Wildfire insurance 2022 guide

Your guide to the different kinds of wildfire insurance and homeowners insurance implications for residents in the most high-risk areas.

Pat Howard 1600Kara McGinley

By

Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a managing editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

&Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is a senior 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|6 min read

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Although wildfires occur mostly in undeveloped areas and have little impact on human communities, an estimated 4.5 million homes in 13 Western states are considered to be at either high or extreme risk of wildfire damage, according to Verisk Wildfire Risk Analytics. [1] [2]

As fire season continues to expand and the fires themselves burn bigger and more frequently, several major homeowners insurance companies in California are no longer insuring homes located in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) — or the outer suburbs of major metropolitan areas — where the risk of wildfire loss is the greatest. When property owners in the WUI are able to find homeowners insurance, they may have trouble finding affordable or sufficient coverage.

If your house is in a fire-prone area and you’re struggling to find adequate or affordable wildfire insurance for your home and belongings, you have a couple options for getting covered. In this guide, we’ll walk you through what those options are and how to better protect your property and other assets against wildfire devastation.

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What is wildfire insurance?

There isn’t a singular insurance product called “wildfire insurance”, but there are several different kinds of insurance policies that will protect your home and assets against wildfire damage. 

Home

Homeowners insurance

Covers damage to your home and belongings if caused by fire or another covered peril in your policy. Home insurance may also cover temporary lodging while your home is being repaired after a fire.

Policy

Condo insurance

Covers fire damage to the structure of your condo unit and personal property inside the condo. Condo insurance may also pay out for additional living expenses while your condo is being repaired or rebuilt after a fire.

Renters

Renters insurance

Covers fire and smoke damage to tenants’ personal belongings. May also cover temporary housing and meals while the rental unit is being repaired.

How much does wildfire insurance cost?

Residents in California pay an average of $1,565 a year or $130 a month for homeowners insurance, according to our analysis of 2022 home insurance rate data. But rates are going up in California, especially in high risk wildfire areas — the Golden State saw nearly a 10% increase in home insurance rates from May 2021 to May 2022, according to the Policygenius Home Insurance Pricing Report. [3]

This is mostly due to an increase in building costs, a shortage in labor, and costly wildfires. “There’s inflation that’s taken place, so the cost to rebuild a home costs quite a bit more than it used to,” says Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications at the Insurance Information Institute. 

“There’s also a shortage of contractors. And we’re seeing hotter, drier weather — and more wind — which leads to more wildfires. So all these things are coming into play at the same time.”

Does living in a high-risk wildfire area increase home insurance costs?

If you live in an area that experiences frequent wildfires, you’ll likely see higher home insurance rates — and it may be hard to find coverage at all. Many residents in high risk wildfire areas purchase homeowners insurance via a FAIR (Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) Plan when standard coverage isn’t available. 

These policies are last-resort coverage options that tend to be significantly pricier than regular homeowners insurance. This is part of the reason so many homeowners saw rate hikes in California. “Homeowners in the high-risk wildfire areas were having to go [find coverage] through surplus carriers or through the California FAIR Plan. And from that they saw huge increases,” says Ruiz.

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When does homeowners insurance cover wildfire damage?

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers fire and smoke damage, including damage caused by wildfires. That means if a wildfire damages or destroys your house and personal property, homeowners insurance may help cover the cost of a home rebuild or repairs, new belongings, and temporary housing if the fire makes your home uninhabitable. 

Here’s a rundown of all the ways homeowners insurance protects you against wildfire devastation.

1. The structure of your home and additional structures on your property

Homeowners insurance covers the structure of your home, any attached structures like a patio or garage, and any separate structures on your property, like a shed, fence, or detached garage. Your home should be insured at its replacement cost, which is the amount it would cost to rebuild your entire home at the current prices of construction and labor. 

The amount of coverage for your home is represented by the dwelling coverage limit on your policy declarations page. The coverage limit for other structures on your property is automatically 10% of your dwelling coverage limit, but you can elect for more coverage if the need is there. 

2. Your personal belongings

A standard policy also covers your belongings against fire damage, including furniture, electronics, and kitchen appliances. If trees or other plant life on your property are destroyed by fire, homeowners insurance may also reimburse you for those losses. 

Your personal property coverage limit is typically 50–70% of your policy’s dwelling coverage limit.

3. Temporary housing while your home is being repaired

In the event a wildfire damages your house and forces you to flee the area, the loss of use section of your policy can help cover the costs of temporary housing, restaurant meals, and other reasonable expenses while your home is being repaired or rebuilt. 

