The Home Owners Warranty Corp. (HOW), the mutual insurance firm that provides warranties against defects to home buyers, has paid 10,968 claims totaling about $46.2 million since it began operation as a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in 1973, HOW officials reported this week. More than half the claims resulted when builders went out of business or refused to comply with HOW regulations, the officials said.

About 250 claims totaling approximately $650,000 have been paid to homeowners in the Washington suburbs, the organizaiton said. The average claim here was $2,620, compared with $4,221 nationally, said HOW spokeswoman Jane M. Snow. There have been no claims in the District, she said.

HOW and its underwriter, Insurance Company of North America (INA), provide coverage against major structural defects for the 10-year term of the warranty. In addition, there is first-year coverage for workmanship and materials and coverage against poor performance levels of mechanical and electrical systems during the first and second years.

More than 900,000 houses are covered by the warranties nationwide. About 12,000 builders participate in the HOW program and pay between $2.20 and $5 per $1,000 of sales price for the coverage; they usually pass the cost on to the home buyer.

In the Washington suburbs, about 300 builders have bought coverage for more than 29,000 homes and paid between $2.45 and $3.75 per $1,000 for the coverage. In the District, where coverage became available in 1978 -several years after the suburbs -740 homes are covered.

HOW increased its premium charge from a flat $2 per $1,000 last year after determining that pay-outs for claims were costing $4.60 for every $2 the firm collected. Incidents of builders closing operations due to insolvency or bankrupcy have increased dramatically due to the decline in housing activity, Snow said, which has led to increased claims during the first two years of coverage that "have affected our premiums drastically."

Builder bankrupcies "are going up quite a bit," said Linda Kelleher, NAHB director of consumer affairs. "We estimate that about 200,000 builders and builder-related firms have gone out of business or slowed down during the current down-turn," she said. The NAHB has about 115,000 members; about 40,000 are active home builders.

"HOW has had a problem with insolvency. It's pretty much a sign of the times in this kind of market," Kelleher said. The building industry "is the kind of business that does not require a lot of capital to become involved in -so there are some builders who are going to go out of business," she added.

Participating builders are responsible for warranty repairs during the first two years and are required to aide by the decision of an arbitrator if there is disagreement over coverage. However, some builders have refused to comply with the settlement procedure, which has added to the claim burden, Snow said. About 11,000 builders have been expelled from the warranty program over the years because of noncompliance or bankrupcy, she said.

In addition to raising the premium fees, "we began to reorganize the premium structure and now charge builders more in some specific areas" that have been shown to be high risks, Snow said, including parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas where "active soils" expand and contract excessively, often causing serious damage to home foundations.

"When the building boom hit [in the late 1970s] there were tremendous amounts of building on active soils," she said, noting that "Colorado is by far the biggest problem we have had," accounting for $16.5 million in claim payments.

While the dispute settlement defaults account for about 25 percent of the $24.5 million in claims paid in the first and second years of coverage, Snow said, nearly all of the 18,000 conflicts between HOW builders and owners have been resolved without claims. Disputes in the first quarter of 1982 more than doubled to 1,602, compared with 715 in the same period last year, she said.