When is it Worth it to Get Earthquake Insurance?

What do San Diego County residents have to know about Earthquake Insurance Policies, Risks and Costs?

Quality Claims Management views Earthquake coverage as catastrophic insurance. You will only need it if we have a really big earthquake. However, depending on where you live in San Diego and how much you have invested in your home, you may opt to get coverage. Here is what you need to know.

First, most standard homeowners, mobile home owners, condominium, and renter’s insurance policies DO NOT cover earthquake damage. Similar to flood insurance, earthquake insurance usually must be purchased separately.

However, fire insurance is part of most typical homeowners insurance policies. This means your home insurance policy may cover a significant part of the damage if your home burns down or is damaged in a fire that is caused by an earthquake.

Much of the damage that often arises from an earthquake happens after the ground stops shaking. Gas lines that may have ruptured and start leaking can catch on fire and burn your home to the ground. In San Diego County, it is also very possible that your home may be consumed in a wildfire sparked caused by earthquake motion many miles away. A power line may have collapsed. A home may have caught fire because of the quake and flames traveled many miles through brush to your home.

Another major factor is water damage. Quakes often break pipes. Even small quakes can crack a water or sewer pipe that floods your home and can cause extensive damage to your floors, rugs, furniture – even to the structure of your home.

If your homeowner’s insurance includes fire and flood damage, you should be covered for this “earthquake” damage – even if you don’t have earthquake insurance.

Another danger from earthquakes is landslides. You may or may not be covered for this. You need to check your homeowner insurance policy to make sure of your coverage for both landslide and fires. If your home does burn down, are you fully covered? Will you be able to replace your home and all of your belongings.

Check our other articles about homeowners insurance for details about coverages and what you need to know.

Where do you get Earthquake Insurance?

The law requires insurers that sell residential property insurance within the state of California to offer earthquake coverage to their policyholders. Most of these California earthquake insurance policies are backed and administered by a government organization known as CEA – the California Earthquake Authority.

Even though most earthquake insurance policies are sold by the state-run insurance pool, a few private companies also sell earthquake coverage. In order to provide earthquake coverage, insurance companies can become a CEA participating insurance company and offer the CEA’s residential earthquake policies or they can manage the risk themselves. To date, companies that sell over two-thirds of the residential property insurance in the state have opted to become CEA participating companies.

According to the CEA website, the CEA homeowners policy is designed to help get you back into your home after an earthquake. The CEA base-limits policy for homeowners includes:

Dwelling coverage – The coverage limit is the insured value of your home stated on your companion homeowner policy.
* Personal Property coverage – $5,000
* Additional Living Expense/Loss of Use coverage – $1,500
* You may select either a 10% or 15% deductible on your Dwelling coverage, and CEA’s increased-limit options allow you to increase Personal Property coverage to as much as $100,000 and Additional Living Expense/Loss of Use coverage to as much as $15,000.
Residential property insurance includes coverage for homeowners, condominium owners, mobile home owners, and renters.

Earthquake insurance is not intended for smaller losses as you must have enough damage to surpass your deductible. Even though deductibles are generally 10-15% of the amount of the Coverage A limits, it can be a little confusing to calculate the actual deductible amount since there are several factors that go into the formula.

How will your home handle an earthquake – Do you need Earthquake Insurance

– where in San Diego County do you live?
– what is under your house (rock, sand, fill, etc?)
– how is your home constructed – is it up to code and why that matters for your coverage

Age and type of construction contribute to how a residential structure reacts during an earthquake. Based on the scientific and engineering research, the CEA premiums reflect the following rating factors:

– In general, houses built on a slab perform better than those built on a raised foundation.
– One-story houses are less vulnerable to earthquake shaking than multi-story houses.
– Unreinforced masonry structures are more susceptible to damage than those of wood-frame construction.
– Houses of a certain age are not as strongly constructed as others.

The type of home you have affects your risk. One-story homes that are “tied together” — with the roof bolted to the walls, and the walls to the foundation — tend to survive earthquakes and windstorms better than multistory homes that aren’t. As you would expect, houses with big openings, such as plate-glass windows or large garage doors, fare worse than ones without those features.

In addition, your home can be substantially fortified with some special construction measures. For many, this can be a better investment than buying earthquake insurance.

The Institute for Business and Home Safety has a Fortified For Safer Living” program that specifies building techniques that can help homes better withstand disaster.

Other California Earthquake Insurance Factors

No Known Loss Letter Requirement

In areas that have been previously affected by an earthquake or other catastrophic event, an insurer may require a “No Known Loss Letter” with all requests for earthquake insurance or to add earthquake coverage to an existing policy. These kind of letters letter confirms that no known losses or damages have already occurred to the requested coverage location(s).

DIC Policy

DIC (Difference in Conditions) insurance provides coverage designed to close specific gaps in standard insurance policies. It allows coverage to be customized to extend to such exposures as water damage, flood, collapse, earthquake, landslide, etc., according to the insured’s needs. DIC coverage may be provided by means of a separate insurance policy or it may be added by endorsement to the basic policy.

Is Earthquake Insurance Right For You? How Much Equity Do You Have In Your Home?

As mentioned earlier, we view Earthquake coverage as catastrophic insurance. You will only need it if we have a really big earthquake. The more equity you have in your home, the more you need insurance.

According to UnitedPolicyHolders, a non-profit organization that fights for the rights of insurance consumers and educates individuals and businesses on how to get fair treatment, “a generally accepted rule of thumb is that you should not risk more than 10 percent of your liquid assets. A large earthquake could mean 10 to 100 percent of your home’s structure could be damaged or destroyed, up to 20 percent of your belongings could be damaged, and/or you may need to come up with $3,000 a month for temporary rent and relocation costs.”

In San Diego, we get lots of smaller quakes on a regular basis. These are reminders to YOU to review your current coverages to be sure that you are adequately insured. Is your current homeowner’s insurance up to date? Will it pay to rebuild your home to current building codes? Do you have additional coverage and riders for all the new stuff yiou may have acquired since you first bought your insurance policy?

Remember, it is far more likely you will have pipes break or fires start from the smaller earthquakes. If either of these happen, you should have coverage under your regular homeowners policy. Check to make sure it is up to date and that you have enough coverage. As a result of the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, we have found that most homeowners in San Diego are underinsured.

By the way, businesses should review their policies to be sure they have EQSL – or Sprinkler Loss coverage. There is a greater chance you will suffer damage from sprinklers leaking than from a building falling down.

by Ronald Reitz, President of Quality Claims Management