Homeowners insurance typically can cover several types of natural disasters (also called acts of God), including windstorms, fires, and hail. However, whether or not your policy covers a disaster often depends the circumstances surrounding the event. This means homeowners need to know which disasters are covered by home insurance so they're prepared if the worst case scenario actually happens. Let's look at some recent disasters and break down what your home insurance would likely cover.
Does homeowners insurance cover hurricanes?
Experts generally agree that climate change is creating more intense hurricanes that move slower. As a result, storms are having a greater impact and causing more damage. 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 likely pays 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 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 when their gas lines exploded because pressure in the pipelines was 12 times higher than it was supposed to be.
Obviously, insurance can’t do anything to fix the tragedy of lost lives. But your homeowners policy typically covers some parts of this type of disaster:
- Fire damage is typically covered. Fires are a covered peril in nearly every home 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 typically pays for living costs that go beyond your normal expenses. 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 can 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 this kind of disaster, some homeowners in wildfire-heavy areas may not have be covered (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.