The month of May is National Wildfire Awareness Month — and it’s also the start of wildfire season — which serves as a reminder that finding adequate home insurance may need to be a priority for homeowners who live in areas of the U.S. with wildfire risk. Nearly 4.5 million homes are at risk of wildfire damage throughout the nation. Droughts and other environmental issues are leading to more frequent and intense wildfires in many areas of the U.S., which may make it difficult to find affordable home coverage if you live in a high-risk region. To help combat rising insurance rates, Bankrate compiled information that may assist you in securing a home insurance policy, along with tips on potentially reducing the risk of fire damage to your home.
- Homeowners living in areas with high wildfire risk may have difficulty finding adequate home insurance coverage and face higher premiums.
- Shopping around with multiple carriers, looking for discounts and reducing your home’s fire exposure may help you find more affordable coverage.
- Installing a fire-resistant roof, retrofitting your home and creating a defensible area may reduce your home’s burn risk.
- Wildfire may be an excluded peril in insurance policies for homes in high-risk areas.
How fire risk affects homeowners insurance costs
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 58,950 fires affected over 10 million acres in the U.S. in 2020. This number decreased slightly in 2021, with 58,985 fires involving just over 7 million acres; however, it rose again in 2022, with 68,988 fires impacting 7.5 million acres. Areas prone to this type of wildfire risk create a challenging insurance landscape.
When determining home insurance rates, most insurance companies will review the home’s location and the surrounding area’s features. Neighborhoods close to wildfire zones or in wildland urban interface locations are more at risk of damage or total loss. The higher the disaster risk, the higher the home insurance premium typically is. As rising temperatures and more frequent droughts spread across the U.S., areas that were once unaffected by wildfires are becoming at risk for this type of natural disaster.
According to S&P Global, insured wildfire losses topped $13 billion in three of the last four years. Due to the cost of disaster payouts, higher premiums passed down from reinsurance companies, and no end in sight to future wildfire losses, some of the biggest insurance companies, like State Farm and Allstate, have stopped issuing new homeowners insurance policies in California. Farmers Insurance is also limiting new home policies in the state. With fewer companies sharing the risk, the remaining insurers may start limiting availability to certain ZIP codes and increasing premiums to maintain financial solvency.
How to get home insurance in high fire risk areas
While it may be more difficult to find homeowners insurance if you live in a high-risk fire zone, it is likely still possible. If you’re struggling to find affordable homeowners insurance in a high-risk fire area, or are having trouble finding insurance entirely, these tips may help:
- Ask your neighbors. It may be helpful to ask neighbors for the names of the companies that insure their homes. By doing this, you can build a list of potential carriers that may also be willing to insure your home. Plus, you can generally assume the insurer offers policies in your ZIP code, although you won’t know for certain until you request a quote.
- Shop around with more than one carrier. It may help to keep your options open when it comes to finding carriers. If you struggle to find an insurance company that’s willing to cover your home, or if you’re getting quotes that are much higher than you expected, it may pay to inquire about coverage from both large, nationally available carriers and small regional home insurance companies. Working with an independent insurance broker may help you know which carriers to start with.
- Take advantage of discount opportunities. Some insurers may offer discounts for bundling your home and auto insurance, paying your premium in full or upgrading your roof. If you want to save on your home insurance policy, it may pay to inquire about the discount opportunities from the insurers or agents you are getting quotes from.
- Consider a FAIR Plan. While in many cases a temporary solution, purchasing homeowners insurance coverage via your state’s FAIR Plan may be one way to obtain coverage while you search for a permanent option. However, FAIR Plan coverage may not be as robust as a private insurer policy and may also be more expensive than private coverage.
- Reduce your home’s burn risk. Installing fire prevention features may help you find more affordable coverage by reducing your home’s fire risk. Some updates can be simple, like swapping the mulch in your garden for gravel or more expensive, such as updating your siding to a fire-resistant material.
How to reduce the risk to your home in a fire-prone area
In addition to helping you secure lower home insurance rates, reducing your home’s fire exposure may also help reduce your losses in the event of a fire. Some strategies for reducing your home’s burn risk include:
- Installing a fire-resistant roof: Fire-resistant roofs could help with mitigating fire damage to your home. Materials that typically qualify for Class A roof coverings include concrete or clay tiles, fiberglass asphalt shingles or metal roofs.
- Retrofit your home: CalFire, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, has a list of ways you can retrofit your home to protect against wildfire. You may be able to retrofit vents, windows, walls and even rain gutters and fences to reduce your fire exposure risk.
- Create a defensible area around your home: The key to this strategy is to remove any vegetation that might be flammable away from your home. This could include clearing away plants and shrubs from windows, decks, balconies and stairs as well as removing other potential hazards near the exterior of the home that might catch on fire, including mulch, pine straw, firewood or debris.
- Plan for water access: When preparing to evacuate your home, fill tubs with water and place buckets of water in different areas of the house. For the exterior, connect long garden hoses or sprinklers to water spigots for firefighters to immediately access additional water.
Your fire prevention strategy will look different based on your home type and location. Speaking with your local fire department may help you find other ways to protect your home, such as making sure your address is clearly marked and visible from the street. There may also be local or state grants available to help with the costs of fire-prevention measures.
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