Take the Time to Revisit Your Home’s Wildfire Insurance
2020 saw another record destructive fire season in California. According to CAL Fire, more than four million acres burned in nearly ten thousand wildfires, destroying over ten thousand structures and killing 33 people. The August Complex fire, which was ignited in mid-August by over 12,000 lightning strikes recorded over 96 hours, burned over a million acres, making it the largest fire in California history. The 2020 wildfire season made Californians question everything from the counties in which they live to climate change to wildfire home insurance.
Check Your Insurance Coverage
It’s a good idea to check what your home insurance policy covers annually. What percentage of a rebuild does your insurance cover in the case of your home burning down? Does your insurance cover any personal belongings? What about land damage? Are the pool and any other backyard items covered? Asking these questions before filing a claim will save a lot of time and emotional investment in case disaster does strike.
Both homeowners and renters have certain personal items covered by insurance. Ask what your policy includes before it’s too late. Typically there are three types of wildfire settlement options:
- Actual Cash Value Policy:
Insurance will cover the depreciated value of items lost in a fire under an actual cash value policy.
- Replacement Cost Policy:
Replacement cost insurance will give you a certain amount of money, within policy limits, to apply to the building itself, and personal property or items.
- Guaranteed/Extended Replacement Cost Policy:
This type of coverage will allow reimbursement beyond the insured value of the home or item in question. In order to qualify for this coverage, the home must be insured to value.
Of course, each insurance company will cover different things in the event of a wildfire depending on the extent of your dwelling coverage. Deductibles will be higher with some, while others may only cover certain items of personal property. Some companies will cover Additional Living Expenses like hotel costs if your home is deemed unlivable while still others have options for upgrades or “endorsements” for more thorough coverage.
Your auto insurance will cover wildfire damage to your car, but it’s a good idea to revisit this policy as well.
Another good practice is to take inventory of everything that is valuable in your home. Snapping photos of jewelry, heirlooms, tools, or sports equipment can help you see how much you need in personal property coverage and will help to file an insurance claim if an item is lost in a fire.
Luckily, an insurance agent can help you shop around for policies that cover what you want to be covered most. For instance, perhaps you know you want the cash to rebuild your home if it is burned in a wildfire, but don’t need your pool fully replaced. That may save you money. Or maybe you have a friend or relative who has extra space for you to stay in the event of an evacuation. In that case, you won’t need Additional Living Expense coverage.
Insurance as a whole is a complicated business and it helps to have someone on your side who can navigate the clauses, exclusions, and fine print before you have to file a wildfire claim.
Homeowners Insurance Non-Renewals
Some policyholders who live in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) won’t be able to get insurance from certain companies that have deemed counties too risky. In fact, after the fires in California’s wine country in 2017, many homeowners in Marin County were receiving non-renewal notices from their insurance companies, essentially notifying them that they would not continue coverage. Judging from the awfully destructive 2020 fire season so far in California, more insurance companies are likely to issue non-renewals for homes in the Bay Area.
Property owners in high-risk areas have a few options when they are dropped by their home insurance companies. They can see if another company is ensuring homes in their area and switch or consider the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements FAIR Plan (if they have been dropped by three different insurance companies). The California state-mandated program is considered a last-chance resort for coverage.
Sometimes insurance carriers are willing to keep your policy if you make updates to harden your home. It’s worth asking your agent if home-hardening retrofits will make insurers more confident with coverage.
Ember Defense | Fire Damage Mitigation with Home-Hardening Preparedness
If you’re having trouble finding, and keeping wildfire home insurance, it may be worth upgrading the most vulnerable parts of your home including the vents, gutters, and installing roof sprinklers to minimize fire damage. In fact, according to Ch 7A in California building code, materials in new builds must “resist the intrusion of flames or burning embers projected by a vegetation fire and contributes to a systematic reduction in conflagration losses,” including vents!
As fire professionals, we can help direct you toward insurance agents we know and trust. Because we work so closely with Bay Area communities, we know which plans are right for which counties. If you have questions about wildfire home insurance, reach out and we can be your helpful consultants.
Heffernan Insurance Brokers
Ember Defense works with Heffernan Insurance Brokers to help clients find the best insurance options in the marketplace. Heffernan Insurance is licensed in all 50 states and was named 29th in the top 100 Brokers of U.S. Business Insurance. The firm has comprehensive experience working with clients in fire-prone areas and specializes in wildfire abatement and management.
When an Ember Defense client needs any help with finding the right home insurance for their particular zipcode or needs some guidance on specific wildfire coverage, we can help connect you with Heffernan agent, Robin Long.
Reach out for more information!