Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Natural Disasters?
This year has been a busy one for natural disasters. Around the United States, bad weather and bad luck have caused billions of dollars in damage. As a homeowner, you probably hear about these events and wonder: would my homeowners insurance cover me for that?
Let's look at some recent disasters and break down what your home insurance would likely cover.
Hurricanes: Wind Is Covered, Floods Are Not
Hurricanes Florence and Michael battered the eastern United States in late summer, and Hurricane Willa made landfall in October, bringing heavy rain to parts of Texas and Mexico. This makes two consecutive years of seriously damaging hurricanes, and climate scientists agree that this is our new normal.
So how can you expect your homeowners insurance to behave if you're caught in the path of a hurricane?
- Wind damage from hurricanes is typically covered. We tend to think of hurricanes in terms of water, but they’re also known for high winds. If those winds damage your property (e.g., by ripping off roof shingles), your home insurance will likely pay for necessary repairs.
- Flood damage is not covered. Homeowners insurance doesn’t offer coverage for water that comes in from outside your home. For that, you’ll need a separate flood insurance policy.
Just as important as having the right policies, though, is making sure your property is ready to withstand extreme weather. Check out our tips on prepping your home for hurricanes.
Gas Explosions: Fires Are Typically Covered
In September, several homes in Massachusetts caught fire (and a few residents died) when their gas lines exploded because pressure in the pipelines was 12 times higher than it was supposed to be.
Obviously, home insurance can’t do anything to fix the tragedy of lost life. But it can respond to other parts of this incident:
- Fire damage is typically covered. Fires are a covered peril in nearly every homeowners insurance policy, so homeowners can likely make a claim to repair any damage caused by fires the explosions sparked.
- Loss of use is usually covered. In cases where a home becomes uninhabitable because of a covered peril, homeowners insurance can typically pay for the residents to live somewhere else until their home is livable again. In the case of the gas explosions, thousands of residents had their gas turned off while the gas company made repairs – meaning no heat, hot water, or cooking gas. Most residents have reportedly opted to live elsewhere, especially as the winter approaches.
In this situation, the gas company is apparently paying for some of these costs (including, in some cases, temporary housing). Regardless of the details of the incident, though, an insurance provider may attempt to recover some expenses from a responsible party (like the gas company), if there is one.
Volcano Eruptions: Lava Isn't Covered
In May, a volcano in Hawaii erupted, wiping out roads and entire communities in its wake. But the residents affected by the spewing lava are still living with the consequences. Here’s what their home insurance likely did and did not cover:
- Fires and ash-related damage may be covered. Again, fires are a covered peril in most policies, even if they’re started by a volcano. So a typical policy may pay for damage related to a volcano-ignited fire. It may also pay for removal of ash, which can gather in homes near an eruption.
- Lava flow and other “earth movements” are not covered. Typical homeowners policies exclude “earth movement,” which is often interpreted as earthquakes, but also includes mudflow and lava flow.
If you live in an area with active volcanoes, contact your insurance provider about additional coverage that would protect you in the event of an eruption.
Wildfires and Mudslides: It Really Depends
As of October, wildfires had burned more than eight million acres of land in the United States in 2018, and that number is even higher now due to the latest wildfires in California. While homeowners insurance usually covers damage from fires, some homeowners in wildfire-heavy areas may not have this coverage (or may pay a high premium for it). Check your policy when in doubt.
Also worth noting: Mudslides common in some parts of the country are usually not covered. As with volcanoes, homeowners at risk for “earth movement” may want to seek alternate coverage or invest in infrastructure that could help prevent damage.
Protecting Your Home in a Disaster
One of the worst feelings a homeowner can have is finding out that damage to their home is not covered by their policy. Protecting your home starts with understanding the ins and outs of your policy – and shoring it up with additional insurance, if necessary.
And then there’s the importance of prevention: even the best insurance in the world can’t prevent bad things from happening – and in the case of natural disasters, neither can you. But you can take steps today to make your home safer and more resilient for the events most likely to affect you.