Wildfires and Homeowners Insurance: Are You Covered?
Homeowners insurance protects your house from losses or damages. This includes damages from storms, broken pipes, lightning, theft, and vandalism. You’re even covered against damage by car or aircraft.
Standard policies also protect against fire. So if a fire damages or destroys your home, the policy will often repair or rebuild the property.
But, while fire is a common protection, you might ask: Does a standard home insurance policy cover wildfire damage?
This isn’t a simple yes or no answer, though.
It really depends on your insurance provider, and where you live.
When Does Standard Homeowners Insurance Cover Wildfires?
Wildfires are uncontrolled, unplanned fires that burn in natural areas. These areas can include forests, prairies, and other grasslands. They can occur at any time, and they’re often caused by natural events like lightning and human activity.
Human activity might involve failure to properly extinguish a campfire. Or maybe throwing a lit cigarette out of a car window.
But while some wildfires burn away from homes and businesses, other wildfires occur near populated areas.
In which case, there’s the risk of property damage.
U.S. states prone to wildfires
Wildfires can occur anywhere. But they’re more common in certain states.
The states most prone to wildfires include:
Do you live in one of these states? If so, will your standard homeowners insurance policy cover wildfire damage?
Homeowners insurance provides a lot of protections.
This includes protecting your property from damages or losses due to natural events like hailstorm and wind storms. But as far as whether your policy offers wildfire protection, the answer depends on your location.
Generally speaking, a standard homeowners insurance policy protects your home from fire.
This includes fires due to arson, electrical issues, lightning, and yes, natural burning wildfires.
This type of coverage falls under your dwelling protection.
Dwelling coverage protects the actual structure, or your home. It will cover the cost to rebuild or repair your home. For this reason, you need enough dwelling coverage to completely rebuild your home.
Your homeowners insurance policy will also protect “other structures” on your property.
These include detached structures like a fence, an outdoor shed, or a detached garage. For the most part, coverage for your home’s other structures is 10 percent of your dwelling coverage.
Coverage for personal property
In addition, you’re also protected if a wildfire destroys your personal property.
Your standard homeowners insurance policy will likely cover the cost to replace your furniture, clothes, jewelry, electronics, and other belongings.
Typically, personal property coverage is about 50 percent to 70 percent of your dwelling coverage limit.
What to Know If You Live in Wildfire-Prone State?
But while most standard homeowners insurance policies will cover wildfire damage, make sure you confirm this protection with your home insurance provider -- especially if you live in an area prone to wildfires.
As wildfires become more common and more destructive in certain states, some insurance providers have excluded wildfire damage from their standard policies.
Higher risk may mean denied coverage or higher premiums
Homes in these areas are often considered high-risk.
Unfortunately, some insurance companies will not issue policies for high-risk properties. Or, they might refuse to renew these policies.
Even if you’re able to get a standard homeowners insurance policy in an area prone to wildfires, your insurance provider might charge a much higher premium, or require a separate wildfire deductible.
For this reason, it’s crucial to understand your homeowners insurance policy. This way, you’re not surprised by your out-of-pocket expense.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Smoke Damage?
In addition to fire damage caused by a wildfire, your property might sustain smoke damage.
Smoke damage can be an issue even when a fire doesn’t destroy your home. Before you’re able to move back in, you’ll need to have your home and your personal property inspected, cleaned, or restored. You might have to replace your sheetrock, carpeting, as well as other personal belongings.
The good news:
Most standard home insurance policies help cover the cost to repair smoke damage caused by a wildfire.
But again, confirm this with your insurance company to avoid surprises.
This coverage also falls under dwelling coverage and personal property coverage.
Also, if your home sustains fire or smoke damage, your policy’s “loss of use” protection kicks in.
In most cases, you’ll have to live elsewhere while you’re home undergoes repairs. Depending on the extent of damage, a contractor might need to gut and rebuild parts of your home, or your entire home.
If you have to live in a hotel or rent another home, you’ll incur additional living expenses. Loss of use protection helps cover these extra costs.
It covers the cost of staying in a hotel for months or renting another home. It also pays for other additional living expenses such as restaurant meals.
Keep in mind:
The insurance provider doesn’t provide an upfront lump sum for these expenses. It’s a reimbursement. So you’ll need to keep your receipts.
What to Do If You Can’t Get Homeowners Insurance?
If you live in a state prone to wildfires, you might have a harder time getting homeowners insurance.
Or, you might receive a non-renewal notice from your company.
If you’re financing your home through a mortgage company, your lender will likely require home insurance for as long as you have the loan.
So, what are your options if you can’t get standard homeowners insurance?
If you’re unable to find affordable home insurance, one option is to get a FAIR plan through your state. Your state’s Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plans can help you get a policy if you live in a high-risk area and insurance companies refuse to issue you a policy.
These are state-mandated programs that provide fair access to insurance. It’s designed specifically for those who need high-risk insurance.
You might need a FAIR plan if you live in an area hit hard by tornadoes, hurricanes, or if you live in a high crime area.
You can also get a FAIR plan if you have too many insurance claims. Too many claims can prevent getting affordable home insurance coverage.
Understand, though, that FAIR plans are last resort policies. So you typically have to be denied by a certain number of home insurance companies to be eligible.
In addition, to qualify for a FAIR plan, you might have to take certain actions to lower your home’s risk.
For example, do you live in a high-crime area? If so, your state may require that you install an alarm system to help mitigate the risk. If you don’t meet these requirements, your state can refuse to issue a FAIR plan.
Tips and Advice for Getting Home Insurance
If you’re eligible for standard home insurance in an area with a higher than normal wildfire risk, your insurance provider will likely charge a higher premium and a higher deductible.
For this reason, always shop around and compare insurance rates.
You should get quotes from at least three different insurance companies.
Increase your deductible
Another way to lower your homeowners insurance premium is to increase your deductible.
This is what you’ll pay out-of-pocket before your insurance company pays a claim.
Some deductibles are as low as $500.
However, increasing your deductible to $2,000 or $2,500 can help reduce your premium.
Always maintain an updated list of your personal belongings.
You should have a digital and hard copy list of items in your home.
This includes inventory of jewelry, clothes, electronics, and collectibles. Include the date of sale, photos, and receipts. Update this list quarterly or annually.
Protect your home from wildfires
You should also take steps to help reduce the risk of damage to your home.
For example, you can plant fire-resistant landscaping around your property.
Keep firewood and other combustibles away from your home or detached structures.
Also, space your trees and bushes at least 10 feet apart. This helps slow the spread of fire.
Wildfires can occur due to human activity or natural events such as lightning. Unfortunately, they also cause extensive damage to homes and businesses.
But while some standard homeowners insurance policies do cover fire damage from wildfires, you might have difficulty getting a policy if you live in an area prone to this activity.
Confirm whether your standard policy protects against wildfires. If it doesn’t, try and get a policy with another company.
If you can’t get one, look into state-mandated home insurance programs. You might be eligible for a FAIR plan. These policies can protect your home, personal belongings, and your peace of mind.