Follow these tips for reducing your insurance payments without having to foot the bill when disaster hits

As a homeowner, you probably have more bills to pay than you’d like to think about. On top of your mortgage payment, you have utilities such as electric, water and gas, as well as maintenance and repairs that pop up and possibly HOA dues, not to mention your homeowners insurance.

Being a service you pay for to protect against the unthinkable, homeowners insurance might seem like a less important payment than the rest. But when one of those unthinkable moments happens – like a fire or hurricane – you’ll be glad you have it.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce your homeowners insurance premium, which costs the average U.S. homeowner $952 per year, according to personal finance website ValuePenguin. There are a number of strategies and upgrades you can make to your home that will not only make it safer from disaster, but also lead to well-deserved rewards for your efforts.

But first, homeowners insurance professionals stress it’s important to make sure your home is properly covered – and you’re not paying too much or too little to begin with.

You and an insurance agent must determine how much it would cost to rebuild your home if a disaster occurred, which is more significant for homeowners insurance purposes than assessing your home’s market value.

“If you have a home that it’s going to cost half a million dollars to rebuild it, that’s what you’re going to need to insure for,” says Bill Fitzgerald, vice president of sales and client services at Amica Mutual Insurance Company. “It could be a lot more expensive in the long run if you don’t.”

When you purchase a new home, your lender will often require you to take out a homeowners insurance policy for the amount you paid for your home, explains Marty Agather, senior vice president of client development at independent insurance network Trusted Choice. Since the requirement is not based on the cost to rebuild but the market value, it can be easy for homebuyers to insure their homes for the incorrect amount.

Whether you paid $150,000 or $800,000 for your home, if the insurance provider determines it will cost $250,000 to rebuild, being over or under that amount could prove costly. Agather notes that buying a $150,000 insurance policy on that home will leave you scrounging for $100,000 to cover out of pocket, whereas with an $800,000 policy, “the insurance company will never pay more than $250,000 to rebuild your home.” In that case, you’ve drastically overpaid.

An insurance agent should be able to provide you with insight into upgrades and preventive measures you can take to reduce your premium without being underinsured. Here are 10 things that may qualify you for a discount on your homeowners insurance premium.

Opt for a higher deductible. Most people only consider using homeowners insurance for major disasters, so there’s no need to have a deductible of less than $1,000 if you can afford to cover less-expensive claims with money from your bank account. “The more that a consumer can afford to pay out of pocket, the more money they will save,” says Fitzgerald, who notes deductibles can be as high as $5,000 or $10,000 if you are capable of covering those costs.

Bundle your insurance policies. Many insurance providers with a variety of policies covering auto, life or home will offer a discount for bringing them together under the same company. “It’s completely in the customer’s control. If they want to come to the carrier for both their lines of business, it’s a great way to get a discount,” says Pete Ducich, assistant vice president of home product management at Farmers Insurance.

Avoid making small claims. If damage occurs that you can easily cover without your insurer’s help, it will benefit your premium down the line if you handle it without making a claim. Agather notes many insurance companies pay to access a large database with notes on customer claims, so changing providers may not help wipe a slate clean from making excessive claims. “Even if you switch insurance companies, your insurance company may have access to that data, and your insurance will go up anyway,” Agather says.

Choose paperless billing. Like many other companies you pay monthly bills to, most insurers are looking to cut billing costs by switching to electronic invoices and payments. Fitzgerald says opting out of paper billing can be an easy way to get a small discount.

Pay annually instead of monthly. Premium payments often include a low processing fee, but many insurance companies offer the option of paying in larger amounts to reduce the total owed toward bill processing. Depending on the processing fees from your provider, you could be saving as much as $50 or more each year.

Install central station alarm system. Insurance companies want to prevent as much damage or loss to a home as possible, so a central station alarm system – which is monitored by a company that will notify first responders if any alarms go off – is a great way to demonstrate proactive steps toward safety while potentially earning a discount, Agather says.

Update your old home. If you own an older home, maybe a century old or more, completely replacing the electrical and plumbing systems can lower your premium, largely because you’re removing antiquated wiring or pipes that are more likely to lead to damage as they age.

Have a professional install storm shutters and doors. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes or major storms, your insurance provider will likely look favorably on installing storm shutters and doors to protect your home. But Fitzgerald notes professional installation is key, as nailing plywood over openings doesn’t have the same lasting effect because “they’re not professionally anchored.” Like with any other updates that can earn you a discount, your insurance provider may request receipts or proof of the professional work to lower your premium.

Set up an automatic generator. Power outages are never fun, but they can be disastrous in many parts of the country during winter. “If you lose your boiler, pipes can freeze and you’ve got a whole other problem on your hands,” Fitzgerald says. Having an automatic generator wired to the home’s electrical system that kicks on when the power goes out ensures the most important appliances remain running – and insurance providers will likely reward you for it with a discount on your premium.

Be a loyal customer. Many companies love to reward loyalty, and insurance providers are no different. Farmers Insurance, for example, will lower your homeowners deductible by $50 for every year you’ve been a customer without increasing your premium. “It rewards you for staying with the company by essentially lowering your premium – you don’t have to pay for that lower deductible,” Ducich says.

~Devon Thorsby