Six steps homeowners should be prepared to take before and after filing a claim:

Carefully review coverage

Don't wait for an emergency or the need to file a claim before you fully review and understand your existing policy. And, before filing a claim, review your policy in light of the damage or have a professional do so to fully understand what your policy covers and what it doesn't. Coverage should be periodically reviewed to make sure it is adequate and fits your needs.

"Examine your policy ahead of time and know what they are paying for," Zevuloni says. "The average consumer who goes out and buys a policy has no clue what it actually says. Many terms and much of the language are intentionally very ambiguous. The average consumer cannot interpret it accurately without some professional assistance."

Policyholders may be underinsured or face exclusions for things they need.

"Let's say your house was built 30 years ago and it doesn't conform to the same building standards as today," Zevuloni says. "If you apply for some kind of a building permit, they will require you to do certain things to bring it up to code. The policy should provide for that. If it doesn't have that language, you are out of luck."

Take photos and video

The availability and ease of digital cameras allow homeowners to provide the insurer with "before and after" documentation.

"A week before a storm hits (if you know it's coming), go take pictures of your walls and your roof," Sanov says. "The most reasonable thing for a person to do is to take pictures inside their home, of the walls and the ceiling. The carrier will not be able to claim damage was pre-existing or normal wear and tear."

Document the damage

Beyond photographing or making a video to show damage, homeowners can hire their own adjuster, who will act independently of one provided by the insurance company.

Keep track, and have duplicate copies, of all estimates and receipts. Also, prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged possessions, with their approximate age, initial price and estimated cost to replace.

Make temporary repairs

Don't wait for an insurance adjuster to start making temporary repairs. Broken windows and leaking roofs should be fixed right away so the insurance company cannot dismiss some claims as the result of waiting too long to do so. Save all receipts and documentation, as the insurer will likely reimburse most of these expenses.

Don't assume something isn't covered

Just because a claim is initially rejected doesn't mean the policy doesn't say otherwise.

"This happens to us all the time -- an insured will call in and say their claim was denied because mold is not covered and even their agent agrees," Zevuloni says. "But if the mold was caused by a water leak or water damage, it may be covered. If there is causation, the coverage may be limited to $10,000 to $15,000 on most policies, but it is covered."

Gird for battle

"It does become more of a fight," Sanov says. "You hate to talk in those terms, but policyholders are fighting with their insurance company. As claims mount and each adjuster is given a bottom line to preserve, the problems multiply and become greater and greater all the time. It is hard, in the position I'm in, to say anything in defense of them, given the way I've seen policyholders treated."

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For those concerned that countering a claim will be costly, Sanov says most attorneys and public adjusters work on a contingency basis. Many states also allow the cost of such expertise to be reimbursed by an insurance company if an initial claim is found to have been inadequate.

Policyholders need not fear their insurer dropping them or raising rates if they challenge a payout. "They will not drop you because of a claim," Zevuloni says. "They will only drop you if you are a risk to them -- if they find out, for example, that you store propane tanks in the house or you have exposed wiring."

This article was reported by Joe Mont for TheStreet.