Earthquakes are becoming more and more common across the U.S. in recent years, but something many homeowners don’t know is that earthquakes and other ground movements are never covered by a standard home insurance policy. This increasing risk of earthquakes with a lack of earthquake insurance protection is a recipe for disaster.
While many people think of major earthquakes as events that cause destruction, actually even the smallest of earthquakes can cause damage to the sturdiest of foundations. This can also lead to financial damage as well. Luckily, homeowners have the ability to purchase earthquake insurance as an add-on coverage or standalone policy.
- Standard home insurance does not protect the homeowner from earthquakes or other ground movements.
- Earthquake insurance can usually be purchased as an addon coverage to a home insurance policy or as a separate standalone policy.
- Earthquake insurance typically has higher deductibles than a standard home insurance policy and the deductible is usually a percentage of the dwelling coverage limit.
What earthquake insurance covers
Every individual policy is different, but in most cases, an earthquake insurance policy will come with the standard protections of the homeowner’s dwelling and any attached structures, personal belongings, and additional living expenses.
- Dwelling coverage: pays for repairs or rebuilding of the dwelling and any attached structures such as a chimney or garage.
- Personal property coverage: reimburses a homeowner for damaged furniture, clothing, electronics, or other personal property in the house.
- Additional living expenses coverage: pays for hotel and restaurant bills that would not normally be incurred by the homeowner if they were able to live in their home.
Earthquake insurance policies can be customized in many cases. Homeowners have the ability to add-on additional protection to their earthquake insurance policy such as:
- Detached or other structures
- Land restoration
- Building upgrades
- Debris removal
What earthquake insurance does not cover
Unfortunately, there are many things that an earthquake policy will not cover including:
- Fire as the result of an earthquake (covered under a standard home insurance policy)
- Damage to a car or other vehicle
- Sinkholes (this is another peril that can be added to a standard homeowners policy)
- Masonry repair
- Damage that existed before the earthquake occurred
This is not an extensive list. There could be many more exclusions that your specific policy has. It is important to read through your policy to understand what exactly is covered and what is not.
How to get earthquake insurance
As mentioned above, there are a couple of different routes a homeowner can go to purchase earthquake insurance. The first route that a homeowner should pursue is to ask their insurance agent if they are able to add earthquake insurance to their standard home insurance policy. If it is an option that is the easiest route to go. If your insurance company does not offer earthquake coverage as an add-on, the next path to try is to ask your insurance agent if they offer earthquake coverage as a standalone insurance policy. Many insurers will offer this. If your specific insurer does not offer standalone earthquake insurance, you may be able to look at other providers in the area. GeoVera and Arrowhead are two companies that will offer coverage to homeowners along the west coast.
In California, there is actually a law requiring insurance companies to sell earthquake insurance. The best resource for residents of California is the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). This government agency partners with many insurance providers in the state to offer earthquake insurance to residents.
In other states, it can be helpful to reach out to an independent broker who can shop multiple providers in your area to find you the best coverage available.
One important note for those who are looking to purchase earthquake insurance; if an earthquake recently occurred in your area, normally all insurers will cease selling policies for one to two months after the earthquake. Looking for coverage right after you experience an earthquake will lead to no results.
Is earthquake insurance required?
Earthquake insurance like all other forms of home insurance is not required by law. While many mortgage lenders will require homeowners to purchase a standard home insurance policy and maybe even flood insurance in order to receive the mortgage loan, they typically do not require homeowners to purchase earthquake insurance. There may be a few mortgage lenders out there who require a homeowner to obtain earthquake insurance, most likely in Washington, Oregon, or California, but it is rare.
Even though earthquake insurance is not required in the vast majority of cases, it may still be worth looking into, especially if you do live in Washington, Oregon, California, and even Alaska. Those states are the most prone to earthquakes, but earthquakes can occur in any of the 50 states. A lesser-known, but still earthquake-prone area is the New Madrid Fault Line. This fault line essentially runs from St. Louis, MO to Memphis, TN, and southeastern Missouri. Homeowners in this area should also strongly consider earthquake coverage. Other areas where homeowners should consider coverage are places like Oklahoma and West Texas where fracking for oil is taking place as this can potentially cause earthquakes as well.
Homeowners who live in masonry or brick homes should also consider earthquake insurance as these types of homes will sustain more damage by smaller quakes than a wood frame home would.
For those that don’t buy earthquake insurance, which is most people, there is some federal assistance that might be available, but even if it is available, it likely won’t be enough to cover the entire extent of the damage. Homeowners may also be able to get a disaster loan through the small business administration, but even that is capped at $200,000, which is likely less than the replacement cost of a home.
According to a 2014 report of the US Geological Survey, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming are more at risk for an earthquake than other states. This is why it is recommended that homeowners in these states purchase earthquake insurance for their protection. However, you shouldn’t be surprised if the cost of earthquake insurance is significantly higher in these states. The premium may be even higher if your home is located along a fault line.
In a span of 30 years from 1974 to 2003, the states of South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Nebraska, Ohio, Georgia, and Indiana have experienced 10 or fewer strong earthquakes. This puts them at a lower risk compared to other states. Hence, their earthquake insurance premium is considerably lower compared to other US states.
Earthquake insurance deductibles
Earthquake insurance deductibles can be quite high. Standard home insurance policies normally have a deductible of $1,000 or somewhere around that, while earthquake insurance deductibles typically range from 2% to 25% of the dwelling coverage limit under your home insurance policy. For example, let’s say you have a dwelling coverage limit of $250,000 and your earthquake insurance deductible is 10%. This means that you would have a deductible of $25,000 that you would have to pay in order for the coverage to kick in in the event of an earthquake. That can be a large out-of-pocket cost to the homeowner, but $25,000 compared to $250,000 is far less. Some Earthquake policies may have separate deductibles for the dwelling and personal property. Make sure you read through your policy to understand what you are on the hook for.
Which homes are at a higher risk during an earthquake
Multi-story buildings or tall homes
Homes with multiple floors are at a higher risk for damage when there is an earthquake. Taller homes may topple when the ground is moving. This is why taller homes require a higher premium when paying for earthquake insurance. Homes with
Nowadays, more homes are being designed to become earthquake-proof. This is why newer homes are easier to get approved for earthquake insurance policies. Older homes may have more difficulty to insure as they hold a higher risk of damage during an earthquake. In case of a disaster, older homes are more prone to incurring severe harm compared to new homes. This is also the reason why older homes have a higher insurance premium. Others even argue that rebuilding a home may be cheaper than insuring an older home.
Compared to homes built with wood frame construction, brick homes are more expensive to insure. This is because wood frame structures are able to resist damage in case of an earthquake. It is attributed to the fact that wood is more elastic than most materials. This is the reason why a home with a stone or brick base is more prone to damage during strong tremors. Apart from wood, homes that use sandy soil as a base also enjoy a lower premium for their insurance coverage.
Earthquake insurance policy costs
Earthquake policies can be fairly expensive and vary wildly depending on a number of factors such as:
- Age of the home
- Number of floors in the home
- Value of the home
- The deductible amount
- Construction type
Homeowners can lower their earthquake policy premium by choosing a higher deductible and/or retrofitting their homes to withstand earthquakes. Retrofitting usually costs a few thousand dollars to complete so keep that in mind.
Earthquake insurance is rarely purchased but should be considered by many people across the country, especially those along the west coast. Earthquakes can strike at any moment and cause severe damage. While the cost of coverage and the deductible may be high, the cost of not obtaining coverage could be far higher.