Builders Risk Insurance: The Ultimate Guide

September 29, 2020

A builders risk insurance policy is designed to provide coverage for buildings and structures during the course of construction or renovation.

Unlike a traditional property insurance policy, the builders risk policy covers more than just an existing structure. It covers a project from the first shovel in the ground to the completion of the building.

During a construction project, you will be exposed to certain risks that are unique to buildings under construction. These include the potential for theft and your building being more vulnerable to wind damage. A builders risk policy helps protect you from these exposures.

Builders risk insurance can cover unique construction exposures like:

Buildings Or Structures Under Construction

A building under construction is more vulnerable to weather-related events, vandalism, and even accidents. During construction, certain parts of the building that would not usually be exposed to damage are, in fact, at risk, and will be until the project is completed.

Materials And Supplies

Exposure risk is largely unique to construction sites. This is because you’ve purchased materials that are not yet a permanent part of the building. They are often left in temporary structures, in a trailer, in storage somewhere, or even out in the open – all of which can leave them exposed to theft and the elements.

Property In Transit

Auto accidents are a normal risk that you, as the project owner or the general contractor, take every day. Auto accidents can be very costly if they occur while you are transporting building material or equipment to or from the job site, because that equipment might be far more expensive than the vehicle carrying it.

Debris Removal

When people think of building construction risks, they primarily think of the property value of the newly constructed portions or the existing structures. Many don't consider the cleanup costs involved if the building were damaged from a fire or windstorm.

The debris removal from a catastrophic event that damages your project can cost you anywhere from $10,000 to over $100,000.

Soft Costs

There are a lot of "soft costs" associated with a building project that is delayed due to construction damage. Additional interest on financing, real estate taxes, architectural fees, and permit fees all add up over time and push your project over budget.

Business Income And/Or Rental Value

Your project has a timeline and is part of a business plan designed to help recoup the cost of construction. What if your construction project is damaged and massively delayed as a result? The opening of your store, warehouse, or rental property won’t happen as scheduled. Even a year’s delay can lead to a serious loss in income.

What does builders risk insurance cover?

Builders risk insurance is designed to be flexible so it accommodates your unique construction risks. Each insurance company will have unique coverages with their own policy wording.

It goes even further than that. There are no two identical builders risk policies within the same insurance company. Because each construction project is completely unique, almost everything in a builders risk policy is customizable. You can even negotiate custom coverages if you are willing to pay the additional premium, which is why it is so important to know what you can, should, and should not ask for when negotiating builders risk insurance.

We can go over what a typical builders risk policy covers, but instead we’ll provide you with the sections and know-how to look at and know what your policy covers.

Here are the four sections of your policy or quote:

  1. Property Covered

  2. Property Not Covered

  3. Perils Covered

  4. Perils Not Covered

The information contained in these sections will identify how any given policy will respond to a situation.

Here are the most common coverages you will find on a builders risk, with a caveat: Your policy might not be the same.

"Property Covered" Under Builders Risk

Builders Risk - Property Covered

The big coverage listed in the section above is the coverage of “Buildings or Structures.” If you keep reading, you’ll see how the policy defines it:

Builders Risk - Building Definition

Continuing down the list of covered property:

Builders Risk - Covered Property 2

Think about the project you are working on and a potential claim you might have. Try to place what you are trying to cover in the definitions above. It’s important to note that if you can’t fit what you need covered into the definitions, that doesn’t mean it isn’t covered. It may just need to be addressed on another section that adds additional coverages.

"Property Not Covered" Under Builders Risk

A builders risk policy isn’t designed to cover everything, so the policy tries to be clear about what will be left out. Many builders risk policies list excluded property in this section, and you are given back a small sublimit later on in the policy. A good example of this is “Trees, Shrubs, or Plants.” Although excluded, most policies will give back $2,500 or so in coverage if requested.

Here are the common exclusions:

Builders Risk - Property Not Covered Builders Risk - Property Not Covered 2

"Perils Covered" Under Builders Risk

A peril is an event that could cause damage to your project such as a tornado, hailstorm, fire, vandalism, etc.

Most builders risk policies read like this:

Builders Risk - All Risks

As you can see, this coverage is pretty broad. This is the typical coverage found on most property policies. On a standard property policy, it’s called “Special Causes of Loss,” but many call it an “All-Risk” policy.

This policy covers all direct physical loss or damage to the covered property unless excluded.

Most builders risk policies will have this wording (with some exceptions like coastal construction) and we recommend never taking anything different unless you are forced to.

All-Risk coverage will give you the broadest terms and protection available.

"Perils Not Covered" Under Builders Risk

While the “Perils Covered” section might include any direct physical damage or loss, this is the section that limits the scope of what the policy covers.

Here is what is not covered:

Builders Risk - Perils Excluded Builders Risk - Perils Excluded 2

Additionally, if you look at the "Additional Coverage Limitations," you will see under what conditions the policy will not provide coverage:

Builders Risk - Perils Excluded 3

What You Should Know About Builders Risk

With all the exposures to risk that construction projects face, it is important to know what a builders risk policy is and how you can leverage it to protect your new investment.

Here are our top tips:

1) Read the coverage extensions.

While you can customize the limit on almost anycoverage in a builders risk insurance policy, there are quite a few supplementary coverages thrown in that most people don’t know about. These include:

  1. Equipment Breakdown

  2. Property in Transit

  3. Trees, Shrubs, Lawns, Sod, and Plants

  4. Fungi, Wet or Dry Rot, or Microbes

2) Look into adding “testing coverage.”

