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Buildings insurance explained

Find out how buildings insurance works, what it covers and typical exclusions to watch out for.

In this article
What is buildings insurance? Do I need buildings insurance? What are the different types of buildings insurance? Golden rules for buying buildings insurance
Does buildings insurance cover accidental damage? What is excluded from buildings insurance? Is buildings insurance affected if my home is unoccupied? Buildings insurance: your questions answered

What is buildings insurance?

Buildings insurance covers the cost of repairing damage to the structure of your property.

This includes the walls, windows and roof as well as permanent fixtures and fittings such as baths, toilets and fitted kitchens. As a general rule, buildings insurance covers the cost of rebuilding your house from the ground up.

It is likely to differ from the market value of your home and often includes the cost of services like demolition, site clearance and architects’ fees.

Generally buildings insurance covers the cost of loss or damage caused by:

  • Fire, smoke, explosions
  • Flood, storms, natural disasters
  • Fallen trees, lamp posts, aerials or satellite dishes
  • Vandalism or malicious damage
  • Subsidence
  • Vehicle or aircraft collisions

Depending on the type of policy you choose, you may also be covered for structures around your home like garages, outside walls and driveways.

Homeowners often combine this with contents insurance which protects their belongings from loss, theft or damage.

Our home insurance reviews show how we rate the standard contents insurance and buildings insurance policies of 31 providers, and how the providers were rated by their customers.

Members can log in to see the results of our analysis. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up to a two month trial for Which? Money for just £1 to access this review, along with thousands of others, and enjoy the benefits of a Which? membership.

Do I need buildings insurance?

Buildings insurance is often purchased by homeowners or those renting out a property that they own.

If you're using a mortgage to buy your property, your lender will usually state that you need buildings insurance in place from the date of exchange in order to get the mortgage.

Looking for a mortgage?

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Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up your mortgage repayments.

Even if you don’t have a mortgage it is advisable to take out a buildings insurance policy. It’s important to bear in mind the cost of rebuilding your house if it were damaged or destroyed.

You won’t need buildings insurance if you’re renting a property as it will be up to your landlord to ensure they have a policy.

If you are a tenant and would like to insure your belongings you may want to consider taking out a contents insurance policy.

What are the different types of buildings insurance?

Sum insured

Sum insured cover is calculated by working out the cost of rebuilding your home from scratch.

This includes expenses such as professional fees and is not the same as your home’s market value - which may be higher or lower than the estimate.

The cost of rebuilding your property will increase over the years so it might be best to choose an index-linked policy. These update the sum insured to reflect the changing cost of rebuilding your home.

Sum insured cover can be quite tricky to calculate but it means that you only pay for the cover you need.

Bedroom rated

Bedroom-rated cover estimates the cost of rebuilding your home based on the number of bedrooms you have.  

These types of policy protect you from under-insuring and provide very high sum-insured cover.

Bedroom rated cover is quite straightforward and you don’t have to worry about calculating the rebuild cost of your home.

It’s important to bear in mind, however, that you could end up over-insuring yourself and paying for cover that you might not need.

Golden rules for buying buildings insurance

1) Shop around

Shopping around will increase your chances of finding a competitive deal for your buildings insurance.

2) Get the right level of cover

Be as accurate as possible when valuing your property. You don’t want to under or over insure your home.

3) Read the terms of your policy - carefully

Once you’ve found a policy, read the terms and conditions carefully. You don’t want to get caught out if you ever have to make a claim.

Does buildings insurance cover accidental damage?

Accidental damage occurs when there’s a one-off unintentional incident that harms the structure of your property.

This could be anything from putting a nail in the wrong place and bursting a pipe to a football being kicked through your window.

Cover for accidental damage is usually bought as an add-on to a policy as home insurers provide very limited protection as standard.

Accidental damage cover does increase the price of your home insurance premium and could cost an extra £20 - £1,000 depending on your policy.

Find out more: Home insurance: add-ons, fees and charges explained.

What is excluded from buildings insurance?

Exclusions from buildings insurance policies can vary depending on your provider and level of cover.

Common exclusions on buildings insurance policies include:

  • General wear and tear
  • Damage caused by neglecting your property
  • Bad workmanship
  • Storm damage to gates, fences and plants
  • Frost damage to outside pipes and brickwork
  • Damage caused by insects, birds or other pests

Is buildings insurance affected if my home is unoccupied?

