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How to Get the Best Earthquake, Flood, and Other Natural Disaster Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Mother Nature has more than one way to cause damage and destruction. Most standard homeowners insurance policies cover some damage from wind, lightning, thunderstorms or more, but if you live in an area that is prone to recurring natural disasters—think hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, among other damaging events—you will likely want to explore additional insurance to fully protect your home and belongings. Do you have the right insurance to protect your home and personal property investments in case of a catastrophe? Here's what you need to know to get the best natural disaster coverage possible.    

Flood Insurance


Flood insurance covers your home and its contents for damage from water that originates outside your home, a cause of damage that a standard homeowners insurance policy typically doesn't cover (insurance generally does cover flooding from broken pipes or something that happens inside your home). "Outside the home" flooding can occur as the result of storms, dams or levees breaking, changes in water flow due to new development, snowmelt, erosion, runoff, or mudflow.

flooded small town

It's important to purchase flood insurance as soon as possible because most flood insurance policies don't go into effect until 30 days after purchase.

"Ninety percent of natural disasters in the United States involve flooding," says Mark Friedlander, organization spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. "The Insurance Information Institute recommends that homeowners consider purchasing a flood policy no matter where they live."

Most homeowners purchase flood insurance that's part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is managed by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). The NFIP doesn't sell policies. Instead, flood insurance policies are sold through and written by insurers who participate in the NFIP. In many cases, you may be able to purchase a NFIP policy from the same insurer who provides your standard homeowners coverage.

You can find your risk of flooding by searching for your location at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center. You're typically required to purchase flood insurance if you live in a high-risk area and have a federally regulated or federally insured mortgage. It's important to purchase flood insurance as soon as possible because most flood insurance policies don't go into effect until 30 days after purchase.

Your mortgage lender may require that you purchase flood insurance even if you live in an area rated as low or moderate risk. "More than 20% of flood claims come from areas outside high-risk flood zones," according to FEMA.

Coverage for NFIP policies tops out at $250,000 for your physical home and $100,000 for its contents. Your contents, or personal property, aren't covered under an NFIP unless you purchase this option. Even if both your home and property are covered, there are always separate deductibles for these components in a NFIP policy.

Some private insurance companies offer flood insurance with options for higher coverage limits or opportunities to combine coverage with standard homeowners policies. Depending on your location and situation, you may be able to purchase private homeowners flood insurance that provides higher coverage maximums and lower costs than NFIP.

Some private flood insurance also covers your additional living expenses (ALE) if you have to relocate until your home is habitable after a flood. NFIP policies don't offer this type of coverage.

You can save about 30% in annual premiums by elevating your home one foot above the base flood elevation line, and up to 60% by elevating it three feet above.

Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance

Annual flood insurance premiums average $700 though costs vary depending on your risk, with premiums increasing or decreasing in relation to your flood risk.

According to FEMA, the following home characteristics can play a significant role in the cost of your flood insurance, either by qualifying for discounts or penalizing you with higher premiums. Be sure to include information about the following items when requesting a quote: 

  • Community participation in the NFIP Community Rating System, a voluntary program that recognizes communities who work to reduce flood damage. Check with local officials for your community's most current standing or consult the NFIP listing. If your community participates, you may qualify for a discount.

  • The relationship between your community's base flood elevation (BFE) and the elevation of your home. The BFE is the elevation to which floodwater is expected to rise during a base flood. You can save about 30% in annual premiums by elevating your home one foot above the BFE and up to 60% by elevating it three feet above the BFE, says FEMA.

  • The presence of subgrade basements or crawlspaces in a floodplain. Having these can increase your flood insurance premiums by 15-20%. When possible, consider filling in an excavated crawlspace to raise the interior floor to match or exceed the height of the exterior of your structure.

  • The presence of two foundation vents that measure one square inch of opening per square foot of enclosed area. The bottom of the openings can't be higher than one foot above the exterior finished grade to receive a discount.

  • The location of any electrical, heating, air conditioning, other equipment or utilities above the BFE. You'll receive a surcharge when these items are located below the BFE.

  • Proof that your property is built or relocated on an area that's above the BFE

  • Proof that you've abandoned use of the lowest floor of a building and added flood vents when the lowest floor is below BFE

Earthquake Insurance


A standard homeowners policy doesn't cover damage to your home or property that occurs as the result of an earthquake or other types of ground movement. Earthquake insurance pays for the damage that your home and possessions experience from the shaking and cracking that occurs as the result of an earthquake.

