Whether they shake, rattle, or roll—a little or a lot—earthquakes can cause major damage to your home and your belongings inside. Even a relatively small quake could crack the foundation, topple furniture, or do far greater destruction. If you live in the West, you probably already know all that. But would it surprise you to learn that most homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage? Because they don’t. To protect your property, you’ll want to purchase an add-on or standalone earthquake policy.

 

What is Earthquake Insurance?

You might expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to swoop in and solve your problems after an earthquake, but that’s not really how FEMA works. The feds focus on meeting people’s immediate needs following a natural disaster, such as providing medical care, food, and clothing. As the agency informed victims of a major earthquake in Alaska: “Insurance is always the first line of defense when a disaster causes damage to your home and personal property, and by law, FEMA cannot duplicate insurance or other benefits.” You may apply for federal grants or loans after a quake, but repairing or rebuilding your home, and replacing any damaged belongings, is your responsibility.

How Does Earthquake Insurance Work?

Earthquake insurance offers three main types of coverage:

Dwelling coverage

This coverage helps pay for physical or structural damage to your home. Earthquake insurance carries a deductible, usually ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent of your home’s replacement value.

For example, if your policy has a 5 percent deductible and it will cost $400,000 to rebuild your home, you’d be responsible for paying the first $20,000 of the work. Your state may require a minimum deductible.

Personal property coverage

This coverage helps protect your belongings, such as furniture and electronics. Depending on your policy, your deductible may be included under your dwelling coverage, but this coverage has its own limit, typically $5,000 to $200,000.

As with renters or homeowners insurance, remember to create and regularly update a home inventory. That way, if disaster strikes, it will be easier to submit a claim.

Additional living expenses coverage

Also called “loss of use”, this takes care of certain living expenses if you need to find a new home or relocate while your home is being repaired.

Your policy may cover costs such as rent for a temporary apartment or furniture—and maybe even laundry. This type of coverage has limits typically ranging from $1,500 to $100,000, but no deductible.

How Much Does Earthquake Insurance Cost?

Your total earthquake insurance premium will depend on various factors, including your home’s location and age. If you live in a state at risk for earthquakes or if your home is near an earthquake fault line or an area with higher seismic activity, your rates and deductibles will be higher. Similarly, an older house usually costs more to insure than a newer one, in part due to materials. (While brick buildings walls seem hardy, wood-frame structures are better at withstanding earthquakes.)

AAA earthquake insurance is available to renters and homeowners in California. The average policy costs approximately $850 per year.

What Does—and Doesn’t—Earthquake Insurance Cover?

 

The best earthquake insurance policies usually cover:

  • Repairs to your home and its attached structures, such as a garage. This includes cracks in the walls and ceilings, as well as damage to the foundation.

  • Recovery or replacement of personal belongings, including damaged furnishings and clothing.

  • Extra living expenses you accrue if you need to vacate your home, such as hotel bills.

 

Even the best earthquake insurance policies usually don’t cover:

  • Fire damage from a blaze caused by an earthquake. Fire damage is covered by your homeowners policy.

  • Flood damage from a flood caused by an earthquake. A flood insurance policy covers this type of damage.

  • Sinkhole damage caused by an earthquake. A separate sinkhole covers this type of damage.

  • Damage to masonry, such as brick, stone, or rock on your home’s exterior.

  • Damage to vehicles. The comprehensive coverage you have as part of your auto insurance pays for vehicle damage.

an earthquake seismograph measuring a recent california quake

Be Earthquake Savvy

California and Alaska are hotspots of earthquake activity. The U.S. Geologic Survey estimates that a major quake on the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area could destroy up to 50,000 single-family homes and cause as many as 5,000 buildings to collapse. But earthquakes happen all over the West. Visit FEMA’s website to check out earthquake hazard maps and assess your risk.

Are you prepared for an earthquake? Play AAA’s Road to Ready game online to boost your knowledge, create a family communication plan, and put together a disaster preparedness kit.

Call a AAA agent at 844-810-6078 to learn how AAA Home Insurance can help you protect your home and the people inside.
 

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