Buildings insurance – how much cover do you need?

Man standing in front of a thatched house.The key to buying buildings insurance is to get the right type and level of cover, and to make sure you answer truthfully and accurately when your insurance company asks if there’s anything unusual about your home. If you miss something important, a future claim could be rejected.

Watch our short video on buildings insurance.

Types of buildings insurance

Did you know?

An estimated 16.5 million houses in the UK have buildings insurance.

Source: AA Average premium data

There are two types of buildings insurance:

  • bedroom-rated, and
  • sum insured

Bedroom-rated insurance

  • Over half of all buildings insurance policies these days are bedroom-rated. The advantage is that the insurance company estimates the cost of rebuilding your home based on the number of bedrooms, and they provide a very high sum insured to protect you against under-insurance. Almost half of these policies have a sum insured of £250,000 or more.
  • You should still check that the sum insured is sufficient for your needs, by using a recent survey of your home.

Sum insured insurance

  • You calculate the cost of rebuilding your home. This is the ‘sum insured’.
  • The sum insured is the cost of rebuilding from scratch – it’s not the same as your home’s market value, which might be higher or lower.
  • You should use a chartered surveyor to calculate the sum insured, unless you know a lot about building materials and building requirements yourself.
  • The cost of rebuilding your property will increase over the years, so index-linked policies are best – they update the sum insured to reflect the changing cost of rebuilding. Even so, you may want to have a new survey every few years.

To get a rough idea of what your property might cost to rebuild, use this calculator from the Association of British Insurers (ABI):

Work out your rebuild cost on the ABI website

Which is right for you?

The choice often comes down to cost versus convenience.

  • Bedroom-rated insurance is straightforward and you don’t need to worry about not being adequately covered, but you might end up paying more than you need to.
  • Sum insured insurance is tricky to calculate, but it means you only pay for the cover you need.

Things to check for when comparing policies

  • Index-linked cover. Will the amount of cover increase to meet the increasing cost of building materials?
  • Unlimited sum insured. With a lot of insurers nowadays, and especially when buying online, the sum insured is set very high and your premiums will be fixed so you won’t be able to reduce the sum insured to get a cheaper premium.
  • Alternative accommodation. Will the insurance pay for you to live somewhere else if you can’t live in your house after it’s damaged – for example by a fire or a flood?
  • Excess. How much will you need to pay yourself if you make a claim?
  • Escape of water. Are you covered for damage from burst pipes or water tanks?
  • Home Emergency Service. Some policies include cover for heating and plumbing repairs along with other home emergencies as part of their standard policy. For others it’s an optional extra for an average price of £41. Shop around because policies vary widely.
  • No claims discount. Will you pay less on your premiums if you’ve gone for a while without making a claim?
  • Repair guarantee. Are you covered for faulty repairs (if they’re carried out by a company your insurer approves)?
  • Different insurers will provide different levels of cover in their policies. So keep an eye out for where the differences lie and make sure you get the cover that you need.

We’ve put together a list of things to check for when buying buildings insurance.

Getting insurance cover for ‘non-standard construction’ houses

Buyer beware

Don't get caught out

You rarely give the materials used to build your home any real thought – until you try to get an insurance quote and the insurer tells you it's of non-standard construction.

If your property doesn’t have brick or stone walls and a slate or tiled roof, or it’s especially large, then it may be classified as non-standard construction – and most standard buildings insurance policies won’t cover you.

These might count as non-standard construction properties:

  • timber-framed or timber-clad houses
  • listed buildings
  • flats in blocks built out of concrete or with more than five floors
  • houses with flat or thatched roofs

Fortunately, there are lots of insurance providers that will insure non-standard properties – it just means giving a lot more details about your property. Try searching online for ‘non-standard construction insurance’ or contact an insurance broker who may have access to more non-standard policies.

Don’t be tempted not to tell the insurance company about your home’s non-standard construction or fail to disclose something the insurer asks you about. If you need to claim, you won’t be covered if you didn’t take reasonable care to answer all the questions truthfully and accurately when you applied for the policy. 

How subsidence affects your insurance options

If your area is at risk from subsidence (sinking ground, which can damage buildings) you may have problems getting buildings insurance with most companies. Or you may be stuck with substantially higher premiums. This is because standard insurance policies are priced by postcode, so you can be affected even if your property has never suffered from subsidence.

Fortunately, there are specialist insurance providers who offer tailor-made schemes for properties that are subsiding or are at risk of subsidence. Specialist insurers look at the individual property and not just the postcode. If you’re having trouble it’s worth contacting them to make sure you have the right cover.

The Association of British Insurers recommends that you use a specialist broker to find insurance for a property at risk from subsidence.

Can you get insurance for an empty property?

Typically, insurance policies won’t cover an unoccupied property. Properties usually count as unoccupied if nobody lives in them for at least two months.

You could be caught out if:

  • you’re working away from home
  • you’re away on a long holiday
  • the property is a holiday home or second home – these need a specialist insurance policy and you must tell your insurer that it's not your main home
  • the house is waiting to be sold or let
  • the house is being renovated, or
  • the owner has died or been taken into care

If the property’s going to be unoccupied you must contact your insurer – most will extend the time limit to three months if you let them know in advance and agree to some conditions, like:

  • improving the security
  • turning off the water, and
  • having someone drop in to pick up the post

If you don’t contact them, you probably won’t be able to claim if you come home to find the building is damaged.

If you’ll be away for more than three months your insurer may offer reduced cover – perhaps they’ll stop covering for water damage or malicious damage. Or they might refuse to insure your home at all. If that happens, there are specialist insurers who can help.

Types of specialist policy for empty properties

Specialist unoccupied property insurers often offer:

  • Full peril building cover (covering all the usual suspects like lightning strikes and subsidence), without contents insurance – they assume you’ve removed all the valuables from the house. Fixtures, fittings and white goods are covered.
  • Second-home policies which cover contents up to a certain amount.

It’s a good idea to use a specialist broker to find insurance for an unoccupied property.

Keeping your policy up to date

Keeping your policy up to date makes sure you have enough cover – for example, if you add a conservatory or an extension, your property will cost more to rebuild.

So long as your policy is index-linked or bedroom-rated with a high sum insured, it should keep up with increases in building material and construction costs over time – check this carefully before you buy.