You may be able to purchase earthquake insurance as an endorsement to standard home insurance or as a stand-alone policy. However, even if you purchase it as a separate policy, you'll need a standard homeowners policy too.

California residents can purchase earthquake insurance from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). This nonprofit, privately funded, publicly managed organization provides 66% of all residential earthquake insurance policies sold in California. Policies are sold through participating private residential insurance companies.

Since most insurers won't sell earthquake insurance for 30 to 60 days after an earthquake, it's best to purchase earthquake insurance well before an occurrence, says the National Association of State Insurance Commissioners (NASIC).

While earthquakes have occurred in every state in the country, not every earthquake causes catastrophic damage. You're more likely to experience an earthquake, as well as one that's strong, if you live in California or Alaska. Other states ranked among the top 10 states for earthquake activity include Nevada, Hawaii, Washington, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Oregon.  

You can find out the likelihood of your home experiencing seismic activity by finding your location on the U.S. Geological Society (USGS) Seismic Hazard Map.

Consider the following factors when deciding whether you need earthquake insurance:

  • The proximity of your home to an earthquake-prone zone
  • The proximity of your house to a fault line
  • The likelihood that your home's construction will withstand earthquake damage

If your home is potentially vulnerable to damage from an earthquake, you may benefit from the security of earthquake insurance if:

  • You have limited resources to pay to repair or replace your home and personal property if it's severely damaged
  • You're unlikely to afford the cost of living elsewhere while a damaged home is repaired
  • You're not financially prepared to withstand the loss of the equity you've accumulated in your home

Most earthquake insurance policies cover repairs to your home and attached structures up to the limit on your homeowners insurance. Typically, an earthquake policy also insures your personal property against earthquake damage.

Most earthquake policies also cover the additional expenses you'll have to pay to stay elsewhere while your home is repaired. Your policy may also cover the cost to stabilize the land under a damaged home and the cost to remove debris.

Most earthquake policies also cover the additional expenses you'll have to pay to stay elsewhere while your home is repaired. Your policy may also cover the cost to stabilize the land under a damaged home and the cost to remove debris.

If your home or belongings suffer damage caused by events other than the shaking and cracking events of an earthquake, it's likely that the damage won't be covered by earthquake insurance (but they may likely be covered by your homeowners insurance).

Losses from a fire that occurs after an earthquake are typically covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Damage caused by an earthquake that affects your car and other vehicles is covered if you have a comprehensive auto insurance policy. You'll need flood insurance to cover water damage from external sources, even if it's from an earthquake-related flood.

Earthquake policies differ from homeowners policies in that deductibles are established. "Deductibles for earthquake insurance plans are higher than those in standard homeowners or renters insurance and usually range from 5 to 15 percent of the policy limit," Friedlander says.

Premium rates vary by location and the risk of earthquake there. While the average annual cost for earthquake insurance is between $100 and $300 annually, areas such as California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have annual premiums of around $800, according to USAA.

Your earthquake policy may have separate individual deductibles for your dwelling, outside structures, and personal contents, while you may not have to pay a deductible for additional living expenses.

Since most insurers won't sell earthquake insurance for 30 to 60 days after an earthquake, it's best to purchase earthquake insurance well before an occurrence.

Reducing the Cost of Earthquake Insurance

When requesting a quote for earthquake insurance, you may receive discounts if your home possesses specific qualifies. While some discounts may be limited to homes in California or other high-risk states, ask if your insurer offers discounts for:

  • A newer home

  • A home with fewer stories since taller buildings topple more easily

  • A home with more elasticity because it has: A wood frame, a raised rather than a slab foundation, or a foundation built on sandy soil instead of rock or clay.

  • Earthquake retrofitting including: Bolting your home to the foundation, bracing your water heater and chimney, having automatic gas cut-off valves, and strengthening cripple walls with plywood.

Windstorm/Hurricane Insurance



Standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage from winds, hail, wind-driven rain, and trees that fall and cause damage due to wind. However, if you live in an area considered to be high risk for hurricanes, you'll likely have to purchase a special type of windstorm coverage to get full protection.

tree fallen on house in hurricane

While windstorm insurance is sometimes referred to as "hurricane" insurance, it's important to recognize that this type of coverage only extends to the damage caused by a windstorm or wind associated with a hurricane. Damage caused by hurricane-related flooding is covered by flood insurance.

