.
  • ice or water damages your fence, pavement, patio or swimming pool.
  • your loss/damage was caused by waterborne objects.

Deductibles

So, you want to make a claim. You’ve fulfilled the requirements of your insurance and you’re aware of the exclusions to your policy. There’s just one more thing you need to be aware of before dealing with the claims process: deductibles. A deductible is the amount of money you have to pay toward a claim before your insurance policy covers the rest. If a pipe bursts in your home causing $15,000 of damage and you have a $5,000 deductible, your insurance provider will cover $10,000 of the $15,000. With Square One, because you’re able to choose your own coverage limits and deductibles, the deductible is applied to the coverage limit rather than the loss amount when a claim exceeds the coverage limit.

All policies have deductibles, and most actually have more than one type. Deductibles help to keep the cost of your premium down. If you want to pay less per month you can raise your deductible. You’re agreeing to pay for a bigger portion of the loss, so don’t agree to an amount you can’t afford. There are several different types of deductibles.

  • Earthquake deductible: for claims relating to earthquake, but only if you’ve selected the coverage.
  • Glass deductible: for damage to windows.
  • Hail deductible: for claims resulting from hail.
  • Inland flood deductible: for claims resulting from inland flood.
  • Standard deductible: for claims resulting from any other type of covered loss.

People often wonder why earthquake deductibles are so high, frequently reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any earthquake that causes enough damage to warrant an influx of claims regardless of a sizeable deductible could have significant effects on the solvency of an insurance provider. This means if the earthquake is big enough, everyone’s house gets destroyed and the insurance company could be overwhelmed with claims, leaving you homeless. To protect against this, earthquake deductibles are traditionally high. That reduces the amount the insurance provider must pay out, and spreads the risk, meaning no one loses their home. But what if you can’t afford your deductible? At Square One, we let you choose an earthquake deductible that you feel comfortable with.

Paying for insurance

As mentioned, the payments you make in exchange for your insurance coverage are known as premiums. The premium amount for each policy is unique; premiums are based on selected coverages, home construction details, local risks (floods, wildfires, earthquakes, etc.), and dozens of other factors.

Payment terms

For most customers, Square One offers the choice of paying your premiums annually or monthly. If you choose monthly, there’s no interest and no obligation; you can cancel at any time and receive a refund of any unearned premiums.

Unearned premiums are those that you’ve paid but haven’t been “used.” For example, if you make an annual payment of $1,200, and cancel the policy after one month, you could receive a refund of $1,100—the unearned portion.

Minimum Retained Premium

The only exception to refunds is the Minimum Retained Premium, or MRP.

When you buy a policy from Square One, the first $50 in premiums are the MRP. The MRP represents a non-refundable portion of your payments. After you’ve paid at least $50 in total premiums, the MRP no longer applies, and you’ll get a full refund of unearned premiums if you cancel.

The MRP applies even if you buy a policy and cancel it immediately, so ensure that you’re buying the right policy before you complete the application.

If you choose monthly payments, and your monthly premium is under $50, we may collect the first 2-3 months of premiums right at the beginning to cover the MRP.

We have a full article on Minimum Retained Premiums if you’d like to read more.

Renewal and rerate

When you buy a policy from Square One, your premium will stay the same for one year whether you pay monthly or annually (unless you make changes to your policy).

At the end of the year, your policy will be renewed and rerated. Rerating is the annual process by which your premium gets adjusted for the next year. Essentially, we re-evaluate many of the same factors we used to calculate the premium originally.

The rerate can cause your premium to go up, down, or remain the same.

Policies sold by Square One are continuous until cancelled. This is to ensure that you’re never mistakenly left without insurance coverage.

We’ll send you an email 30 days before your annual renewal, to outline any changes to your premium or coverage. If you accept the changes, you don’t need to do anything—your coverage will renew for another year at the new rate.

Annual renewal is a good time to review your coverage to ensure that it’s still adequate.

Policy cancellation

As mentioned above, Square One customers may cancel their policy at any time for any reason. You can do so through your online account or by contacting an agent.

However, there are uncommon situations where we might cancel a policy. Most often, this would happen in cases of repeated non-payment.

Paying your premiums is an important part of the insurance contract. If a scheduled payment fails, we’ll contact you by email and by phone. We understand that payments can fail for any number of accidental reasons, like expired credit cards or insufficient bank funds.

We’ll make several attempts to contact you over several days to resolve any payment issues before we do anything else.

However, if we are unable to resolve non-payment issues in a timely matter, we will proceed with the cancellation process as required by the Insurance Act’s Statutory Conditions.

Making a claim

You’ve complied with the requirements, you’re a master of exclusions, and you laugh in the face of deductibles. All that’s left now is making a successful claim.

First things first; if crime is involved, contact the emergency services at 911. Then contact your insurance provider. They’ll assign an adjuster to your case and he/she will help you document your loss. At this stage it’s important to take preventative measures to stop any further damage or loss from occurring.

Make sure to provide your adjuster with as much detail as you can during this process. Remember that it’s important to be honest about your claim. If your house is broken into and thieves steal your computer, don’t lie about what else was stolen, or even exaggerate the value of the computer. The law considers lying in an insurance claim to be fraud, so the insurance provider could then refuse the entire claim. As we mentioned above, it’s also important to report claims quickly, and allow your insurers to inspect the cause and extent of the damage.

If it’s an emergency (say, if you’re forced to evacuate due to a fire) and you have selected coverage for additional living expenses, then make sure you hold onto all your receipts for accommodations, food, and other living expenses. If needed, Square One can send a cash advance to help you.

Once your claim has been processed, and once any necessary inspections have been completed, your adjuster will offer you a settlement. If you’re not happy with the settlement, then you have options. Start by voicing your concern with your adjuster or their manager. You always have the option of bringing a lawsuit against your home insurance provider. This option can be expensive but it’s worth knowing about as a last resort. (More information on service concerns can be found here.)

That said, Square One pays out on 90% of claims submitted in Canada. The most common claims result from water damage or crime, so we recommend checking your coverages (and deductibles) for these perils.

Most people fear that once they’ve made a claim on their home insurance policy, their renewal rate will soar. This is not necessarily the case. It’s true, your rate may increase, but the rate may have increased anyway because of the number of claims across the whole industry, or generally as the result of inflation. Rate increases may also be less significant than you fear. Don’t be afraid to make a claim on your policy, just keep your deductibles in mind; it may work out cheaper to replace less expensive items yourself.

That’s it! You’re now a certified PhD of insurance policies. The unfortunate truth is that most people never bother to read their policy, so take a minute to check the extent and limits of your coverage. Make sure you fulfil the requirements and be clear on what’s excluded from your policy.

If you’re looking for more information about home insurance, we’ve got you covered:

For any more specific questions on your Square One policy, email us and a licensed insurance agent will be happy to assist you. You have our commitment to respond by the next business day.