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The month of May is National Wildfire Awareness Month — and it’s also the start of wildfire season — which serves as a reminder that finding adequate home insurance may need to be a priority for homeowners who live in many areas of the U.S. at risk for wildfires. Nearly 4.5 million homes are at risk of wildfire damage throughout the nation, with droughts and other environmental issues causing the likelihood of fire damage to increase significantly year by year.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 50,477 fires affected 4,664,364 acres in 2019, and that number increased to 58,950 fires affecting 10,122,336 acres in 2020. Although this number decreased slightly in 2021, there were still 58,985 fires affecting 7,100,000 acres in that year. Homeowners insurance can be expensive in these areas due to the wildfire risk, while some carriers may choose to nonrenew or deny coverage completely to new customers in high-risk zones. Still, there are ways to find homeowners insurance coverage if you live in an area with a higher risk for wildfires. You just need to know where to look and how to shop around with different carriers.
How fire risk affects homeowners insurance costs
When determining home insurance rates, most insurance companies will review the location of the home and the features of the surrounding area. Neighborhoods that are close to wildfire zones are more at risk of damage or total loss, which would, in turn, require insurance companies to pay out huge sums to cover the losses should this type of natural disaster occur.
The more likely it is that a covered disaster will happen, the higher the rate will likely be for a home insurance policy. This is particularly concerning due to the fact that the wildfire risk continues to spread to new areas of the country, which in turn is causing areas that were once unaffected by wildfires to be at a high-risk for this type of natural disaster.
Why it’s hard to find homeowners insurance in fire-prone areas
The higher chance of losses in fire-prone areas can make it more difficult for homeowners to secure property insurance coverage. Insurance companies may be concerned about whether it’s possible to manage the risk and pay for losses in these areas, as insured wildfire losses topped $13 billion in three of the last four years, according to S&P Global. For example, Farmers Insurance paid out almost $2.1 billion for wildfire-related losses in 2018.
Because of this high volume of losses, many insurance companies are implementing stricter policies on where homeowners insurance is offered. Some companies may deny coverage to certain ZIP codes entirely, or may opt to cancel or non-renew policies on homes located in high-risk areas in order to manage their own risk and financial solvency.
How to reduce the risk to your home in a fire-prone area
Insuring yourself against wildfires can be done with a standard homeowners insurance policy, but taking some of these mitigation steps could further reduce your risk, especially if you live in a wildfire-prone area. Tips for reducing the risk to a home in a fire-prone area include:
- Installing a Class A-rated fire-resistant roof: These types of roofs could help with mitigating fire damage to your home. Materials that typically qualify for Class A roof coverings include concrete or clay tiles, fiberglass asphalt shingles or metal roofs.
- Retrofit your home: CalFire, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, has a list of ways you can retrofit your home to protect against wildfire. Vents, windows, walls and even rain gutters and fences could use some attention to help reduce damage from wildfires.
- Create a defensible area around your home: The key to this strategy is to remove any vegetation that might be flammable away from your home. This could include clearing away plants and shrubs from windows, decks, balconies, stairs and removing other potential hazards near the exterior of the home that might catch on fire, including mulch, pine straw, firewood or debris.
Tips for finding affordable homeowners insurance in a high-risk fire zone
While it can be more difficult to find homeowners insurance if you live in a high-risk fire zone, it is not impossible. If you’re struggling to find affordable homeowners insurance in a high-risk fire area, or are having trouble finding insurance entirely, these tips may help:
- Ask your neighbors. It may be helpful to ask neighbors for the names of the companies that insure their homes. By doing this, you can build a list of potential carriers that may also be willing to insure your home. Plus, you can generally assume the insurer offers policies in your ZIP code, although you won’t know for certain until you request a quote.
- Shop around with more than one carrier. It may help to keep your options open when it comes to finding carriers. If you struggle to find an insurance company that’s willing to cover your home, or if you’re getting quotes that are much higher than you expected, it may pay to inquire about coverage from both large, nationally available carriers and small regional home insurance companies. The Triple-I recommends working with a local insurance agent to obtain multiple quotes to compare costs and coverages.
- Take advantage of discount opportunities. Some insurers may offer deep discounts for bundling your car and homeowners insurance coverage, or may offer discount opportunities for any other number of things. If you want to save on your home insurance policy, it may pay to inquire about the discount opportunities from the insurers or agents you are getting quotes from.
- Consider a FAIR Plan. While in many cases a temporary solution, purchasing homeowners insurance coverage via your state’s FAIR Plan could be one way to obtain coverage while you search for a permanent option. FAIR Plan coverage may not be as robust as a private insurer policy, however, and may also be more expensive than private coverage.