Insurance companies tend to think in traditional construction terms -- brick, aluminum siding, stucco. When you start telling them you live in a rammed earth home, or one made of strawbales or cordwood, they get a little green -- and not in a good way. When owners of alternative homes go shopping for homeowners insurance quotes they should:
Use carefully chosen words.
How the home is described to the insurance company can make a tremendous difference. If you say you live in a straw home, for instance, they're going to hear "fire hazard." Try to use structural terms that are accurate, but that don't send up immediate red flags. If you don't know what to say, talk to the builder.
Go armed with documentation.
Be prepared to describe the construction in detail, explaining how any type of material is used and why. Take photographs and highlight all safety features used. Be prepared to play the role of educator; throw in details you may not think are relevant, but that the insurance agent may want to hear. "There's a fire station two blocks away and a hydrant on the corner of my lot."
Hit them with their own policies.
Some types of "alternative" construction now have a "standard" reputation. Log homes, for instance, have become widely accepted as a construction "norm" and specific coverage is available for them. Use this fact to negotiate for your own type of construction, pointing out that ten years ago a cabin was considered particularly vulnerable to the elements, pest damage, and fire. Improvements in materials and construction erased those concerns. "Now, let me tell you about how my home is built."
Comparison shop and read the fine print.
Two things are likely to happen. Either an existing policy will be amended to cover special construction or a unique policy will be drawn up. Neither are conducive to getting the best deal. Carefully go over every point in the policy. Get at least three quotes and don't be afraid to negotiate. "The other company did thus and such at this price. What can you do for me?"
Finally, take special care not to ignore normal insurance concerns in focusing on the unique construction of the home. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium, but remember, your home may be more expensive to repair. Always make sure you can cover the deductible, that you are carrying ancillary policies called for by the conditions in your area (for instance flood insurance), and that your policy covers the home only, not the land it's sitting on. Owners of alternative homes can get insurance coverage, they just may have to work a little harder to do it.