3 ways home warranty companies avoid paying up

Cash changing hands

In the fine print of a home warranty, you’ll find lists of repairs the company explicitly won’t cover.

It’s important to carefully read the complete home warranty contract before spending your money to make sure you’re signing up for the coverage you expect.

Here are some examples of what might not be covered for three of the home’s most important and expensive components: plumbing, electrical and appliances.

This information comes from sample contracts; specific contract details may vary (but will probably be very similar).

Plumbing system: Home warranties usually don’t cover some of the most expensive things that can go wrong with a plumbing system. These include rust and corrosion, damage caused by freezing or roots, and problems with drains, vents or sewer lines outside of the main foundation.

If a contractor has to get into the wall, ceiling or floor to fix a covered problem, they will only return the surface to a rough finish. You’ll have to fully finish it on your own dime.

Also not covered are faucets, fixtures, bathtubs, showers, shower enclosures, caulking/grouting and inadequate or excessive water pressure.

Electrical: The most potentially damaging problems with electrical systems are also not covered. These include power surge or failure and circuit overload and inadequate wiring capacity.

Some less crucial components also aren’t covered, including garage door openers, light fixtures, smoke detectors and doorbells.

Appliances: If a component of an appliance that the warranty company doesn’t consider essential to the appliance’s functioning breaks, you’ll probably have to pay for the repair yourself.

Uncovered components include oven/range clocks and timers, dials, knobs, handles, door glass, lights, shelves and interior lining.

Also not covered are dishwasher racks, baskets and rollers. It can cost $100 to replace just one of the two racks in your dishwasher, and it’s questionable how useful a dishwasher is without these components.

Portable/countertop microwaves aren’t covered -- only built-in microwaves are.

Food spoilage isn’t covered, and neither are secondary fridges (like the one you keep in your basement or garage).

Perhaps the exclusion most consumers should be aware of is a refrigerator’s ice maker, ice crusher and water dispenser. Between 12% and 24% of fridges with these features require repairs, according to Consumer Reports.

Other limitations: Repairs are sometimes subject to specific dollar limits, so check to see if the plan’s limits are high enough to cover likely repair costs or if you could end up footing part of the bill even for a covered repair.

If you want coverage for these normally excluded items, it might be possible to purchase it by paying an additional annual fee.

For example, Old Republic’s Ultimate Protection Plan covers many items that are excluded under the company’s standard coverage, but this plan costs several hundred dollars extra.

Also, there are slight differences in each company’s coverages, so you may be able to acquire coverage with one company that you can’t with another.

Shop around if you’re concerned about covering a specific item.

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