In almost every builders risk policy, damage arising from "testing" is an excluded cause of loss. Depending on the scope of your project, this could be a very bad exclusion to have on the policy.

Let’s say you had all-new plumbing installed during the completion of your building. Before the plumbing company left, they ran some water through the pipes to test out their work. Those tests resulted in water damage to the unfinished building, which would not be covered under a normal builders risk policy.

Things like this happen quite often. This is why we suggest purchasing the "Testing Endorsement" (often the IM 7962 01 12 form), which adds "Direct Physical Loss Resulting From Testing" to the covered causes of loss.

Here is an example of this endorsement:

Builders Risk - Testing Endorsement

3) Beware of the 100% coinsurance clause

In a previous insight – "Agreed Amount Endorsement - What Is It?"– we went over the mechanics of how the coinsurance penalty works and how massive this penalty can get if you misreport the value of your construction project to the insurance company.

With the 100% coinsurance clause (which most builders risk policies have), there is no room to underrepresent your building evaluation; if you do, the amount you are underinsured turns into the portion of the claim that becomes unpaid.

Our suggestion is to be conservative and always build in a little room in the event of a large loss. The minor premium difference could save you quite a bit come claim time.

4) Builders risk is not standardized, so read the policy!

Ultimately, it is critical that you understand what is covered on your builders risk policy. Unlike many forms of insurance, builders risk isn't very standardized; each insurance company handles it in a different way.

Who should purchase builders risk?

There are generally two parties that purchase builders risk insurance: The project owner and the general contractor.

This is because these are the parties with the most insurable interest in the property. Additionally, they are usually the only parties that have insurable interest throughout the entire construction project.

Although there can be some cost savings if a good-sized general contractor with a deep relationship with their insurance carrier and large blanket limit purchases the policy, there is usually minimal difference between who purchases the builders risk. Usually the answer to who is responsible for purchasing the builders risk policy is determined in the building construction contract.

Does builders risk cover liability?

No. Builders risk is a property insurance policy meant to cover your investment in buildings, building material, and other property-based assets.

In addition to builders risk, we suggest that you purchase a liability policy (or see if your current general liability insurance policy will cover the liability from the construction project). If you are a general contractor, your insurance policy should automatically cover the new project unless you have a designated premises limitation.

What To Ask Your Broker Before Purchasing Builder's Risk

Is testing covered?

If you are installing any machinery, equipment, electric, or plumbing, ask your insurance broker whether the testing endorsement is included on your builders risk policy.

This will cover your testing, start-up, commissioning, examination, or trial risks associated with the newly constructed building.

Are floods and earthquakes covered?

Floods and earthquakes are two perils that are not covered automatically on any standard builders risk form. However, they can often be added as an additional coverage if you ask.

It is important to know if your construction project is susceptible to either risk and whether your insurance policy covers them. We suggest running your building location through a catastrophe model to determine if your project is at risk, and if so, how high that risk might be. Let us know if you need help with running this report!

Are all interested parties listed as insureds?

All parties with an insurable interest in the property should be covered under the builders risk policy. Most commonly this is the project owner, the general contractor, and the bank. That being said, it could also include subcontractors and material suppliers.

If the project is a remodel, is the existing structure covered?

Frequently, builders risk is set up to cover the cost of the project. This is fine if the project is a brand-new build, but what if you are renovating an existing structure?

If this is the case, make sure the builders risk insurance covers the existing structures as well as the newly renovated portions of the project. The claim will not go well if the insurance company is obligated to replace the renovation but not the building the renovation is happening to.

Is equipment breakdown coverage included?

Many insurance companies are starting to include equipment breakdown in their builders risk policies. This will cover the mechanical or electrical failure of your permanently installed equipment or machinery.

While it may not be a requirement for you, it’s a claim we often see filed on construction projects. If you have expensive equipment or machinery in your building, this coverage is a great benefit.

How are liability risks covered?

If you are the project owner, have the conversation with your broker to determine how the premises liability will be covered during the course of the project.

You can either look at including this risk in your existing general liability insurance policy or, if your general liability carrier does not want to cover the project, you can take out a specific premises liability insurance policy.

Either way, make sure to have this discussion and make a plan before the project starts.

When does builders risk coverage end?

One of the most confusing aspects of a builders risk insurance program is determining when to transfer coverage to a traditional property insurance policy. It is critical to know these conditions, because you could be paying for coverage and think you’re covered, but in reality you don’t have the coverage you need.

If we look to the “Additional Coverage Limitations” that we referenced earlier, we can see some of the conditions of which coverage ceases:

Builders Risk - Perils Excluded 3

To summarize the policy language, your builders risk policy ends when any one of the following conditions are met:

  1. If the property is occupied or put to its intended use

  2. If the policy cancels or expires

  3. A covered building or structure is accepted by the purchaser

  4. Insurable interest in the covered property ceases

  5. Construction is abandoned with no intent to complete it

  6. A covered building or structure has been completed for more than 90 days

Summary

Builders risk insurance protects your investment during the course of a construction project. Although this policy is very broad, there are some important things you need to know before purchasing. Additionally, there are some endorsements that we always suggest adding to fill in coverage gaps.

If you are about to start a construction project and have questions about your options, let us know!

About The Author: Austin Landes, CIC

Austin is an experienced Commercial Risk Advisor specializing in property & casualty risk management for religious institutions, real estate, construction, and manufacturing.

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