Staying safe when the lights are out

Load shedding is once again an unwelcome reality for South African homeowners. Apio’s Caron Whitfield explains what this means for your home insurance.

Load shedding brings with it not only the frustrations of hours without electricity, but the possibility of failing security systems and opportunistic crime, unexpected power surges that might just fry the very appliances that have been sitting idle, and the risks associated with candlelight and generators.

It becomes important to properly understand what your homeowner insurance policy requires of you. If your alarm is a requirement for theft cover, take three simple steps to ensure that your cover is valid. First, make sure that your alarm is in good working condition. Secondly, check that your alarm is linked to a SAIDSA-approved (South African Intruder Detection Services Association) alarm company who will actually respond when the alarm is activated; and thirdly, always turn it on when you leave your home.

Check that your alarm battery is operational and will last the duration of a load shedding interval. Batteries should be checked regularly, as most policies require homeowners to take reasonable precautions to ensure that their alarm is working.

Loss or damage incurred because of a power surge is generally covered by your policy, but it’s important not to throw away or replace any damaged items until you’ve spoken to your broker, as the item may need to be assessed to see whether it can be repaired or must be replaced.

Again, read the fine print of your policy – some policies have unlimited cover for power surges, but others might limit replacement values, and exclusions do apply. If you’re in an area where power surges are common, or you find yourself replacing items such as wi-fi routers repeatedly, your insurer might ask you to install surge protectors to limit damage (and claims).

Check whether your home contents insurance also covers the contents of your fridge and freezer. If it does, remember to keep your grocery receipts in case your food spoils during a prolonged outage.

If you don’t have a generator or inverter to power lights, load shedding often compels the romantic flicker of candlelight. What’s not so romantic is the risk of fire. It’s a good idea to invest in a fire extinguisher if you don’t already own one, and of course exercise common sense by never leaving candles burning unattended. Look at lighting alternatives like solar lamps that don’t use an open flame.

If you do decide to buy a generator, make sure that it is professionally installed by a registered service provider. Generators that supply electricity must be correctly wired, earthed and sealed, and petrol or diesel generators emit dangerous fumes that must be safely vented.

Understanding the fine print of your policy can be challenging, so speak to your broker about what your home insurance policy covers, and make sure you understand what reasonable steps you as the homeowner must take to ensure a valid claim if the need arises.