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What disasters are not covered under standard insurance policies?

There are several types of standard homeowners insurance policies available to property owners. Insurance providers may raise premiums or reduce coverage based on the risks in a particular geographic location and property type. If you live in a high-risk area for certain weather events, you may pay higher premiums or be required to purchase additional, or supplemental coverage. People who live in hurricane-prone areas, for example, might have to pay more for the same coverage as people who live far from any ocean.

Some disasters that are excluded from most standard homeowners insurance policies include:

  • Floods, with the exception of flooding within a home caused by burst or broken pipes.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Landslides and Mudslides.
  • Sinkholes.
  • War.
  • Nuclear accidents.

Homeowners insurance policies may exclude or reduce coverage for other disasters based on various risk factors, including geographic location. Property owners may purchase additional insurance coverage for disasters not included on a standard policy. California, for example, is more prone to earthquakes than many other states. Fortunately, supplemental earthquake insurance is available.

What disasters are covered under standard homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance may cover damage caused by the following disasters:

  • Fire, with exceptions for wildfires.
  • Explosions.
  • Lightning.
  • Hail.
  • Windstorms.
  • Tornadoes, which are considered a form of wind damage.
  • Hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms may also be included under wind damage and may include damage from rain that enters through damaged roofs.
  • Extreme cold damage, such as burst pipes and roof damage due to the weight of snow or ice.
  • Volcanoes, including damage from ash, lava, and shock waves.

Wildfires present an insurance problem for many property owners. Many states are at risk for wildfires, however, eight of the ten costliest wildfires in U.S. history have occurred in California.

Insurance policies in areas that present a high risk of wildfires might not include as much, or any, coverage for wildfire damage. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, you may want to take additional steps to get covered. Your insurance carrier might offer additional coverage or you may obtain a separate wildfire insurance policy. If your insurance covers fire damage, but your insurer tries to deny coverage or minimize the amount of your payout after a wildfire, you can submit a Request for Information about an Insurance Denial to find out what happened.

What is natural disaster insurance?

Natural disaster insurance, also known as catastrophe insurance, provides coverage for natural and human-made disasters that are excluded from standard home insurance policies. This may include disasters that are not covered under any standard policy and those that are excluded in high-risk areas. These insurance policies cover specific disasters. Examples of natural disaster insurance may include the following:

  • Flood insurance, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • Fire insurance, which may be necessary in areas with an increased risk of wildfires.
  • Earthquake insurance, which is available in several different forms for property owners in earthquake-prone areas.

This insurance may add significant costs to your overall premium. The insurance industry approaches natural disaster insurance differently than regular homeowners policies because disasters tend to cause massive damage to a large number of properties at the same time. This leads to an influx of insurance claims, and large payouts. Property owners in high-risk areas may want to consider budgeting the costs for these premiums along with their other important expenses, such as their homeowners policy, property taxes, and mortgage.

How does natural disaster insurance cover wildfires?

Whether you want natural disaster insurance in addition to your homeowners insurance to cover wildfires depends on where you live. If your area is not prone to wildfires, your regular insurance coverage may be sufficient. In an area that is at high risk for wildfires, however, your homeowner insurance might limit coverage for wildfire damage or it might not cover it at all. Some insurance companies are dropping homeowners insurance for high risk areas altogether. 

Your policy documents or declaration page typically states the amount of coverage you have in case of a covered incident. If you have coverage for wildfire insurance, you may want to confirm that you have enough coverage to rebuild and cover expenses that may arise.

Is natural disaster insurance worth it?

Insurance is one of those things that may not seem worth it until you have a covered claim.

In an area that is low risk for a particular disaster, such as a wildfire, natural disaster insurance coverage may be quite inexpensive. In a high-risk area, coverage might seem like a prudent idea, but may be more expensive.

It can help to prepare a Home Inventory Worksheet to estimate the total value of the personal property in your home. This information is useful when evaluating the amount of coverage you may want to replace furniture, clothing, and everything else in your home. Additionally, if it has been several years since your last home appraisal, knowing the current market value of your home can be helpful information to consider when looking at your coverage limits. Along those same lines, you may want to speak with a general contractor to get a better understanding of the costs to rebuild in case your home is destroyed by a disaster. Note that the costs to rebuild can be higher after large disasters due to the limited supply of and high demand for trade workers.

What can I do if disaster strikes?

Some disasters, such as tropical storms or hurricanes, may provide advance warning. Others, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, or wildfires, can strike with little to no warning. In either case, you may want to take some of the following steps to protect yourself, others, and your property:

  • Gather only the essentials, round up everyone you live with and pets, and get to a safe location.
  • If it is safe to do so, such as when you have several hours or more of advanced warning, protect your property by closing storm shutters, putting away lawn furniture or other items, or using tarps, plywood, sandbags, and other supplies.
  • Contact 9-1-1, the fire department, utilities, or local law enforcement for emergency assistance.

After a disaster, get emergency medical or rescue help immediately for yourself or others around you if it is safe to do so. You may want to check local radio, television, or online for information from experts. If there are no pressing emergencies and it is safe, you may want to record video and take photographs of the damage. You may also want to:

  • Find temporary lodging if your home is not safe or livable.
  • Contact your homeowners insurance company to report damage and get the claim process started. If you can, try to figure out your coverage limits, and daily expense limits, to make sure you stay within or close to those limits.
  • Contact federal government aid programs like FEMA and begin the process of applying for benefits.
  • Keep track of any additional living expenses that you may incur because of the disaster, such as hotel stays, rental cars, and restaurant meals. These may be covered, or partially covered, by your insurance. Note that there are likely limits to your coverage, so you may want to consider budget-friendly options, if possible, to avoid out-of-pocket expenses.

If you have more questions about insurance claims or coverage, or how to be prepared for anything, download the Rocket Lawyer mobile app or reach out to a Legal Pro for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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