Your Earthquake Insurance Questions, Answered

house-in-aftermath-of-earthquake

When the pots and pans on your shelves begin to rattle — but you’re not the one rattling them — that can be pretty unsettling. Even if you don’t live near a fault, earthquakes can happen, and you should make sure that your home’s covered. 

It takes a little extra legwork to protect your home against earthquakes because standard home insurance policies do not cover them. However, like other types of catastrophe insurance, earthquake insurance is often well worth it, especially if your home’s on the older side or you live in an area prone to earthquakes. Let’s explore how to buy it, what it covers and if it’s right for you.  

Key takeaway:

  • Standard home insurance policies don’t cover earthquakes. You’ll need to purchase a rider (add-on) or a separate earthquake insurance policy. 

What is earthquake insurance?

We’ve already seen that earthquake insurance isn’t something that comes standard in your home insurance policy. Instead, you can add earthquake coverage to your current policy through what’s known as a rider or an endorsement. Alternatively, you can purchase a separate earthquake insurance policy altogether. (Note: in some high-risk areas close to fault lines, your mortgage lender might require you to buy earthquake insurance.) 

What does earthquake insurance cover?

Typical earthquake insurance policies cover damage from volcanoes, earthquakes and aftershocks if they occur within a given period (usually 72 hours). Here’s a closer look at what’s covered: 

  • Home repair or replacement (dwelling coverage): This includes coverage for damages to your walkways and driveways that prevent you from safely accessing your home. Depending on your policy, you may also be covered for damages to other structures on your property like garages, sheds and fences. 
  • Personal belongings (personal property coverage): Earthquake insurance will reimburse you for repairing or replacing your personal belongings up to a certain limit. There are also usually additional limits on how much your policy will pay out for valuable items like jewelry and electronics.
  • Living somewhere else temporarily (additional living expense coverage): If you can’t live in your home because an earthquake damaged it, your policy will help you to maintain your quality of life somewhere else by paying for hotels, food and other expenses. 
  • Other coverage: Earthquake insurance also typically covers the cost of upgrades to your home to comply with new building codes, changes to your land to make your home more stable and other repairs to protect your home from residual tremors. 

What doesn’t earthquake insurance cover?

Earthquake insurance doesn’t cover floods or sinkholes. That means that, even if an earthquake leads to a flood or a sinkhole that damages your home’s structure, your earthquake insurance won’t pay for it. You’ll need separate flood and sinkhole insurance policies. 

Similarly, earthquake insurance doesn’t cover fire damage, but luckily your homeowners insurance policy does. (Still a bit confused? Learn more about exactly what homeowners insurance covers.) 

Other structures on your property like garages, fences and sheds might not be covered by earthquake insurance either. If your home is made of brick, stone or clay, you might need to purchase additional coverage since these materials are rigid and particularly susceptible to earthquake damage. 
 

Earthquake insurance pays to repair or replace your home and personal belongings and covers hotel and food costs if you can’t live in your home. It doesn’t cover floods, sinkholes, fires or damage to your home’s masonry.

Is earthquake insurance worth it?

Earthquake insurance is well worth it (and sometimes even required by mortgage lenders) if you live close to faults where earthquakes are common (places like California, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Nevada — shaded in dark green in the U.S. Geological Survey map below). It can also be worth it in places like Texas and Oklahoma, where earthquakes caused by fracking sometimes occur. 

map-showing-earthquake-frequency-US
 

Strong earthquakes near faults could cause severe damage to your home and personal belongings — especially if your home’s on the older side — so you should invest in earthquake insurance if you live in these areas. 

Even if you live far away from faults, you should still consider earthquake insurance. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that nearly half of Americans are at risk of earthquake damage. As a good rule of thumb, review if you have enough savings to fully rebuild your home, replace your personal belongings and live somewhere else comfortably while your home’s being revamped. If not, earthquake insurance could be a good investment. 

It’s crucial to buy earthquake insurance before one happens. If you experience a severe earthquake and try to buy a policy to protect your home from the aftershocks, you could be shut out. That’s because many insurance companies temporarily stop selling these policies following a severe quake — usually for a couple of months. 

What does earthquake insurance cost?

The cost of earthquake insurance depends on many factors: your state and ZIP code; how close you live to seismic activity; your home’s age, size and building materials; and the type of soil on your property. 

A typical earthquake insurance policy in an average-risk area might cost about $300 per year. In a high-risk area, it might cost $1,000–$2,000 per year. In general, you should expect to pay more if you live close to a fault line and if your home is on the older side. 

Understanding earthquake deductibles

It’s common to have a fixed deductible on your home insurance policy of $1,000. That means that you’re responsible for paying $1,000 before your insurance company will reimburse you for damages to your home. Earthquake deductibles, on the other hand, tend to be much higher. 

They can range from 5–25% of the insured value of your home. For example, let’s say your home’s insured for $250,000, you have a 20% deductible and an earthquake causes $60,000 of damage. That means you’re responsible for paying $50,000 out of pocket before your insurance provider will pay the additional $10,000. 
 

Earthquake insurance deductibles tend to range from 5–25% of your home’s insured value.

How can I protect my home from earthquakes?

Especially if you live in an older home, you might see about retrofitting your home. Retrofitting often includes bolting your home to its foundation, bracing cripple walls and reinforcing your chimneys and masonry walls. (FYI: the California Earthquake Authority provides discounts to homeowners who retrofit their older homes.) 

You should also familiarize yourself with safe spots in your home that are away from windows and tall pieces of furniture, and place any breakable or heavy items on lower cabinet shelves. Check out our emergency preparedness checklists for full rundowns of what you should do to prepare your home for different types of emergencies. 

If you’re surprised that standard home insurance policies don’t cover earthquakes and floods — and many homeowners are — you might also be shocked that sewer backups, sinkholes and some mold problems aren’t typically covered either. 

We’re proud to offer water backup coverage and other unique coverage options standard in our policies. We also provide separate earthquake and flood insurance policies through our partners Palomar and Neptune Flood. Our friendly Hippos are here to help you figure out what standard home insurance policies include and what additional coverage you might need. See how easy it is to buy a policy online in as little as five minutes and save 25% on your premiums through Hippo