2. You shouldn't settle for a high premium
If the price for earthquake insurance is daunting, there are ways to reduce costs. For example, the CEA offers up to a 20 percent discount to California residents who retrofit their existing homes to make them less prone to shake damage, Pomeroy says. Such improvements include bolting or bracing the structure to the foundation. Homes built after 1979, when stricter building codes were enacted across the state, generally draw lower premiums.
Insurers may offer lower premiums on wood-frame homes versus ones made of brick or masonry, says Hackett. Frame homes typically can withstand shaking better, whereas brick or masonry homes aren't able to flex with the movement and can crack.
Other insurers may lower your premium if you put sprinklers in your home, install metal straps to the walls and roof, or use different trusses, says Jim Whittle, chief claims counsel at the American Insurance Association.
3. Consider more than standard quake coverage
Read an earthquake policy carefully to be sure your belongings are covered, because some quake insurance doesn't cover personal items. If you want to protect your home's contents, you may need to purchase a more comprehensive earthquake policy, which will likely cost more.
You may want to consider buying extra earthquake coverage for expensive items, such as fine art or jewelry, on top of the coverage you purchase for your home's more ordinary contents. Similar to regular homeowners policies, earthquake insurance will cover items up to a limit.
"For example, your limit for contents coverage may be $100,000, but on fine art you may have a limit of only $5,000," says Whittle. "That may not be enough for the art you have."
Another type of coverage you might buy as part of an earthquake policy would provide "additional living expenses," money to cover the costs of temporary housing and other basic needs after a disaster.
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4. Size up your other quake coverage
Apartment dwellers will find their renters insurance is insufficient to cover damage from earthquakes, same as with homeowners insurance. Renters who want to insure their belongings against quake damage will need to scout around for a separate earthquake policy.
Meanwhile, comprehensive auto insurance coverage typically covers vehicle damage incurred in an earthquake, says Whittle. However, not all car owners have comprehensive coverage; many carry only liability insurance, as their states require. That won't do diddly if your car is damaged or destroyed by a quake.
As for other property, check your existing coverage closely. If you have a boat, for example, your marine policy may cover earthquake damage.
5. Be ready in case you have to file a claim
There are a few steps you can take to make filing a claim easier and faster after an earthquake.
First -- and this may sound silly -- know who your insurer is. Hackett says many times after a disaster, homeowners can't name their insurance company.
Keep your insurance agent's card in your wallet, or store information about your earthquake insurance and other policies in your cellphone, Whittle suggests. That way, you'll be sure to have it when you need it.
"We don't want to see people getting killed after an earthquake because they go back in a damaged home to get paperwork," says Whittle.
Second, take inventory of everything in your house. Make copies of receipts from appliance purchases and other big items. Take pictures or video of your belongings. Store this list in a safety-deposit box or firebox in your home. Trying to remember everything that you had is much harder after a catastrophe. Being prepared ahead of time will speed your recovery.