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Does Home Insurance Cover Natural Disasters? How To Prepare For Perils

8-Minute Read
Published on March 24, 2022
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Lions, tigers and bears may not live in your neck of the woods, but your home could be at risk of tornado, fire or flood damage. Whether you’ve purchased your first home or you’re ready to upgrade your coverage, you may wonder, “Does home insurance cover natural disasters?” while comparing quotes.

Basic home insurance typically covers a number of natural disasters, or perils, including:

 

Most common perils are covered, but you’ll need additional coverage to protect against events like floods or earthquakes. If you’re not sure what your insurance covers, we’ll go over which hazards are covered under homeowners insurance and tips to stay safe in an emergency.

You can also check out the most common disasters by state and their risk level1 and adjust your policy as necessary to sleep easy at night.

An illustration of the United States shows which states have low, moderate and high risk of natural disasters.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes are common in the spring and fall and can occur in all 50 states. An average of 1,2002 tornadoes hit the U.S. each year, and luckily your homeowners insurance will cover the damage.

Both your home and personal belongings are covered by homeowners insurance in the event of a tornado. That includes wind, rain and debris damage. You’re covered up to your policy’s coverage limit, so consider a larger policy if you live in a tornado-prone area.

While rain damage during a tornado is covered, flood damage isn’t included unless you have flood insurance.

Hurricanes

Home insurance covers wind damage from hurricanes throughout the U.S. Policyholders in hurricane-prone areas may need to pay a deductible for hurricane and wind damage before the insurance policy kicks in.

Hurricane coverage doesn’t cover water damage from flooding, so policyholders should consider flood coverage and additional wind coverage if hurricanes are likely. Given the record-setting 2020 and 2021 hurricane seasons,3 additional coverage may be a good idea for high-risk homeowners.

Policies are often subject to moratoriums that prevent policy updates during the storm season or after a storm has been named. Ensure you have adequate coverage before storm season arrives.

Your policy will specify if it covers dwellings, personal property or additional living expenses.

Fire

Fire damage is covered by home insurance, including accidental fires and fires started by natural disasters. However, damage from intentional fires or those caused by gross negligence is excluded from your policy’s coverage.

Most home insurance policies will pay out for dwelling, personal property, liability and additional living expenses. Read your policy to determine what’s covered and ensure the coverage limit is large enough to cover your entire home and personal property.

Firefighters responded to 1.4 million U.S. fires in 2020,4 which caused $21.9 billion in property damages. Twenty-six percent of these fires occurred in residential homes, so fire prevention should be a top priority in your home.

Lightning

A standard homeowners insurance policy will cover lightning strikes, as well as resulting fire that may damage your home or personal belongings. There are three ways lightning may damage your property, and your insurance company may treat each a little differently.

 

  • Direct strikes: Lightning that strikes or enters your home causes the most damage and is the easiest to resolve with your insurance company.
  • Near miss: When a lightning strike misses your home but causes damage, you’re covered through insurance. However, the insurance company must determine that the damage is from lightning and not another electrical source, like a blown transformer.
  • Ground surge: This is a spike of electricity caused by lightning and is the most frequent lightning-related claim. Similar to a near miss strike, it can be difficult to prove and receive your payout.

 

The Insurance Information Institute recorded 71,551 lightning-related insurance claims in 2020.5 Lightning is a common peril in summer storms, but your basic home insurance should adequately cover storm damage.

Extreme Cold

Generally, home insurance covers dwelling, personal property and liability claims in all of the following situations:

 

Frozen pipes that burst can cause significant water damage to your home and property. While these incidents are generally covered by home insurance, they’re often preventable claims. If the insurance company determines that a lack of maintenance caused the pipe to freeze, they may not cover damages.

Snow and ice accumulation is bad news for your roof and gutters, but is often covered by basic homeowners insurance policies. Similar to other natural disasters, flood associated with snow and ice damage won’t be covered unless you’ve purchased additional coverage.

A fall on ice is never fun, but you’re protected from lawsuits should a guest slip and fall up to your coverage limit. If medical expenses or other claims exceed your coverage limit, you may be vulnerable to a lawsuit.

If you live in a cold weather climate, home maintenance is a must to protect your property. Should you still experience a natural peril after all due maintenance, home insurance should protect you.

Explosion

Home explosions are unlikely, but your home, personal property and additional living expenses are all covered in the event of explosion damage.

Explosions may occur in the home as a result of a gas leak, or damage may come from a nearby explosion from another home, business or other structure. As long as the explosion isn’t purposeful or illegal, you’re covered.

Volcanoes

There are 161 potentially active volcanoes6 in the U.S., mostly found in Hawaii, Alaska and along the West Coast. Still, volcanic activity is relatively uncommon in the states. Washington’s Mount St. Helens was the most destructive eruption in U.S. history, which occurred in 1980.

While you may not be in direct danger elsewhere, ash and debris can travel long distances. The good news is that your homeowners insurance has you covered.

Volcanic eruptions can cause damage through fire, ash, debris, shockwaves and lava flow. Your insurance will pay out for damages caused by any of these volcanic effects.

