The need for wildfire insurance in the U.S. state of California can’t be overemphasized. The Woolsey Fire that was ignited on November 8, 2018, claimed 96,949 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, making wildfire insurance a nice-to-have in this area.
Wildfires are becoming a growing concern for many homes as dry conditions have extended across the country in recent years. According to a Corelogic assessment from 2019, 775,654 residential homes in 13 western states were at risk of wildfire devastation. By 2020, the number of dwellings will have risen to 4.5 million.
In addition, wildfires burned more than 17,700 homes in 2020, with California residences accounting for the largest amount of damages. It’s a wise decision to insure your home against the financial consequences of a wildfire.
What is Wildfire Insurance and How Does It Work in Los Angeles?
Do homeowners insurance cover wildfires in California? In Los Angeles, (a city in the U.S. state of California) wildfires are often covered by ordinary house insurance policies offered by the state-approved insurers. Things are still changing. Insurers in high-risk jurisdictions have raised premiums since 2017, owing to an increase in wildfire damage across the West and Southern parts of the United States.
Nearly 350,000 households in Los Angeles’ vulnerable foothills areas are no longer protected by the moratorium.
Ivan O’Neill, a certified wildland fire assessor and CEO and co-founder of Madronus Wildfire Defense, which helps homeowners lower their wildfire risk, says it’s crucial to review the covered and excluded risks in your policy or quote to make sure wildfire is covered.
Insurance coverage varies, but it should normally cover damage caused by smoke and fire to the following items:
- The construction or structure of your home
- Any outbuildings on the land, such as a garage, a shed, or an apartment
- The landscaping, the pool, the patio space, and the belongings are all included.
- Debris cleanup
- Personal belongings or contents inside the residence may be subject to a building code upgrade, which may be mandatory or discretionary.
- Living expenditures not covered by insurance
In the event of a wildfire, how much will your insurance company pay?
Because each insurance is unique, you’ll want to double-check your coverage and restrictions. If you live in a wildfire-prone location, make sure you’re not underinsured, which means you’ll get enough money to replace a home with the same features at current new-build rates if your home is destroyed, according to O’Neill.
Replacement cost value vs. replacement cost guaranteed/extended
Replacement Cost Value (vs. Actual Cash Value) coverage covers the actual cost of rebuilding your home, but only up to a certain maximum, and allows you to rebuild at current new-build rates. To be sure you’re fully covered, O’Neill recommends asking a realtor or general contractor what the current cost of building per square foot is in your area and multiplying it by the square footage of your home.
Some states also have plans that provide Guaranteed/Extended Replacement Cost coverage, which replaces your home regardless of how much building supplies or labor costs rise after a disaster as many people rush to rebuild everything at once, albeit this coverage is often more expensive.
Furthermore, building regulations have changed significantly in some regions over the last 30 years, so anyone searching for policies in wildfire-prone areas should look for a coverage that includes updated building code coverage during a rebuild. This guarantees you have adequate funds to construct your new home according to current building codes.
Another thing to think about is loss-of-use coverage, commonly known as additional living expense coverage. According to O’Neill, this insurance is often reasonable and covers the cost of hotels and other expenses paid when you are unable to use your property due to an evacuation or a rebuild.
Additional advantage of wildfire insurance
In addition to your insurance coverage, you may find Wildfire Response Endorsement or Wildfire Defense Services to be beneficial. In wildfire-prone locations, paying a retainer for this service, which acts as a private fire brigade ready to respond if a wildfire threatens your home, can make sense. The price varies by business, although some insurers, such as State Farm, have lately made this coverage available to all policyholders.
When a wildfire threatens your home, a class 6 fire engine team (along with wildland brush trucks) will be dispatched to help fortify it, close windows and doors, clear defensible space, install sprinklers, and apply flame-retardant foam.
Where can you get insurance against wildfires?
Check with your homeowner’s insurance company to see if you can add wildfire insurance to your policy. If you can’t receive coverage because you live in a high-risk location, you might be able to find a FAIR plan, a state-mandated program that gives high-risk properties fair access to insurance.
Admitted insurers are non-renewing clients where they are allowed to in several locations near those that have lost a lot of houses to severe wildfires. However, after a disastrous wildfire, many state insurance commissioners put a one-year moratorium on non-renewals.
What to do if your wildfire insurance is not renewed
You can also seek assistance from your state insurance commission. Consumers should document (take before and after photos, receipts for supplies and contractors) and include all home hardening and defensible space work done to prevent wildfires, according to O’Neill, and then contact their agent to share the paperwork and request a formal appeal.
If your policy isn’t renewed, you’ll have to get coverage from a non-admitted insurer (one that hasn’t been approved by your state’s insurance authority), which will cost you around 3-6 times as much as house insurance from an admitted carrier.
You can also purchase insurance through the insurer of last resort in your state, which combines high-risk individuals and is generally the most expensive choice.
Finally, O’Neill recommends that residents in high-risk locations videotape their homes and contents on an annual basis (not just photos since images can be photoshopped and are less trustworthy). To document your belongings, go room by room and examine drawers, cabinets, closets, and storage locations. Noting the serial number, make, and model of electronics and other high-value products is beneficial. Copy the movie to a cloud storage service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud.