Does My Homeowners Policy Cover Earthquakes?
Most standard homeowners, mobilehome owners, condominium, and renters insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. Similar to flood insurance, earthquake insurance usually must be purchased separately.
Do I Need Earthquake Insurance?
Many people assume their residential insurance policy fully protects them, but if you look at a typical policy, you will see it does not cover earthquake loss. And government disaster-relief programs are extremely limited—they are designed to help you get partly back on your feet, but not to replace your home and everything you lose. So if an earthquake strikes tomorrow, will you have the financial resources to pay for earthquake damage to your home and its contents?
When you consider your resources, ask yourself how much of your investment in your home you are willing to put at risk. For many homeowners, their home is their biggest financial asset. Without earthquake insurance, how do you plan to protect that asset from the costs of earthquake damage? If you have a typical home loan and deed of trust, did you know you remain responsible for the loan balance even if your home is damaged or destroyed by an earthquake?
Consider taking these basic steps as part of good planning and preparation: Research the earthquake hazard in your area. Secure the contents of your home to reduce the likelihood of damage and injury. Investigate how well your dwelling is designed and constructed to resist damage from earthquake motion—retrofit the structure if necessary. Analyze your finances and develop a financial-recovery plan in case an earthquake damages or destroys your home or its contents.
There is good information available to help you. But only you can decide if earthquake insurance is right for you.
What Are My Earthquake Risks?
No part of Utah is “immune” from earthquakes—in other words, there is no “low-risk” area in Utah for Earthquakes—there are only areas of lower or higher risk.
In general terms, your home’s risk level depends on where you live in relation to earthquake faults, the age and type of dwelling you live in, and the soil types where you live.
Some parts of California that have not experienced earthquakes for 200 years or more might be more susceptible to earthquakes than areas that have experienced recent earthquakes. Why? Earthquake faults build up tension over long periods of time; what we experience as an earthquake occurs when that tension is suddenly released. It is theorized that relatively recent earthquake activity means that faults have released built-up tension—a lack of earthquake activity can mean that tension is still building and could be released at any time as an earthquake.
How Much Earthquake Insurance Should I Have?
Like the basic question of whether earthquake insurance is right for you, how much coverage is right for you depends on your individual circumstances. The following questions may help you decide:
- Can you afford to replace your household possessions (such as sofas, beds, TVs, furniture, refrigerators, and clothing) if they were destroyed in an earthquake? How much would they cost?
- If you have to find temporary accommodations because you cannot live in your home as the result of an earthquake, how much will you need to pay for those additional living expenses?
- If you own your home, how much home equity do you have? Can you afford to risk losing that equity if an earthquake damages or destroys the home?
- How much would it cost to rebuild your home? Do you have assets available to repair or even rebuild your home after an earthquake?
- Do you have a mortgage, second mortgage, or line of credit on your home? Can you afford to continue repaying those loans while also paying to rebuild or replace your home?
Keep in mind that the insured value of your dwelling for your earthquake policy is the same as the amount of coverage specified in your homeowners insurance policy. If you are underinsured on your homeowners policy, you are underinsured on your earthquake policy, too.
Won’t the Government Be There to Help Me?
The federal Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) in California respond to, plan for, and help mitigate effects of disasters. Government disaster-relief programs are designed to help you get partly back on your feet but not to replace your home and everything you lose.
The primary form of federal disaster relief is the low-interest loan—as a loan, it must be repaid. Because it is a loan that must be repaid, some people do not qualify for the loan. FEMA grants for post-disaster emergency home repairs and temporary rent assistance are only available to individuals and households who do not qualify for loans.
In addition to creating a plan to take care of your family for immediately after an earthquake, you should also develop a family plan for long-term financial recovery.