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California has more damage-causing earthquakes than any other state. The state’s 1994 Northridge earthquake killed 57 people and caused up to $40 billion in damage. Given how earthquakes can strike without warning, many homeowners throughout the Golden State may want to weigh the pros and cons of earthquake insurance.
Do I need earthquake insurance in California?
California residents are often told to prepare for “the big one.” There is currently over a 99 percent chance that an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or higher will strike California. In 2022 alone, there have been 393 recorded earthquakes in California with a magnitude of three or higher. When it comes to earthquakes, being prepared could make a big difference in terms of your family’s safety and financial protection.
One proactive method could be to obtain an earthquake insurance policy. While earthquake insurance is not mandatory in California, it is excluded from standard home insurance policies. For this reason, if your home or personal belongings were damaged by an earthquake, and you didn’t have designated earthquake insurance, you’d be responsible for the cost of repairing your home or replacing damaged belongings out of pocket.
Some earthquake insurance policies extend coverage to other structures, like a pool, shed or fence. Earthquake insurance may also cover the cost of temporary living arrangements after a covered quake through loss of use coverage or additional living expenses.
How to purchase earthquake insurance in California
When it comes to obtaining California earthquake insurance, there are a few different methods available. Here are two of the most common ways California residents may obtain earthquake insurance:
The California Earthquake Authority
The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is one of the biggest residential earthquake coverage providers. It is a not-for-profit organization, and its premiums reflect the latest science around earthquake risk in California. A CEA insurance policy offers the following coverages:
- Personal property
- Loss of use
- Building code upgrades
- Emergency repairs
- Exterior masonry veneer protection
CEA earthquake insurance is available through many home insurance providers. There are currently 24 property insurance companies that sell CEA coverage. Keep in mind that CEA does not sell standalone policies. In order to qualify for CEA insurance, you must have a homeowners insurance policy with one of the participating insurance companies.
A perk of CEA insurance is that homeowners have flexibility in what coverage options and deductibles they want to choose. For instance, breakables and exterior masonry veneer are optional coverage types. Dwelling coverage is available with a deductible of 5 percent to 25 percent.
If you own an older home retrofitted to withstand earthquake damage, you could qualify for a discount on your CEA insurance. California homeowners may be eligible for a lower premium if their home meets the following criteria:
- Was built before 1980
- Is constructed with wood frames
- Is built on a raised foundation or other non-slab foundation
- Is seismically retrofitted based on California standards
Other ways to buy earthquake insurance
The other option for buying earthquake insurance in California is to purchase a standalone policy through a private insurance company. A few private California earthquake insurers include GeoVera, Arrowhead and Jumpstart. When shopping for earthquake insurance policies, be sure to read through each company’s policy coverage and limitations carefully to ensure you know how you’ll be covered and what your deductibles are in the event of an earthquake.
How much is earthquake insurance in California?
The price of earthquake insurance may be different for every homeowner. When calculating earthquake insurance costs, there are a few factors you might want to consider. Your earthquake insurance premium may be dependent on the following factors:
- The age of your home
- The materials your home is built with
- The type of foundation
- The home’s proximity to a fault line
- Reconstruction costs
- Coverage types
- Deductible amount
To get a sense of what you will pay for coverage, you can use the CEA’s earthquake insurance premium calculator. Unlike traditional home insurance, earthquake insurance rates are generally based on the home itself, rather than the homeowner. Generally speaking, the more risk your home faces, the higher your premium may be.
How to prepare your home for an earthquake
Earthquakes cannot be precisely predicted, so preparing your home and your family in advance may help keep you safe and minimize damage.
First, make sure that any heavy items in your home are secured. This includes furniture, appliances, electronics, hanging objects and even ceiling fans. Keep tall and heavy objects away from areas where you normally spend time, like your living room couch or dining room table. Trim the trees in your yard regularly, so no heavy branches overhang the roof.
Also ensure that fragile or valuable items are not at risk of sliding off shelves. If you have cabinets, consider installing latches to keep the contents from falling out during an earthquake. This may be especially important if you keep chemicals or flammable items in your home.
Most experts also recommend making a plan with your family in case of an earthquake. Designate a meeting spot and keep a disaster kit handy that includes a radio or other device where you can receive updates, non-perishable food and water, a flashlight, extra batteries and a first aid kit.
Frequently asked questions
Earthquake insurance is not required by law in California. Financial institutions also typically do not require earthquake insurance as a prerequisite to having a mortgage or lien on your home.
The amount of earthquake coverage you need may be specific to every homeowner. Most insurance experts recommend considering factors like the age of your home, the materials it is built with, the proximity to a fault line and the type of foundation when choosing your coverage limits. Speaking with a licensed insurance agent could provide you with additional guidance on what coverage to choose for the best earthquake insurance in California.
Earthquake insurance may be expensive, depending on your home and location. However, there are ways to save money. CEA offers discounts for homes built before 1980 that have wood-frame construction, have a raised foundation and are seismically retrofitted based on California standards. If you are comfortable with lesser coverage, you may get a lower premium by raising your deductible and lowering your coverage limits. Keep in mind that raising your deductible will likely result in more out-of-pocket costs in the event of a claim.
While flood insurance is not required by law in California, you could be required by your mortgage company to have this coverage if your home is in a designated flood zone. Even if your home is paid off or you live near a flood zone, having a flood insurance policy could be helpful in protecting your finances in the event a flood damages your home.