Most insurers will cover your home on the condition that it will not be left unattended for more than 30 consecutive days.

If your home will be left unoccupied for an extended period of time, be sure to let your home insurance provider know as there may be some restrictions to your cover.  

Buildings insurance: your questions answered

 

Does buildings insurance cover damp?

 

Damp is not covered by buildings insurance. It usually occurs when there is excess moisture in your property and it’s important that you deal with it promptly as it could cause further damage such as discolouration and mould.

 

Do I need buildings insurance for a new build home?

 

It is advisable to get buildings insurance, even if your home is newly built.

The majority of newly built homes in the UK are protected by an NHBC warranty called ‘Buildmark’ which lasts 10 years.

For the first two years of the warranty, the builder is liable for putting right any problems with your home if they have failed to comply with NHBC standards.

This protection, however, is only limited to poor workmanship and does not cover accidental damage or protection against fire or flood.

 

Leaseholders: Do you need buildings insurance?

 

Usually, if you own a leasehold flat, the building should be insured by your landlord who owns the freehold.

Sometimes leaseholders in the same building group together to buy a share of the freehold.

While this gives more control over the property it also mean that they may have to arrange buildings cover as well. This can be done individually or a cheaper option could be to take out a ‘block policy’ which covers them all.

 

Landlords: Do you need buildings insurance?

 

While not a legal requirement, it is advisable for home owners to get buildings insurance as it covers damage to the structure of their property.

If you decide to become a landlord and rent out your property, it is still your responsibility to take out buildings insurance.

This often covers malicious damage by tenants but it’s important to double check with your provider.

Some landlords may decide to take out landlord insurance as well which covers a variety of things such as accidental damage, liability, legal expenses and rent guarantee.

 

Does buildings insurance cover a leaky roof?

 

It depends. If your leak was caused by some sort of damage to the exterior of your property, for example a storm which pulled off a lot of tiles, your home insurance provider may offer cover.

Where there are no signs of external damage and the leak is caused by the roof structure being worn out, your home insurance provider is unlikely to cover it - as it would fall under the wear and tear exclusion.

 

Does buildings insurance cover subsidence?

 

Most home insurers will cover the cost of damage to your property caused by subsidence.

This is often limited, however, to the house itself and will not include patios, garden walls, driveways and swimming pools.

The excess for subsidence damage is often larger at around £1,000 or more.

It is important to bare in mind that insurers only cover the cost of repairing damage caused by subsidence and not the cost of preventing another incident.

Be sure to check with home insurance provider as the terms for subsidence can vary.

 

Is flood damage covered by buildings insurance?

 

Most home insurance providers do cover flooding even if your property is in an at-risk area.

Currently insurers cannot refuse to cover homes at risk of being flooded as long as the government continues to fund flood defences in that region.

Properties in at-risk flood areas do often end up paying more for cover.

 

How do I make a claim on my buildings insurance?

 

No one wants to have to make a claim on their home insurance but should the worst happen there are ways to make the process as smooth as possible.

Our guide on making a home insurance claim, tells you all you need to know about handling the claims process and which home insurance companies stand out from the pack when the going gets tough.

 

Homebuyers: do you need buildings insurance when exchanging contracts?

 

If you are taking out a mortgage to buy a house, your lender would have already required you to take out buildings insurance as a condition to get your mortgage.

For homebuyers not using a mortgage it is advisable to get at least temporary buildings insurance from moment you exchange contracts.

The seller’s buildings insurance will not cover you if there are any mishaps between the exchange of contracts and completion of sale.

 

What is contingent building indemnity insurance?

 

Contingent building indemnity insurance is a on-off policy that is purchased if you a buying a flat where there is an issue with the buildings insurance policy already in place. These problems are usually identified by your Conveyancing Solicitor.

This type of policy protects you from financial loss if the building where your flat is situated is destroyed or damaged.

 

Does buildings insurance cover underpinning?

 

Underpinning is the process of strengthening the foundation of a property.

If your house needs underpinning because of damage to the exterior, for example through  subsidence, then your insurer should cover it.

However, if your house needs underpinning because you want to change the structure of the property, e.g. adding a new extension, it will not be covered by your home insurer.

 

What if I have another question?

 

If you have any more questions about buildings insurance, get in touch with our experts on the Which? Money helpline or email us using money-letters@which.co.uk.