Historic Home Insurance: Why You Need It and How to Get It

If your historic home is damaged or destroyed, do you want it rebuilt exactly as it was before the catastrophe with historically accurate materials and craftsmanship?

Or are you OK with a replacement home built using modern replicas like vinyl siding that may look colonial?

How you answer that question tells you which kind of home owners insurance policy you’re going to need:

  • If you’re OK with replicas, get a regular replacement policy.
  • If you’d want to rebuild only with period materials and workmanship, buy a more expensive home owners insurance policy that includes restoration coverage from a specialty company.

Even specialty coverage, though, requires reading the fine print. Some policies say the insurer will attempt to replace your 1800s wide-plank oak floors with the same thing, but don’t guarantee it.

What to look for in a historic home insurance policy

Restoration coverage: “Restoration” and “replacement” can be confusing terms, especially if you’re researching the topic on the web. Are modern materials that only look old replacing originals, or is the real thing replacing the real thing?

If you buy specialty historic home insurance, make sure the policy spells out what you’re getting. Will your 1800s wide-plank floors be replaced with the real thing, and by craftsmen who know how to use 1800s wood joinery methods?

Replacement coverage: If you want cheaper insurance and you’re willing to have your damaged 1800s wide-plank oak floors replaced with any oak flooring, get insurance that provides functional replacement. You may end up with that anyway, even with specialty coverage.

Why it costs more 

Historic home insurance costs more than regular home owners policies because it generally offers replacement and restoration with historically accurate materials. Those cost more, and so do the craftsmen who install them.

For example, you’ll spend at least 20% more rebuilding a pre-1945 home using historically accurate materials than rebuilding a similar-sized newer home using modern materials, says Scott Spencer, Chubb Personal Insurance’s worldwide appraisal and loss prevention manager in New Jersey.

Your home’s size and period details influence the cost to restore it. A $1 million historic home could cost $2 million to restore to its original glory with period materials, Spencer says. Get a professional risk evaluation to set the correct replacement value for your home when you buy your coverage.

Finding historic home insurance

If you’re shopping for restoration insurance, check with local, state, and national historic preservation groups for referrals. Chubb, for instance, is a preferred historic home insurance partner for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Opt for a company that specializes in historic home insurance like MiddleOak Specialty, Middletown, Conn., which writes policies in New England, or the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. in Novato, Calif., which like Chubb and National Trust, offers insurance nationally. These specialty insurers understand the unique replacement and restoration issues of historic homes. Plus, they’ll have connections to restoration pros if you need damage repaired.

If your home includes landscape features like a 200-year-old stone wall or a bronze fence, find out how your insurer will cover those.

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These articles are not intended to give legal or tax advice, and you should consult your attorney or financial advisor for additional information.

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