A Note About Tornadoes: Most standard homeowners insurance policies help repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged by wind, whether from a hurricane or tornado. Whether homeowners insurance covers damage to your home by tornado depends on where you live, the type of coverage and the amount of coverage—and what causes the damage. For example, damage due to floods caused by tornadoes are typically not covered by a homeowners insurance policy, but will be with an additional flood insurance rider. If wind from a tornado knocks a tree down, it may likely be covered, but if it can be proven that it likely fell down due to lack of maintenance due to rotting, that likely won't be covered. Read the policy quote you're receiving carefully and ask questions to clarify.

Standard homeowners insurance in most states covers damage from all types of wind, though some homeowners policies cover windstorm damage with its own deductible.

However, if you live in a high-risk state, you'll have to purchase windstorm insurance to get the same type of coverage. You may be able to purchase this coverage as an endorsement to an existing homeowners insurance policy or as separate coverage from your insurer or a state-run insurance pool.

If you want coverage for damage by high winds associated with a hurricane or other high-wind weather event, you'll have to purchase windstorm insurance if you live in Washington, DC, or one of the following 19 high-risk states: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Windstorm insurance policies typically cover physical damage to your home and your personal property inside the structure. Many policies also cover detached structures.

Windstorm insurance doesn't cover storm surges or flooding that occur as a result of a hurricane. Those damages are covered by flood insurance.

If you live in one of the 19 high-risk states or Washington, DC, your windstorm insurance may have special deductibles based on certain triggers, such as when the National Weather Service names a hurricane versus other windstorm damage. These deductibles are often a percentage of your home's insured value. They can range between 1% and 5% and are higher than standard dollar deductibles that typically apply to other types of perils.

Depending on your state, private insurers may have the right to determine the level of a deductible for windstorm insurance and when it should apply. Some insurers may offer the option to pay a flat fee deductible for a higher premium. You can find out more about guidelines for hurricane and windstorm deductibles from your state's department of insurance or the Insurance Information Institute's listing of hurricane and windstorm deductibles by state.

The cost of windstorm insurance varies greatly depending on where you live. Rates can vary significantly from annual premiums as little as $300 for homes in lower-risk areas to $20,000 or more for homes in high-risk locations, according to the National Association of Realtors.

It's important to note: Hurricane/windstorm coverage only extends to the damage caused by a windstorm or wind associated with a hurricane. Damage caused by hurricane-related flooding is covered by flood insurance.

Reducing the Cost of Windstorm/Hurricane Insurance

Depending on your state and private insurer, you may earn discounts if your home has features that minimize windstorm damage. Some insurers may require that you have a wind mitigation inspection to document your home's risk of windstorm damage.

When you request a quote for windstorm insurance, indicate if your home has the following features, all of which could qualify you for discounts:

  • Impact-resistant glass on windows and doors
  • Storm shutters
  • Wind-resistant roofing materials
  • Strong roof deck attachment
  • Storm-resistant doors
  • Secondary water resistance (a second layer of water resistant materials on your roof)
  • Reinforced roof-to-wall connections

Wild Fires


wildfire burning near hillside full of houses


A standard homeowners insurance policy covers wildfire damage and destruction to your home and personal property. A standard policy will typically reimburse you for any ALE you incur living elsewhere while your home is repaired. Most policies also cover expenses for fire department services related to treating a wild fire.

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers wildfire damage and destruction to your home and personal property.

Wild Fire Risk

Many insurers use a wild fire scoring model to determine potential wildfire insurance risk.

Models vary, but a typical wild fire model scores your home's risk on a numerical basis along a ratings scale. Location-based factors such as population density, steepness of slope, wind patterns, road access for firefighting equipment, and the presence of grass, trees, or dense brush, affect your homes wildfire score. Properties with higher scores may be subject to higher premiums or required to purchase separate stand-alone fire policies.

You may be able to reduce your risk of wild fires by making it harder for fire to travel to your house. Recommendations from the Insurance Information Institute to minimize wildfires include maintaining five feet of non-combustible defensive space of gravel or stones around your home and maintaining an expanded defensible space that's between five and 30 feet around your house. This includes removing surrounding trees and bushes, cutting low tree limbs, removing leaves from gutters, and getting a Class A fire-rated roof.

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