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Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Volcanic Eruptions?

A molten lava flow on the Big Island of Hawaii. 📸 by CBS News

Volcano eruptions are natural disasters that can cause billions of dollars worth of damage. There are many active volcanoes on US territory in Hawaii, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. Citizens who live near active volcanoes should be prepared for a volcano eruption. The average volcano eruption can flatten an entire town and your home might get caught in the midst of this. This is why you must get replacement-level coverage for your home that protects your personal property in a worst-case scenario. This guide will focus on the way homeowners insurance treats volcano eruptions and how to get coverage to protect your home.

Does homeowners insurance cover volcanic eruptions? Yes, volcanic eruptions are covered by homeowners insurance and homeowners will be reimbursed for damage caused by fires, explosions, lava flows, ash, or other volcanic properties. Volcano eruptions are natural phenomena which means they’re covered by home insurance. The only exception is the aftermath of the volcanic eruption. While your home will be covered up to the policy limit if it’s destroyed in an eruption, the cleanup services for the ash and lava will not be covered. The cleanup of volcanic residue is the responsibility of the local government and municipality.

Even if you don’t find yourself in close range to a volcano, the after-effects of an eruption can be far-reaching and devastating causing a massive amount of property damage. Volcanic eruptions are not a frequent occurrence, but they are destructive and it is important to understand your coverage with your homeowners insurance plan in an effort of preparedness.

Who Needs Volcano Insurance?

Active volcanoes in the US are mostly located on the Hawaiian islands, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. Many of these could have an impact on nearby Canada as well. For instance, a major eruption on Mount St. Helens in WA was recorded in 1980 and it killed 57 people. This eruption practically destroyed the landscape of that area by burning down forests and caused over $31 million in insurance damages.

During the eruption, scientists discovered that the ashes from the volcanic eruption were identified as much as 20,000 feet in the air and some of the residues were picked up in California. The hot magma from a volcanic eruption has the power to melt snow and ice, also triggering flash floods. 

The US Geological Survey and the Global Seismograph Network are on the watch for new eruptions and renewed activity. If you live anywhere near these hotspots, you can be affected by the next eruption. While the eruption will be predictable in advance and most citizens safely evacuated, you must protect the equity of your home by purchasing adequate coverage.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Volcanic Eruptions?
Lava flowing from the Kilauea volcano erupting on the Big Island destroys hundreds of homes. Photo source: ABC News

Volcano Damage

Homeowners insurance covers volcano damage to the structure, the personal property, and living expenses if you have to move out while the government performs cleanup. If you live in a volcanic hotspot, make sure to purchase all volcano endorsement policies including flood coverage and earthquake coverage because these may not be included in a standard policy. 

These endorsements cost as little as $200/year and can make the difference between full coverage or partial coverage. Purchase every endorsement to ensure you’ll be protected even if your home is burnt down in a volcanic eruption.

Dwelling Structure

The main dwelling structure which is the home is protected at 100% replacement cost. If the home costs $500,000 to re-build, you can purchase coverage that will guarantee the company has to pay out that much for rebuilding costs. You don’t want to have 80% coverage on the main dwelling because you won’t be able to afford the re-building costs and you’ll have to take a new mortgage. Dwelling coverage includes all damage to your main home including foundation, walls, roof damage, etc. This will be covered regardless of whether it’s melted by lava or damaged by ash. You’ll also be covered for any fires.

Personal Property

If lava destroys thousands of dollars of personal property in your home and attached garage, you will be covered. This includes all your appliances, furniture, clothes, electronics, and other belongings you have in the home. Make an inventory list with a value attached because there are sub-limits on different categories of belongings and limits per item (usually $1,500 per item).

Living Expenses

Most volcanic eruptions end up in evacuations and people affected have to live in shelter centers for the time being. If you have homeowners insurance, you can move into a hotel and your expenses will be covered by the insurance company. This includes accommodation, food, and travel expenses. The coverage extends to the whole family and lasts as long as it takes to rebuild your home and/or clear the damage.

Are Volcanic Eruptions Covered?

In most cases with homeowners coverage for volcanic eruptions, the reimbursement is based on the damage that is a direct result of the eruption itself, e.g. lava flows, ash, or particles that did in some way cause immediate damage to the outside of your home. Fire and explosions resulting from the eruption will be covered as well. Direct and immediate related damage from the eruption is what will be covered by the homeowners plan. After-effects of the eruption will most likely not be covered by the home insurance policy such as ash cleanup where the winds have carried the ash. 

Volcanic effusion, which is volcanic water and mud, and outsourced flooding are not reimbursable regardless if they are due to the volcanic eruption. Flood coverage is available under its own policy and will cover the volcanic effusion as well. You can get flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.

