Protecting your home and valuables is a must for any homeowner or tenant, but how do you make sure that you get the best home insurance policy without paying over the odds?

Here's a breakdown of the different types of home insurance and some handy tips on getting good value for money.

What type of cover do you need?

The first step in protecting your home and valuables is to check what type of household insurance cover you need.

There are 2 main types of cover, buildings insurance and household contents insurance; depending on your circumstances you may need either or both.

Buildings cover
Buildings insurance cover is designed to cover the bricks and mortar that make up your home.

This type of cover will pay for the repair of any damage to your property and the permanent fixtures and fittings it contains.

Depending on your policy, buildings insurance can offer cover against all of the following: Fire, storms, earthquakes, lightening, floods, vandalism, riots, theft, falling trees, subsidence, landslides, a car or plane crash and even damage caused by wild animals!

If you own your home then it's likely that you will want to protect it with a comprehensive buildings insurance policy; if you have an outstanding mortgage, building insurance is likely to be compulsory.

You can take out Buildings cover as a standalone product, or as part of a combined buildings and contents home insurance policy.

When you shop around for quotes it's worth comparing the cost of taking your buildings and contents insurance policies with the same and different insurance providers so you can see which option works out cheapest.

If you rent a property then you are unlikely to need buildings cover, only renters insurance to cover contents as the property itself should be protected by your landlord's insurance.

Contents cover
Ask yourself, could you afford to replace all of your belongings if they were destroyed in a fire or flood?

Whether you are a homeowner or a tenant, if the answer is "no", you should seriously consider taking out contents insurance.

Contents insurance covers any belongings kept in your home against damage and destruction rather than your property itself.

You might opt to take out contents insurance only if you rent a property or already have buildings cover in place.

Is home insurance compulsory?

Unlike car insurance, having home insurance is not currently a legal requirement in the UK.

However, if you have a mortgage against your home then the terms and conditions will often stipulate that you take out homeowner's insurance to cover the property.

This is because your mortgage is secured against the value of your home. If it were damaged or destroyed your mortgage company would lose its security and be unable to reclaim its money should you default on your repayments.

Most mortgage providers will use this stipulation as a chance to sell you householders insurance, but be warned. Although you may be obliged to protect your property with buildings insurance, you don't have to take it out with your mortgage provider.

You are still completely within your rights to make a thorough household insurance comparison of the cover offered by your mortgage provider with all the other home insurance policies on the market.

This is essential as there's no guarantee that the cover offered by your mortgage provider is going to meet your insurance requirements, or give you value for money- it's quite probable that the buildings insurance you're offered by your mortgage provider will be significantly more expensive.

Your mortgage provider may impose a charge if you take out buildings insurance with another provider but this is likely to be a minimal one-off cost that's worth your while paying.

So be sure not to be put off by having to make a comparison, you may think that it will take you ages, but by using our comparison table it will be easy to find the best insurance for the cheapest price which will save you money in the long run.

How much cover do you need?

Working out how much cover you need is an important step when choosing your home insurance policy. Choose too low a level and you may not be fully covered, over compensate and you could end up paying more than you need to.

When it comes to your buildings cover the total should be equal to or greater than the total cost to rebuild your home from scratch. This is likely to be less than the actual market value of your property, so if you use the figure you paid to buy your house you may be paying for cover above what your actually need.

Check with your mortgage provider, or look through your mortgage paperwork for an estimated rebuild value - this is the figure you'll need to insure your property for.

Where contents insurance is concerned, your total cover should be enough to replace all of your belongings in the event that they are damaged or stolen.

The easiest way to work through each room in your home working out the likely cost of replacing everything you have in each. The total will be the total amount of cover you need.

What else do you need to check?

All home insurance policies contain different features and benefits that may, or may not be worth you paying for.

It's important that you think about the type of cover you're likely to use and find a policy that fits so that you're able to claim when you need to.

Here are some of the main policy features that you should check if you need before signing on the dotted line.

Accidental damage - Buildings & Contents
Accidental damage cover is available on both your buildings and your contents insurance and provides financial protection should you damage or break something unintentionally.

It can cover anything from the cost of a replacement if you drop a vase (contents), or if you drill through a water pipe during DIY or break a window (buildings).

Some polices now include accidental damage, or a limited version, as standard; if it isn't included you should be able to pay extra to add it for extra peace of mind. Before you do this you ought to consider whether it's something you're likely to claim on.

The maximum valuables limit - Contents only
Most contents insurance policies are designed to cover the replacement of standard household items, not specific valuables.

As a result, most will impose a single item limit on any claim you make, often starting at around 1,000.

This will be the most you can claim for any one item, meaning that if you have a valuable piece of jewellery or an original Matisse painting on your wall, you may need to declare these items separately or take out an additional insurance policy to make sure you're covered.

Possessions away from home - Contents only
Often an extra feature offered by contents insurance policies, personal possessions is designed to cover your belongings outside of your home.

This type of cover can extend to include passports, keys, credit and debit cards and cash; it will also often come with no excess to pay.