Also known as additional living expenses (ALE), this coverage is typically 20% of your policy’s dwelling coverage limit. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, you may want to consider higher ALE limits. 

How to get wildfire insurance in fire-prone areas

If you live in an area that’s considered to be at high risk of wildfires, you may have a difficult time finding affordable homeowners insurance. In some cases, you may not be able to find coverage for your home at all. If you recently received a nonrenewal notice from your insurance company and find yourself short on insurance options, consider the following:

Consider a FAIR Plan 

Since many major home insurance providers in California are no longer insuring homes located in the wildland-urban interface, Golden State residents have had to consider alternatives to standard coverage. One such alternative is the CA FAIR Plan, a state-administered insurance pool that provides coverage to residents who can’t find coverage on the private market. To be eligible for a FAIR Plan, you need to have been declined coverage on the private market at least three times. 

Keep in mind that FAIR Plans are typically expensive and coverage is more limited than insurance on the open market. Although you can usually add coverage to these policies, even the most enhanced FAIR Plan won’t cover water damage, theft, vandalism, and liability expenses. One popular option among California residents is to purchase fire insurance via a FAIR Plan and pair it with a difference in conditions (DIC) policy that can fill in the coverage gaps left by the main policy. The California Department of Insurance has a list of insurers that sell DIC policies here.

Excess and surplus (E&S) coverage

Your other option is to purchase fire insurance or home insurance through an E&S insurer that specializes in unique risks and high-risk properties. Excess and surplus insurers aren’t required to abide by the same regulations and underwriting criteria as standard “admitted” insurers. 

While the underwriting flexibility allows E&S insurers to take on more risk, the lack of regulation also allows these companies to price policies however they see fit. As a result, E&S insurance can be prohibitively expensive.

Mitigate your fire risk

Many insurers will offer you a discount if you take steps to fortify your home. In California, insurers are looking to homeowners to join in on local initiatives — like the Wildfire Prepared Home Program — and rewarding them with a discount. [4]  

To qualify for the Wildfire Prepared Home designation, you’ll need to make sure your home meets the following criteria:

  • Class-A fire-resistant rated roof that’s clear of debris

  • Gutters and downspouts made of noncombustible material, like metal, that are clear of debris

  • Noncombustible vents or ones resistant to corrosion, ember, and fire 

  • Exterior walls with a minimum of 6 vertical inches (measured from the ground up) of noncombustible material such as brick, stone, or concrete

  • Decks and porches that are clear of debris and don’t have trees or shrubbery on them

After a wildfire, a moratorium on non-renewals may be put in place

When there’s a major wildfire, state insurance commissioners may put non-renewal moratoriums in place that forbid insurers from canceling or not renewing home insurance policies in the affected areas. Typically the moratoriums last one or two years after the fire, but can vary depending on the state and severity of the wildfire. 

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Wildfire insurance claim tips

In the event of a wildfire damage to your home and belongings, you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind when you file an insurance claim.

  • Contact your insurance company and file a claim - Once it’s been confirmed that your property was damaged by a wildfire, contact your insurer immediately. Once your claim has been filed, an insurance adjuster will stop by to assess the damage. You’ll need to provide your insurer with a “proof of loss form” with a description, date of purchase, and replacement value of each damaged item. 

  • Document everything - After the wildfire is clear of the area and it is safe to enter the premises, make sure to document the damage to your home and belongings with photos and videos before attempting to clean up or make temporary repairs.

  • Keep track of additional living expenses - If you had to flee your home due to extensive structural damage, be sure to hold onto hotel and restaurant receipts. The loss of use coverage in your home or renters insurance policies will likely reimburse you for these expenses.

  • Understand how long you have to file a claim - Most insurers will only accept claims that have been filed within a specified period of time of the loss — usually 60 days.

If your claim was denied or you received a smaller payout than what you thought was deserved, you can file an appeal with your insurance company.

References

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Policygenius uses external sources, including government data, industry studies, and reputable news organizations to supplement proprietary marketplace data and internal expertise. Learn more about how we use and vet external sources as part of our

editorial standards.
  1. Congressional Research Service

    . "

    Wildfire Statistics

    ." Accessed May 06, 2021.

  2. Verisk

    . "

    Verisk Wildfire Risk Analysis

    ." Accessed May 06, 2021.

  3. Policygenius

    . "

    Policygenius Home Insurance Pricing Report (2022)

    ." Accessed August 01, 2022.

  4. Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS)

    . "

    Wildfire Prepared Home

    ." Accessed August 11, 2022.

Authors

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

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Pat Howard is a managing editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

gray linkedin icon link

Kara McGinley is a senior 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.

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