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Earthquake Insurance Basics

Home insurance doesn’t cover earthquake damage. Read on to find out what earthquake insurance is and if you need it.

Homes damaged by earthquake

If your home is damaged by an earthquake, home insurance doesn’t cover it. You need earthquake insurance – a separate policy – to cover your home, belongings, and living expenses after a quake. Whether or not earthquake insurance is worth it to you is based on a few different factors, such as where you live and the home’s value and age. This article covers:

What is Earthquake Insurance?

Earthquake insurance is a policy or endorsement that covers your property from earthquake damage. It’s completely separate from a homeowners insurance policy. While home insurance covers many perils, earthquakes are not one of them. Earthquake insurance fills this coverage gap. It covers the house’s structure, your personal property in the house, and additional living expenses after an earthquake.

What Does Earthquake Insurance Cover?

Earthquake insurance covers three main elements if your home is damaged in a quake:

  1. The house itself
  2. Your personal belongings in the house
  3. Relocation and living expenses should the house be rendered unlivable

Dwelling/Structure

Earthquake insurance for the dwelling portion covers damages to the structure itself. If the walls, ceiling, or the foundation shift and crack after a quake, earthquake insurance would cover repairs. Attached structures such as a shed or garage can be covered as well.

Personal Belongings

The content coverage portion of earthquake insurance covers damages to your belongings. That includes as clothing, furniture, electronics, and other possessions within the home. Fragile or expensive items may only be covered with optional coverage.

Additional Living Expenses

If your house is unlivable due to damage caused by a quake, earthquake insurance can provide additional living expenses (ALE). This covers some of your day to day expenses while your house is repaired or replaced. ALE coverage can include temporary housing, moving and storage, food, transportation, and laundry. The limit set on ALE coverage by earthquake insurers is closely regulated. ALE dollar amount limits can be downward of $1,500.

Earthquake Insurance Exclusions

In order to keep earthquake insurance premiums affordable, there are coverage exclusions. Earthquakes can cause secondary disasters like landslides, fire, floods, and tsunamis. But earthquake insurance only covers damage directly from a quake.

That doesn’t mean those other disasters aren’t covered by insurance. Fires after a quake can be covered by homeowners insurance. You can get coverage against external water, flood, or tsunami damage through separate flood insurance. Landslide insurance is available as a rider to your homeowners insurance.

Additional earthquake insurance exclusions include:

  • Pools
  • Fences
  • Sinkholes
  • Damage from a previous earthquake
  • Cars

Do I Need Earthquake Insurance?

Whether you need earthquake insurance depends on the risk of earthquakes where you live. Chris Long of Longevity Insurance Brokers says, “Earthquake insurance is worth it for anyone that has a moderate to high risk of earthquakes. I recommend anyone who is in a yellow area or worse on the simplified USGS Hazard Map to get at least a basic earthquake policy.”

Getting earthquake coverage is a must in areas where earthquakes are a threat. According to the USGS, states with a risk of earthquake include:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Earthquake insurance isn’t required by state law anywhere in the US. But you should certainly consider it if you live in an earthquake-prone state.

How Much Does Earthquake Insurance Cost?

The cost of earthquake insurance depends on multiple factors. The location of your home is the biggest influence on how much you pay for quake coverage.

California has some of the highest risks of earthquake activity in the country. They also have some of the highest earthquake insurance rates. The average yearly rate for earthquake insurance in California is anywhere between $2.50 to $5.50 per $1,000 of quake coverage. That price can jump up to $15 per $1,000 of coverage for a brick home. So, if you want $300,000 worth of earthquake coverage for your California home, it may cost between $750 to $1,750 a year, or up to $4,500 for a brick home.

The average yearly premium in other states with less chance of an earthquake can be as low as 50 cents per $1,000 of quake coverage. Buying $300,000 of quake coverage can cost as little as $150 a year in those states.

Another factor is your house. Older houses likely weren’t built with earthquakes in mind. Construction materials and quality can also hurt premiums -- a brick house is at a much higher risk of collapse during an earthquake. And whether your home was retrofitted to reduce earthquake damage will also influence your rates.

The material under your house’s foundation plays a role in rates as well. If the house is built on fill, you could see higher earthquake insurance premiums than if it the foundation was bedrock.

Earthquake Insurance Deductibles

Your earthquake insurance deductible is the dollar amount that comes from your pocket before your earthquake insurance covers damages. It’s based on a set percentage of your earthquake coverage limit, and they’re different for dwelling coverage and content coverage:

Dwelling coverage deductible

The deductible for earthquake dwelling coverage is usually set between 10 and 15 percent of the policy limit. Some states may have lower than average deductible percentages for dwelling limits.

For example, consider an earthquake insurance policy with $350,000 dwelling coverage and a 15% deductible. It requires a $52,500 deductible before the earthquake insurer covers the rest.

Content coverage deductible

Earthquake insurance coverage usually has a set limit on content coverage. It often starts at $5,000, but you can pay to increase the limit to upwards of $200,000. Some items like fine china, crystal, and other fragile valuables are not covered under basic earthquake insurance. But you can get coverage with add-on breakables coverage.

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