Again you will pay more to include personal possession cover on your home insurance policy, but before you do check that it isn't included elsewhere, such as with your credit card or bank account.

Outbuildings cover
If you have a separate outbuilding away from your main property - like a shed or garage - then you need to check that outbuildings cover is provided by any insurance policies that you're considering, and the maximum claim is sufficient to protect everything your outbuildings house.

Some insurance policies may cover outbuildings and the contents under their standard terms and conditions; others will offer it as an add-on.

Alternative accommodation cover - Buildings only
If your home is declared inhabitable, perhaps due to a fire or flood, then alternative accommodation cover will pay for somewhere for you to stay while your home is being repaired.

Again some insurance policies will include this within their standard buildings cover but is worth checking before you choose your policy.

Pets - Buildings & Contents
Some home insurance policies will not extend cover to damage caused by domestic pets; others will limit the amount you can claim.

If you have separate pet insurance then you should check to see whether this covers any damage your pet causes to your home. If not, you'll need to search for a home insurance policy that does.

Garden cover - Contents only
Some contents insurance policies will extend their protection to the valuables in your garden, others will stop at your back door.

If you have a garden and want to protect your plants, which can be costly to replace, then adding gardening cover to your policy may be advisable.

You should also consider whether you want possessions left in your garden, or structures (like gates and fences) to be protected by your home insurance and if so look for a policy that extends this cover.

Bicycle cover - Contents only
If you are an avid cyclist then you may want to consider adding bicycle cover to your home insurance.

This will cover your bicycle and those belonging to your family while they are being used outside of your home and could be especially useful if you don't have a secure place to store your bicycles overnight, or rely on your bicycle as a means of transport.

Home emergency cover
Home emergency cover can be added as an extra to most home insurance policies or taken out as a separate type of insurance altogether. It provides you with cover against the cost of calling out tradesmen to repair essential services such as water and heating.

Boiler cover, which is offered from utility companies often offers very similar services to home emergency cover, so make sure you check the terms and conditions if you already have this type of policy in place, to avoid paying for the same cover twice.

Legal cover
Often offered as an extra to most standard home insurance policies, and sometimes included with other insurance policies such as your car insurance; legal cover gives policy holders legal advice and representation if required.

This can extend to cover personal injury cases, employment disputes, contractual disputes and tax disputes.

If you aren't already covered by an existing financial product and feel you would benefit from the peace of mind then you should consider adding legal cover to your home insurance policy.

Compare home insurance quotes

Once you know what features and benefits you need from your Home Insurance you are ready to find policies that provide sufficient protection and begin getting quotes from different household insurance companies.

Gather your quotes
Use the advanced search feature in our Home insurance comparison tables to see which home insurance companies offer the exact benefits that you need from your policy.

You can then click through to get buildings and contents insurance quotes from each of the companies directly, and then apply for the option that provides cover that meets your needs at the best possible price.

Check the excess
As with most insurance policies, home insurance will come with an excess that you would be expected to pay should you need to make a claim.

When comparing quotes for home insurance you should make sure that you are happy with the excess and can afford to pay it should you need to.

You can increase your voluntary excess to make your insurance policy cheaper, however, should you need to make a claim you may end up paying more overall.

For more information read our guide Should I Increase My Insurance Excess?

Decide how you want to pay
The way you pay for your home insurance can have a big impact on the price you pay in total.

If you prefer to spread the cost of your bills and pay using a monthly direct debit you are likely to find that you are being charged a premium by your insurance company for the privilege.

Comparing the total cost of policies after any direct debit interest will ensure you know which policy is actually the cheapest overall.

What if you want to go away?
Most standard home insurance policies allow you to leave your home unoccupied for around 30 days before your cover becomes invalid.

If you plan on leaving your home unoccupied for long periods, such as with a holiday home, then you will need to find a policy that allows you to do this.

If you already have cover and plan to go away and leave your home unoccupied for longer than a month, you should contact your insurance company before you travel. Many will agree to extend your cover as long as certain conditions are met, such as regular visits from a family member, installation of extra locks or security measures and the turning off of water and other utilities.

However if you plan on using the property as a holiday getaway then you should look at getting a dedicated holiday home insurance policy.

Special types of home insurance

Landlords insurance
If you own a property but are not living in it then you will need to take out landlords' insurance rather than a standard buildings or contents insurance. This is because Landlord insurance is specifically designed to cover areas that a standard home insurance policy wouldn't.

For more information read our guide, Landlord Insurance: How to Get the Cover You Need for Less and check our landlord insurance comparison tables to compare quotes for the different policies available.

Tenant's contents insurance
If you live with other tenants under one roof then you may need home contents insurance for tenants. This is because when you live with other people who are not family members or partners standard contents insurance policies may not cover you.

Students often fall into this category, so if you have children heading to university you should make sure that their contents insurance is suitable for their accommodation.

Holiday home insurance
Designed to cover properties used as a holiday retreat, holiday home insurance will tend to cover a longer period of non-occupation than standard home insurance policies.

For more information read our guide Holiday Home Insurance Explained and use our advanced search facility on our Home Insurance tables to find policy with a sufficient unoccupancy period.

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