There are generally going to be earthquakes or land tremors associated with the eruption’s strength. These are going to cause damage in far-reaching areas more so than the eruption does. Standard home insurance plans don’t cover earth or land movement nor do they cover earthquakes. This is even true if the quake and tremors are resultant of the eruption even if the damage from the actual eruption had been covered. Also, any type of landslides or mudslides will not be covered by the standard homeowners policy. 

Adding the earthquake policy will protect you from the earth or land movement damage that the volcano causes as well as any type of mudslides or landslides. Another anomaly that the earthquake coverage will reimburse for is when the lava solidifies and forms igneous rock, as homeowners insurance will not typically cover this lava when it’s no longer in its liquid state. Earthquake coverage will reimburse for your structure as well as the contents depending on what type of policy you have.

There is generally no coverage provided for any of your landscaping on the property nor any type of sheds that you may have or the contents within the shed. The cost of removing any ash off of personal property is typically not reimbursable nor is there coverage to take the ash away from the surrounding land.

Volcano Damage Not Covered by Home Insurance

There are certain things that homeowners insurance will not cover you for (and you can’t purchase endorsements for). Let’s look at what the average policy will not cover:

Ash/Lava Cleanup

The aftermath of a volcanic eruption is usually a long cleanup process that includes ash and debris removal and can take months. This is especially the case in most houses that have collapsed and have to be rebuilt. Homeowners insurance won’t cover the cost of ash removal or anything other cleanup procedure. It has to be paid by the government or you could pay it on your own to expedite the process.

Earthquakes and Landslides

Earthquakes are never covered in homeowners insurance unless you purchase them as an endorsement. Here’s the kicker: most volcanic eruptions have earthquakes and landslides because the ground has to move to push the lava up. The home could be damaged by the earthquake even before the lava arrives. This is why you must add an earthquake endorsement to your policy. You can also purchase an endorsement for landslides and mudslides that are also common in all mountainous communities.

Floods

Floods are not covered by homeowners insurance and flood insurance costs a lot, especially in states that get hurricanes. Fortunately, most states in the North-West and Hawaii don’t get hurricanes to the degree of the Atlantic coast which makes flood endorsements cheaper. Flash floods that can carry hundreds of cars and flood houses are always common after volcanic eruptions and this includes mudflows. 

The combination of hot lava and cold snow/ice can lead to mud that is pushed at a high speed. This is effectively a missile aimed at the homes standing in its path. It is estimated that mudflows can travel as much as 50 miles away from a volcano. If you have flood insurance you will be covered for the damage.

What To Do After

An erupting volcano is going to be as rare as it is destructive and devastating. In its wrath, it leaves damages that can be irreparable. You have the falling ash, climate change, and wrought landscape. There are some precautions you should try to take after the volcanic eruption.

  • It’s important to stay tuned to the local area updates and advice from civil defense if you are able to.
  • You need to stay inside away from the volcanic debris and falling ash.
  • When it is reported to be safe to venture outside, try to remove all of the ash and dust away from the gutters and your roof so there is no collapse.
  • Wear protective eyewear as well as a mask while doing cleanup. Try to wet the ash with water before cleaning it.

After you are safe, you should check your property for damages, taking inventory, pictures, and videos for the insurer and call them immediately. You should mitigate the damages and only perform temporary fixes as an attempt to prevent the damage from becoming worse. No permanent repairing should be done prior to the insurance carrier inspecting the property. You would need to keep any receipts or list of expenses incurred, especially if displaced, to be turned over to the carrier.

If you live in a high-risk area, be sure to purchase any endorsement policies, earthquake plans, flood insurance, volcano policies, anything that is going to protect you, your home, and your family prior to any kind of disaster from happening. Go over any scenario with the agent before you sign up, no matter how rare or unlikely the instance may be. It’s much better to be safe.

3 Steps to Take After An Eruption

There are few actions you can take after the volcanic eruption settled and you’re safe to return to your home:

1. Remove ash and dust

The first step is to get rid of the ash and dust that accumulated on your windows and roof because volcanic ash is very heavy and it can fill up your gutters and/or cause your roof to collapse from the weight.

2. Change the air filter on your car

If you have to drive through airborne volcanic ash for a long time, this is very bad for your vehicle and it can cause damage to the engine. Make sure to consult a mechanic about air filter changes as soon as you get out of the area.

3. Clean the ash with water

Use a garden hose to clean the ash from your vehicle. Volcanic ash can scratch your vehicle if you wipe it or brush it by hand. Make sure to project water directly from a hose and clean it that way. Repeat the same for your windows and other areas of the home you can reach with the hose.

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