You’ve probably seen TV footage showing the aftermath of natural disasters: trees tossed through roofs by a windstorm, homes burned to the ground by a wildfire, living rooms underwater after a flood. First you feel sympathy, then concern. What if something like that happened to you? Would your homeowners insurance policy cover the damage?
The answer is … maybe. Insurance coverage for damage caused by such events varies widely, depending on where you live and what kind of coverage you’ve purchased. For example, your aunt who lives five minutes away might live in a flood zone and be required to carry flood insurance, but you might not.
The best way to determine what coverage you have—and need—is to talk to your insurance agent. To help you start that conversation, here’s a guide to typical disaster-related insurance coverage.
Most homeowners policies do not cover earthquake damage. Depending on which state you live in, you would have to purchase a separate earthquake policy or add a special coverage endorsement to your policy if you want to ensure your house is covered.
In California, for example, you can buy separate earthquake coverage from the insurer that holds your homeowners policy. The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is the main provider of earthquake insurance. Many agents can write a CEA policy for you or tell you how to get it. In general, an earthquake policy covers the replacement value of your house as specified in your homeowners policy and provides some coverage for the contents of your house.
In other states, such as New Mexico, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, you can obtain earthquake insurance by endorsement, which acts as an extension of your homeowners policy.
Nearly all homeowners policies cover fire damage, whether caused by a lightning strike, kitchen fire, or wildfire. However, most only cover up to a specific limit. If you’ve built an addition or remodeled since your policy was originally purchased, ask your agent to make sure you have adequate coverage to rebuild. Also, ask about loss-of-use coverage, which would help pay for additional living expenses while your home is being rebuilt or repaired.
If you live in a flood-prone area, your mortgage lender probably requires you to carry flood insurance. Most home insurance carriers, including AAA’s insurance affiliate, do not write flood insurance policies. Instead, you must buy coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which works with private insurers that sell and administer the flood policies for the NFIP in participating cities and counties. NFIP insurance covers damage to your home and its contents only in specific situations—when inland waters overflow, for example. More information is available at floodsmart.gov.
Most homeowners policies cover wind and hail damage to your property’s main structure—such as a torn-up roof or a window broken by flying debris. However, many policies limit coverage on buildings and other structures outside your main dwelling, such as fences, outdoor equipment, or a satellite dish. And although some insurers offer limited coverage to cut up and remove a tree that’s been blown down by wind on your property, the cost to replace a tree knocked over by the wind is almost never covered.
In addition, if you lose power in a windstorm or hailstorm and damage was done to your circuit box, most policies by endorsement will cover resulting losses, such as food that spoils because the refrigerator stops working. But if your electricity goes out because a transformer explodes at the end of the street, your coverage will probably be limited.
The rules may be entirely different when it comes to hurricanes or tropical storms, so be sure to check your policy. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you may have to buy special coverage.