A guide to earthquake insurance in California

We break down where to buy earthquake insurance in California, how much you can expect to pay, and more.

Kara McGinley

By

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is an editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about homeowners and renters insurance. As a journalist and as an insurance expert, her work and insights have been featured in Kiplinger, Lifehacker, MSN, WRAL.com, and elsewhere.

Updated|3 min read

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Despite the frequency of earthquakes in California, only 13% of California homeowners have earthquake insurance. [1] Homeowners insurance does not cover earthquakes — so you’d be stuck paying out of pocket if an earthquake destroys your home.

That said, homeowners insurance companies in California are required to offer separate earthquake insurance when you purchase a homeowners policy. Many California insurers sell earthquake policies through the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a nonprofit that administers earthquake insurance to carriers. But there are other options available, too.

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How to get earthquake insurance in California

Earthquakes in California result in millions of dollars worth of property damage every year, damage that can be costly to repair and can make your home unlivable. [2]  

There are multiple ways for California homeowners to purchase earthquake insurance:

  • Through an insurance company participating in the CEA

  • Through a specialty carrier

  • By adding an earthquake endorsement to a homeowners policy

  • Through a homeowners insurer that sells non-CEA earthquake insurance

How you purchase earthquake insurance is up to you, but the CEA insures the most homes in California, and specialty carriers tend to be more expensive than CEA-administered policies.

→ Check out the best home insurance companies in California

What is the California Earthquake Authority?

The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is a nonprofit organization that sells earthquake insurance policies through participating insurance companies. The CEA underwrites most of the earthquake insurance policies in California, protecting more than 1 million policyholders.

You don’t buy earthquake insurance from the CEA. Instead, you buy it directly from insurance companies that are members of the CEA, meaning you’d buy earthquake insurance from your homeowners insurance company and it’d be administered by the CEA.

Not all homeowners insurance companies are members of the CEA.

When you’re shopping for homeowners insurance, you should check with your insurer to learn if they participate in the program.

What does CEA earthquake insurance cover?

The CEA offers standard earthquake insurance coverage, but with more flexibility in deductible and policy options. The CEA offers two different types of policies: 

  • Homeowners insurance choice policy 

  • Standard homeowners policy 

Below are the differences in coverage, limits, and deductible requirements between the two policies.

CoveragesStandard homeowners policyHomeowners choice policyWhat does it cover?
Dwelling coverageIncluded. Same coverage limits as your homeowners policy. Deductible required.Included. Same coverage limits as your homeowners policy. Deductible required.Protects the structure of your home from quake damage. Also covers structures attached to your home, such as an attached garage.
Personal property coverageIncluded with a limit of $200,000. Deductible included with dwelling coverage deductible.Optional coverage with a limit of $200,000. Separate deductible from dwelling.Covers your personal belongings.
Loss-of-use coverageIncluded up to $100,000. No deductible.Optional coverage of up to $100,000. No deductible.Pays for additional living expenses if you temporarily need to live elsewhere while your home is repaired.
Building code upgradeIncluded up to $10,000. Option to increase the limit up to $30,000. Paid after dwelling deductible is met.Included up to $10,000. Option to increase the limit up to $30,000. Paid after dwelling deductible is met.Covers mandatory repairs required by local building codes.
Emergency repairsIncluded up to 5% of dwelling and 5% of personal property limit. First $1,500 is not subject to a deductible.Included up to 5% of dwelling and 5% of personal property limit. First $1,500 is not subject to a deductible.Covers emergency, immediate repairs needed in order to prevent further damage.

Both policies also offer two additional optional coverages: 

  • Breakables coverage: Protects glassware and fine china

  • Exterior masonry veneer coverage: Protects nonstructural elements of your home, like brickwork or tile

How do earthquake insurance deductibles work?

A deductible is the amount you need to pay out of pocket after a loss before your insurer kicks in the rest. Earthquake insurance deductibles are different from homeowners insurance deductibles, which are typically a flat dollar amount. Instead, earthquake deductibles are a percentage of the coverage limit. 

Here’s an example.

If you have $10,000 in earthquake personal property coverage and your deductible is 10%, you’d have to pay a $1,000 deductible before your insurer kicks in the remaining $9,000.

You choose your deductible when you purchase your policy. CEA earthquake deductibles are 5% to 25% of the coverage limit. CEA does not require you to pay out of pocket for your deductible, instead it is subtracted from your claims settlement check. 

Earthquake insurance companies in California

Below are homeowners insurance companies that currently participate in the CEA. [3]

To learn about other residential insurance companies that participate in the CEA, like renters and condo insurers, visit the CEA website.

How much does earthquake insurance cost in California?

The average cost of earthquake insurance is about $850 per year, according to policy data from AAA. [4] However, how much you pay How much earthquake insurance costs depends on a variety of factors, including your insurance company and coverage amount.

Other factors that determine your earthquake insurance rates:

  • The size of your home

  • Location of your home (if you live close to a fault line your rates will be higher)

  • Your home’s foundation (slab or concrete)

  • The age of your home

  • Your home’s construction (frame or masonry)

  • Add-on coverages

  • Discounts (the CEA offers up to 25% off your premium if your home was seismically retrofitted to better withstand earthquakes)

The CEA has a useful earthquake premium calculator on its website to give you an estimate of how much your premiums might cost if you purchase a CEA-administered policy.

You may experience more expensive CEA insurance premiums in April 2022.

Due to the increase in policyholders, catastrophic earthquakes, and rebuild costs, you may experience more expensive CEA earthquake insurance premiums starting in April 2022. The CEA estimates homeowners policyholders will pay an extra $26 a year, but prices will vary.

Other ways to buy earthquake insurance in California

Not all homeowners insurance companies are members of the CEA. Below are three other options for buying earthquake coverage.

1. Specialty carriers in California

Specialty carriers sell insurance policies that can protect your home from special circumstances that are not typically covered by a standard homeowners policy. Three specialty carriers in California that sell standalone earthquake insurance policies include:

  • GeoVera

  • Arrowhead

  • Pacific Specialty

2. Non-CEA earthquake insurance companies

Insurance companies may sell their own earthquake insurance. Over 30 residential insurance companies offer their own earthquake insurance, according to the California Department of Insurance. [5] Coverage and costs will vary by company. And non-CEA earthquake deductibles are typically set at 10% to 20% of your coverage limit, according to the NAIC. [6]

3. Earthquake homeowners insurance endorsement 

Depending on your insurer, you may be able to add an earthquake endorsement to your standard homeowners insurance policy. An earthquake endorsement will add coverage for quake damage to your policy. While coverage won’t be as comprehensive as with an actual earthquake insurance policy, it will likely be cheaper.

Frequently asked questions

Is earthquake insurance required in California?

No, there is no law in California that requires you to purchase earthquake insurance. Home insurance companies are required to offer it when you purchase a homeowners policy or renew one, but you can choose to forgo earthquake coverage.

Is the CEA the only earthquake insurance in California?

No, there are insurance companies that sell standalone earthquake insurance policies, specialty carriers, and some insurers allow you to add earthquake coverage to your standard homeowners policy.

Why are earthquake deductibles so high?

Earthquake insurance deductibles are much higher than a standard homeowners insurance deductible because earthquakes tend to cause a catastrophic amount of damage. A higher deductible means you’re unable to file a claim for more minor quake damage.