earthquake insurance

Earthquake Insurance for California

“Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes every year.”
– US Geological Survey

If you’re a California homeowner, there’s probably a small portion of your brain fully dedicated to thinking about earthquakes. (Was that a big truck rumbling by on the highway… or an earthquake? Did someone put sneakers in the dryer… or is that an earthquake?)

One way to manage the losses you might experience because of earthquakes is to purchase earthquake insurance. Here’s a high-level view of what you need to know about this kind of coverage if you own a home in California.

What Is Earthquake Insurance?

Earthquake insurance covers the expenses associated with earthquake damage. To get earthquake insurance in California, you must already have standard homeowners insurance. 

If you have homeowners insurance and live in California, your carrier is required by law to offer to sell you earthquake insurance every two years. But the offer may be easy to miss: insurance companies must send it in the mail. To get coverage, you have to respond within 30 days of receiving the offer. If you make no reply, that’s the same as declining coverage.

Some insurers may offer very limited coverage from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a nonprofit organization designed to help Californians get earthquake coverage. Homeowners can’t buy insurance directly from the CEA; instead, they buy through their homeowners insurance provider, assuming that that provider is a member of the CEA.

In our case, we partner with GeoVera Insurance to offer more comprehensive earthquake coverage. They are rated “A” (Excellent) by A.M. Best.

What Does Earthquake Insurance Cover?

GeoVera’s earthquake insurance comes as either a comprehensive or standard policy. It includes the coverage types outlined below.

Type of Coverage What It Covers Coverage Limit Deductibles
Dwelling Coverage (aka Coverage A) Repairs to and reconstruction of your home itself, up to the limit established by your policy Up to policy limits 10% to 25%
Other Structures (aka Coverage B) Repairs to detached structures, like garages, satellite dishes, greenhouses, etc. Up to policy limits (the standard policy excludes this coverage) 10% to 25%
Personal Property Coverage (aka Coverage C) Repairs to and replacement of personal property damaged by the earthquake, up to your policy limit Up to policy limits, though some items, like art and silverware, have a separate max limit of $3,000 10% to 25%
Additional Living Expenses (aka Coverage D) The temporary costs associated with living in an apartment, hotel, or home while your primary home is being repaired Up to 12 months if you have the comprehensive plan; $1,500 maximum for the standard policy None
Engineering & Demolition Costs The extra costs of demolition and removing damaged materials Up to 5% of your policy limit 10% to 25%
Building Code Upgrade The extra cost of bringing your home up to current building codes $10,000 10% to 25%
Loss Assessment Fees for shared repairs if you belong to a homeowners association 20% of the policy limit 10% to 25%
Debris Removal The cost of removing debris Up to policy limit (may be subject to 5% sublimit) 10% to 25%

Earthquake insurance can also cover damage to pools, fences, detached walkways and patios, retaining walls, and chimneys, fireplaces, and masonry veneers. These coverages have special limits in the comprehensive policy and may not be available in the standard policy.

Broadly, earthquake insurance is designed to help you get back in your house as quickly as possible. Because earthquakes are super destructive, the suggested policy limits are usually pretty high.

What Doesn’t Earthquake Insurance Cover?

Typical earthquake insurance policies don’t offer coverage for:

  • Fire damage. This is covered by your homeowners insurance policy. In fact, most homeowners insurance policies even cover fires caused by earthquakes, though they provide no other earthquake-related coverage.
  • Land damage. Earthquake insurance doesn’t cover landslides, mudslides, mudflow, or sinkholes.
  • Damage to vehicles. Earthquake insurance doesn’t cover damage to your car – that’s a job for your auto policy. Ask your insurer about it.
  • Flood damage. Damage from surges and storms is only covered by flood insurance.

Who Needs Earthquake Insurance?

There is no law requiring California homeowners to carry earthquake insurance, but if you live in a high-risk area for earthquakes, purchasing this coverage is probably a good idea.

How can you determine whether you live in a high-risk area? FEMA outlines three factors that contribute to earthquake exposure:

  1. Seismic hazard level: How likely is the ground to shake where you live? If you’re not sure what your seismic hazard level is, take a look at FEMA’s earthquake hazard maps.
  2. Exposure: What’s the population and building density around you? The greater the density, the higher your risk. The more potential there is for materials to shake loose, the more potential there is for those materials to damage your home and your stuff.
  3. Vulnerability: How well built are the buildings and structures around you? Generally, newer buildings tend to be built to stricter earthquake codes than older buildings, making them more secure in the event of a quake.

That said, in California, everyone faces some degree of earthquake risk. To get an idea of whether or not you should buy this coverage, the California Department of Insurance recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • Can you afford earthquake insurance? (More on costs below.)
  • Can you afford to rebuild your home after an earthquake?
  • Can you afford additional housing expenses if an earthquake makes your home unlivable?
  • Can you afford your mortgage and property taxes in addition to a second place to live?

The takeaway: earthquake insurance may be expensive, but it’s almost certainly less expensive than rebuilding after an earthquake without insurance.

How Much Does Earthquake Insurance Cost?

The average cost of earthquake insurance in the US is $800 a year, but that cost varies based on your situation. Your location in the state, how much your house would cost to rebuild, the type of construction used to build your house, the specific coverage types you choose, and the deductible you choose all impact your rate.

It’s possible to save money on premiums by choosing a higher deductible, but remember that you will ultimately be responsible for paying that deductible in order to access your rebuilding benefits.

Another way to save on earthquake insurance costs is to retrofit your home so that it’s more likely to survive an earthquake. Even older homes can benefit from retrofitting.

The best way to know what your coverage will cost is to get a quote.

How to Manage Your Risk of Earthquake Damage

Earthquake insurance, like any insurance, is a way to help you recover losses when things go wrong. California homeowners can also take steps to minimize the damage that occurs when an earthquake strikes. These include the following:

  • Retrofit as much as possible, if your home was not built to current earthquake codes.
  • Secure breakable items in your house to reduce their likelihood of breaking during a trembler (museum putty tends to work well here).
  • Latch china cabinets.
  • Bolt tall furniture to wall studs.
  • Secure expensive electronics (including TVs and stereo systems).

Not sure where to start? Take a trip to your local hardware store and ask the employees how to make your home safer in the event of an earthquake. They will likely have both the expertise and the actual products you’ll need.

Other Considerations for California Homeowners

Earthquakes aren’t the only natural disaster California homeowners have to worry about. To get a full idea of how to protect your home, read up on how to afford wildfire insurance as a California resident, the basics of flood insurance, and how to insure your pets.

Earthquake Facts

  • Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes every year.
  • There are 500 active faults in California.
  • There's no way to stop an earthquake – you just have to be prepared for them.

 

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