Volcanic eruptions can trigger other natural disasters, like mudslides and earthquakes. Damage from these events isn’t covered under basic homeowners insurance plans, but you can add coverage to protect your property from ground movements.

What Disasters Aren’t Covered By Home Insurance?

Not all natural disasters are covered by basic homeowners insurance. If a peril causes other events to occur, like heavy rains in a thunderstorm may cause floods, your property likely isn’t covered by these additional disasters.

If you live in an area with a high risk of experiencing any of these events, consider investing in additional insurance protection.

Floods

Spring showers, infrastructure damage, melting snow and many other common events can cause flooding. While the initial event that caused a flood may be covered by your insurance, flood and water damage probably isn’t included unless you have flood insurance.

An illustration of a house in water says "one inch of floodwater can cause $25,000 in damage."

If you live near a river or in lowlands that are at a higher risk of experiencing flooding, flood insurance is highly recommended to protect your property. Maintaining your home, yard and foundation can also help prevent water damage.7

Even inland properties are at risk of flood damage. Consider if your location receives heavy precipitation or is at risk for other disasters, like hurricanes or freezing temperatures, that could cause flooding.

Know that there’s a 30-day waiting period before flood coverage begins, so don’t wait until it’s too late to alter your home insurance policy. Mudslides and other events caused by flooding may also be covered in a flood policy.

Earthquakes and Landslides

Ground shifts, including earthquakes and landslides, are generally not covered by basic homeowners insurance policies. Protections can be added with a difference in conditions policy, which includes protections from:

  • Earthquakes
  • Landslides
  • Mudslides
  • Floods

 

Earthquake coverage is also provided through government programs like the California Earthquake Authority to serve residents in high-risk locations. If you live near a fault line or other high-risk area, consult your insurance provider to see what policy options are available.

Sinkholes

Sinkholes are another type of ground movement that isn’t included in basic homeowners insurance. These ground depressions can cause significant damage to land and home.

They’re pretty uncommon throughout the U.S. and have a 1 in 100 chance of forming each year.8 Sinkholes are particularly common in parts of the Southern U.S.

Insurance for sinkholes must be purchased in addition to your basic policy. Florida and Tennessee require insurers to offer sinkhole coverage.

Tsunamis

Tsunamis are huge waves caused by earthquakes that cause extensive damage and flooding. The tsunami itself isn’t covered by basic homeowners insurance. However, flood insurance will cover damage from tsunami floods.

Earthquake insurance doesn’t protect you against tsunami damage, though areas with a high tsunami risk often have a high chance of experiencing an earthquake, too. Areas like Hawaii that may experience a tsunami should consider both flood and earthquake coverage.

Emergency Preparedness In High-Risk Areas

Disaster preparedness is your best bet against serious injury or loss in the event of a natural disaster. While everyone should have an emergency plan in place, those living in high-risk areas should take extra precautions for their home and family.

Americans can review the FEMA risk index to learn about common hazards in their state. Next, prepare an emergency kit and make a plan to stay safe in the event of a disaster.

An illustrated list of emergency kit must-haves, including a first-aid kit, flashlight, bottled water, communication plan, map and non-perishable food.

Build An Emergency Kit

An emergency kit should provide everything you need to survive several days without aid. This includes basics like food and water, as well as first aid and safety gear.

Here’s a complete list from Ready.gov to prepare a basic emergency kit:

  • Water (one gallon per person, per day)
  • Nonperishable food
  • Cell phone and backup charger
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Batteries
  • Whistle
  • Dust mask
  • Plastic sheet and duct tape (shelter)
  • Personal sanitation (moist towelettes, garbage bags, etc.)
  • Wrench or pliers
  • Can opener
  • Local map
  • Personal medications

 

Once you’ve assembled your emergency kit, place everything in weatherproof bags in a secure and easy-to-access location. Make sure all of your family members know where to access the kit.

Check for expired items and update necessary items to maintain your kit each year. It’s a good idea to create an emergency kit for your car and work, too.

Plan For Disaster

When disaster strikes, it can be difficult to make quick decisions and determine next steps in the stress of the moment. Creating a detailed plan or emergency binder can save time when every second counts to keep your family safe.

A basic emergency plan should include:

  • A source for emergency alerts
  • A list of safe locations
  • Important contact information
  • Evacuation plans
  • Emergency kit details

 

It’s important to customize your emergency plan considering your family’s needs. A family with young children will need to account for specialized food and shelter needs. Meanwhile, a person with a disability and their partner would need to find an accessible evacuation route.

Talk with your friends and family about your emergency plan, but don’t forget to write it down. Start with this emergency checklist printable and create a binder that’s easily accessible by everyone in your family.

A mockup photo shows a printable emergency checklist with contact information.

You can’t always avoid disaster, but you can prepare to protect your family and home. Home insurance does cover a majority of natural disasters, but you’ll want extra coverage if your property is prone to flooding, ground movements or other uncovered perils.

Learn more about home buying and homeowner expenses like home insurance, HOA fees and private mortgage insurance today.