Things to Consider for Fire Insurance in California’s High Fire Danger Areas

Last month’s fires (October 2019) throughout California marked the fourth consecutive year of catastrophic losses in the state. Annual wildfires are now the expected norm by insurance carriers, which has led to tighter, extremely conservative underwriting.

It’s important to note that following all our recommendations will not guarantee acceptance of your property. Rather, these items are intended to provide guidance that will allow you the largest pool of potential home insurance solutions. There are several companies out there willing to work with homeowners, in high fire danger areas, that are willing to demonstrate a commitment toward active preventative measures.

An example, from Rivington Partners, who Old Harbor is proud to have a great relationship with:

At Rivington Partners we underwrite each risk based on its own merit and exposure. We want to offer solutions to the insured’s that want to learn how to and are willing to protect their home.

Create Defensible Space

We cannot stress enough the importance of creating defensible fire space. This, more than anything, is the primary factor in determining whether a home will survive a wildfire. Satellite imagery is continually improving, and we expect it’ll be the first thing consulted by underwriting departments going forward. Abundant defensible space is Step 1 to improving your home insurance options.

Pictured below is a client’s home that survived the 2018 Paradise Fire. You can see the abundant space around the home that protected it as everything around it burned. This photo is taken from the site of a neighbor’s home that, unfortunately, did not fare as well.

Consider rallying your neighbors to become a Firewise Community

Several insurance carriers are beginning to try and integrate the Firewise Community database information into their underwriting systems. Becoming a Firewise Community is essentially taking defensible space to the community level. A responsible, proactive community is a safer and better risk for insurance carriers, and safer risks can equate to better acceptance and rates from them.

Display pride of ownership by keeping your home maintained and yard clear of any and all debris. Homes that are orderly and well maintained are an important metric that home insurance carriers will use as part of the underwriting process. A clean home with a well-landscaped yard demonstrates that the homeowner is willing to invest their time and/or money to keeping their home in good condition – this is exactly the homeowner carriers are looking for.

The opposite also holds true: failure to maintain and care for a property is one of the quickest ways to have your policy cancelled or non-renewed.

If you’re considering purchasing a home in a fire danger area, there are additional items to consider that will affect the home’s insurance situation:

  1. Make certain that there is a fire hydrant within 1,000 feet of the home. Water storage tanks that are common in rural areas are not an equal substitute.
  2. Confirm that there is a paid fire station within five (5) miles of the home.
  3. In Southern California, it is preferred that there be no unmanaged, extensive wildfire fuels or exposure to the Northeast. This is because fires in SoCal are typically driven by the Santa Ana winds that blow to the Southwest. Homes bordering brush to the Northeast are seen to be in the direct path of the fires.

Unfortunately, the current state of insurance in California is such that you could take all our recommend precautions, and still be forced to the California Fair Plan. If that’s the case, it’s important that you’re working with an independent agency, such as Old Harbor. Our job is to continue to monitor the ever-changing insurance market, and when a new and better option comes available, we’ll be in the position to proactively transfer your policy.

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