How ISO fire ratings impact your home insurance

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With such a high financial investment at stake, it is important to understand what risks your home may be exposed to and how those risks may affect the cost or scope of your homeowners insurance policy. A homeowners insurance premium is affected by numerous factors which include:

  • Roof condition
  • Construction of home
  • Age of home
  • Replacement cost
  • Flood risk
  • Marital status
  • Deductible
  • Specific ZIP code
  • Crime rates in your area

Another variable is fire risk, and of all the factors, it is one of the most significant. The National Fire Protection Association reported $12.3 billion in fire-related property damage in 2019, a 10.8% increase over the prior year.

Many people think fires are unpredictable, and often, that can be true. What is not unpredictable is the likelihood your home may be extensively destroyed in the event of a fire. Depending on the construction materials and contents of your home, among other factors, the damage from a house fire can be catastrophic.

There are many data points to consider when it comes to house fires, such as your home’s proximity to fire hydrants and fire stations. These variables have the ability to drastically affect what you pay for homeowners insurance. When it comes to considering these factors in determining your insurance premium, home insurance companies use what is known as an ISO rating.

What is an ISO fire rating?

An ISO fire rating is a score provided to fire departments and insurance companies by the Insurance Services Office. The score reflects how prepared a community and area is for fires. While it mainly focuses on the local fire departments and water supply, there are other factors that contribute to an area’s score.

An ISO score has the power to affect the insurance premium of every homeowner in the area and can even cause an insurer to deny you coverage in some circumstances.

How an ISO fire rating is determined

The ISO outlines four categories that account for their scoring model no matter where in the U.S. your home resides. Each carries a specific weight and reflects a different aspect of fire prevention.

50% Fire department: The overall health of a fire department is assessed in this category. Factors ISO assesses include: training, number of employees and volunteers and maintenance and testing of crucial equipment.
40% Water supply: ISO evaluates the following questions; Does a community have enough water and water access for fire departments to use for fire suppression; How many fire hydrants are there; How much water is available after daily consumption?
10% Emergency communications systems: This evaluates how well a fire department receives and responds to emergency calls.
5.5% Community risk reduction: Any extra practices a community develops are recognized in this category. Includes fire safety education, fire prevention techniques and fire investigation (ISO considers these points to be bonus points).

The highest score an area can receive from ISO is a 1 and the lowest is a 10. While the biggest category is the fire department, which accounts for 50% of the score, the hardest to improve is an area’s water supply. A lack of fire hydrants and access to an adequate amount of water cannot be easily remedied and would require extensive infrastructure development to fix.

It is possible your homeowners insurance policy would be denied based on an ISO report, but many companies only use ISO for part of their calculations. Should you be unable to get a policy with one company, you may be able to submit applications to other home insurance providers. Not all carriers will deny you coverage due to your area’s ISO score.

How does an ISO fire rating affect insurance rates?

In 2018, fire and lightning accounted for 32.7% of all homeowners insurance losses, according to the Insurance Information Institute. It is for this reason that insurance companies continue to take fire safety very seriously when calculating a premium, and is why they use ISO scores to determine how at risk your home is.

If your fire department has a strong score from the ISO, this suggests to your insurance provider that the likelihood of your home being destroyed by a fire is low. It could still happen, of course, but the chances are not as high as they could be if you lived somewhere with a poor ISO score.

Homes located in an area that has a poor score from the ISO may result in a higher premium to reflect the greater risk companies take on by insuring the home. However, some companies may not even look at ISO scores and instead rely on other data to determine risk.

An ISO score is only one aspect among many that home insurance providers look at. Other factors they consider include such things as:

  • Flood risk
  • Sinkhole risk
  • Earthquake risk
  • Tornado risk
  • Hurricane risk
  • Crime risk

Additionally, each company uses its own pricing algorithm to determine how much a customer will pay for protection. Because there are so many differences between every insurer, homeowners may benefit from comparing quotes from multiple carriers. Each provider is dramatically different in how it underwrites risk factors, especially those revolving around fire.

How do I find my home’s ISO rating

Your home does not have its own unique ISO fire department rating; the area in which it is located does. This means that you and your immediate neighbors should have the same ISO fire rating.

Further, your area’s ISO rating is only given to your local fire department. It is typically not released publicly unless the fire department decides to announce it. Some fire departments will provide your area’s rating if you give them your ZIP code, but they are not required to do so and may deny your request when you contact them.

If you are unable to determine your area’s ISO score, there are other ways to calculate how at-risk your home is for a fire. You can get an idea by studying the National Interagency Coordination Center’s interactive map of the U.S., or the National Park Service’s interactive wildfire history timeline. Both are quite extensive and informative. While this information may not help improve rates with your home insurer, it may help provide context for choosing a carrier or discussing coverage options.

Key considerations

  • ISO scores are usually not available to the public unless publicized by the fire department.
  • ISO scores reflect an area’s fire rating and are not property-specific.
  • A score of 1 is the highest an area can achieve while a 10 is the lowest.
  • Some insurance companies do not use ISO scores when calculating homeowners’ premiums.
  • Each home insurer uses data received from ISO in a different way, depending upon its underwriting guidelines.
  • If you are denied a policy because of an ISO fire score for your area, you may be approved by a different insurance provider.
Written by
Lauren Ward
Insurance Contributor
Lauren Ward has nearly 10 years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and Reviews.com. She covers auto, homeowners, and life insurance, as well other topics in the personal finance industry.
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Insurance Editor
Reviewed by
Director of corporate communications, Insurance Information Institute