Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.
- Homeowners insurance covers damages to your belongings from fire and smoke.
- But if you live in an area where wildfires are common, consider increasing your dwelling and personal property coverage.
- If your home is unlivable due to fire or smoke damage, your insurance policy could help you relocate.
- See Insider’s picks for the best homeowners insurance companies.
Wildfire season is here, and with droughts and the increase in wildfires, some California homeowners insurance companies are dropping customers.
However, California provides insurance for homeowners unable to get coverage through the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan Association.
Although homeowners insurance covers damage from fires, if you live in areas prone to wildfires, you may need to increase your dwelling and personal property coverage limits.
Does homeowners insurance cover wildfire damage?
Homeowners insurance covers your home and personal property from damage, referred to as insurance perils. A peril is an event that may damage your home or belongings, like theft, fire, or a storm. Common insurance perils include fire, lightning, theft, ice , snow, sleet, wind, hail, smoke, vandalism, and freezing.
Homeowners insurance covers fire damage. However, if you live in areas where wildfires are common, Steve Wilson, senior underwriting manager at Hippo Insurance, recommends getting a rider for extended replacement cost coverage under your dwelling coverage because material costs to rebuild go up after a wildfire.
Dwelling coverage is the part of a homeowners insurance policy that can help cover the cost to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged.
It’s also important to make sure you have enough personal property coverage. There are limits to standard personal property coverage depending on your policy and insurance carrier, usually $100,000.
Additionally, if you have extensive landscaping, contact your homeowners insurance provider because some companies have limited coverage for shrubbery, according to Allstate.
Specialty items may be excluded or require add-on coverage
Also, specialty items like high-end electronics, special jewelry, furs, fine arts, firearms, and cash may not be covered against wildfire damage. Wilson said these items may need a “personal article” endorsement or add-on rider.
For specialty jewelry, you can purchase a floater policy as an add-on to your homeowners insurance. Another option is to purchase standalone personal jewelry insurance. Your jewelry and fine art must be appraised before purchasing a floater or standalone policy.
It’s a good idea to take inventory of your furniture and personal possessions. Some homeowners insurance companies will have inventory lists for you to complete. If you have riders for fine art and specialty jewelry, you will be required to catalog and provide appraisals for them.
Top 10 states for wildfires
In 2020, these states had the most wildfires, according to the Insurance Information Institute:
About 90% of wildfires are caused by people and the remaining 10% by lightning or lava, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Will homeowners insurance cover relocation?
“Loss of use” coverage, also known as “additional living expenses” or ALE, is included in most homeowners and renters insurance policies and provides reimbursement for temporary housing when a peril causes damage to your property or belongings that makes your home or rental unit inhabitable.
For “loss of use” and “additional living expenses,” much depends on your insurance carrier and it varies by provider. Some carriers will reimburse you for temporary housing. Others may have a list of housing alternatives.
Ashlee Tilford, managing editor for Insurance.com, told Insider that most homeowners have a misconception of what constitutes “inhabitable.” Don’t assume that your insurance carrier will pay additional living expenses, because the definition of inhabitable varies by company.
If you’re considering leaving your home due to wildfire damage, contact your homeowners or renters insurance provider first and take detailed pictures of the damage. Make sure to lock up and secure the premises as well.
What to do if you experience damage from a wildfire
After experiencing a disaster, Wilson recommends staying in touch with your homeowners insurance company to let them know what’s going on at your home and take the following steps when submitting insurance claims:
- Contact the insurance carrier to file a claim in a timely manner. For homeowners, your carrier may provide a list of contractors and offer advice on do-it-yourself tips to prevent further damage. If you’re a renter, you should also inform your landlord or property management company.
- Take pictures of the damage before disposal and cleanup.
- Beware of price-gouging contractors and door-to-door scammers. Ask contractors for their license and insurance credentials to avoid fraud. If you’re a renter, your landlord is responsible for the building and structure.
- Prevent further damage to your property.
- Don’t do something you’re not comfortable with/that doesn’t look safe. Homeowners insurance has a condition to prevent further loss. Focus on a temporary fix instead of something long-term so insurance can properly access a permanent fix by a professional.
Tips to prepare your home in the event of a wildfire
Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Assocation (RMIIA) and Hippo Insurance’s Wilson recommends taking the following steps to make sure you’re prepared if a wildfire does happen.
- Review your homeowners insurance annually with your carrier to make sure you have proper dwelling and personal property coverage for your region.
- Have an evacuation plan on where to meet and what time ahead of a disaster and communicate that with family members.
- Have a small bag with medication, flashlight, and batteries for three days. Include copies of important documents like: birth certificates, identification cards, passports, car title, pet tags, and a thumb drive with documents.
- Have temporary repair equipment available like a tarp.
- Contact your homeowners insurance carrier if a natural disaster announcement is declared. If you have time, turn off gas at the meter and butane tank.
- Prevent damage by creating a 30-foot defense around your home removing flammable material — like wood piles and propane tanks.
- Replace flammable landscaping with fire resistive plants.
- Prune branches and remove leaves from the roof, gutters, and shingles.
- Have an emergency water supply.
- Have fire-fighting tools — like garden hose, rake, ladder, shovel, and buckets of water — in an accessible place.