What dwelling means in home insurance

The primary structure on a property, plus any attached structures, that is typically listed on your home insurance by its address
A white house with a brown roof and solar panels

What is a dwelling?

Most people know that “dwelling” is another word for “residence.” Your dwelling is the place where you live, whether that’s a house, condo, or apartment. This is pretty much the dwelling definition for insurance too, except that insurance companies add structures that are attached to your residence. These might include an attached garage or carport.

Dwelling or contents?

The stuff inside your home is generally not considered part of your dwelling. That sounds kind of obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people confuse the two. It’s one reason insurance agents tell their clients to imagine picking up a home and tipping it over. Anything that falls out counts as contents. Whatever remains is dwelling.

If you look at it that way, dwelling means your home’s:

  • Frame.
  • Walls.
  • Floors.
  • Installed cabinets and counters.
  • Stairs.
  • Permanently attached appliances connected to public utilities.

Homeowners insurance insures these things through Coverage A.

The list of things that are considered contents is much longer, but it generally includes items like:

  • Furniture.
  • Electronics.
  • Clothes.
  • Appliances that aren’t permanently attached.

The contents of your home (i.e., the items that would fall out if you could tip your dwelling upside down) are protected under Coverage C, or personal property coverage.

Dwelling definition for condos

So far so good, right? But the issue of what is a dwelling gets muddier for anyone who lives in shared spaces, like a condominium in a multi-unit building. Most people recognize that common areas, such as hallways, mailrooms, and recreation centers, may be part of the building where they live, but aren’t actually their dwelling. The real question is where does one dwelling end and the other begin.

Typically, dwelling means everything from the walls in for your particular unit in the condominium. So the dwelling coverage in your condo insurance most likely pays for damage to things like your:

  • Floors.
  • Interior walls.
  • Ceiling.

As for the installation, wiring, and drywall, that’s usually covered by your condo association’s master policy. Some master policies even cover built-in fixtures for individual units.

Renters probably have the easiest time with the definition of dwelling for insurance. They live in a dwelling, but they don’t own it, so the only items they have an insurable interest in are their own personal belongings.

As you can see, understanding what dwelling means actually depends somewhat on your situation ﹘ at least when it comes to insurance. But that also means understanding the difference is important for getting adequate protection.

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