Mar 10

Insurance and Disasters


Insurance and Disasters
Written by Bill Barksdale

As fire and hurricane (thank goodness we don’t have those) season arrive, it’s time to look at your insurance and what it will require of you to get coverage and collect if you need to.  In a conversation with one insurance broker, I was advised that his company is requiring a 100-300 foot clearance of brush and flammable vegetation from the house in many cases.  Big trees should be trimmed up.  Without that clearance a home owner many not get insurance or may get their insurance cancelled with his company.

His company is not alone.  Many insurers are twitchy about risk these days after the huge hit they took with the Katrina storm, even though they’ve had a record-breaking year of profits.  (Yes, we need insurance reform.)  Getting insurance in Florida and other hurricane-prone areas is not an easy task these days.  Getting insurance in some of our Mendocino County woodlands areas has been a challenge for years from some insurers.

As more homes are built in woodlands areas where wildfire is a risk, insurers are using services like Google Earth to get satellite photos of properties.  They are looking to see if the property has vegetation too close to be a reasonable risk, in their opinion.  If you get a notice of pending cancellation of your homeowner’s policy, you may or may not be given time to clear the vegetation away and make other required modifications, so start now.

It’s almost impossible to get insurance in a woodlands area anymore if you have a wood shake roof.  Even if wood shakes were not an insurance issue, you should have a more fire resistant roof than that around here.  Fiber glass shingles are common and are a much better choice.  Some people can afford tile or other materials.  If you use metal roofing, be sure that you ask the manufacturer what to put under the metal roofing material to disburse heat so a burning limb doesn’t heat through the thin metal and set your roof framing on fire.  You may want an underlayment even with a regular roof.

One insurance broker told me that homes sided with cement siding like HardiPlank, are more likely to be insurable.  Other things insurers sometimes want include: enclosed exterior roof overhangs (make sure they are properly vented to discourage fungus growth), no more than 10 miles from a fire department, no claims in the last 3 years, being within 1000 feet of a fire hydrant, fuel tanks well away from the house and in more remote areas having a water storage tank on the property for emergency firefighting water supply.  Some companies discourage wooden decks, although I am not aware of anyone making this a requirement.  Even if these things are not required, you will sometimes get a discounted rate for having them.

There used to be a company in Oregon called FireBreak Systems that sold various types of systems to spray fire retardant on your house, like the stuff the CDF uses in it’s fire bombers.  They may still be around.  Try the internet.  There are companies that make paint additives, wood sprays and fabric sprays that will add a fire resistant protective shield to your paint job, untreated wood and draperies.  I bought some from a company I located on the net.  Try searches like “fire resistant paint”.  Maybe local paint stores carry such products.  Ask them.

Other ways to make your home more fire resistant are dual or triple pane windows and shutters.  Shutters are almost required in hurricane areas, but in wildfire areas shutters can also help to deflect heat & fire, especially if they are treated with a fire retardant or have cement board or cement-type siding on them.   As I mentioned in a previous article on fire safety, it’s also important to keep shrubs and flammable vegetation away from the house.  If you don’t have a copy of that article, call me and I’ll mail you one.

Anytime you make improvements to your home that make it more firesafe like a new roof or fire resistant siding, call your insurance agent to let them know.  You may get a discount on your insurance rate.

In 1968 the California Legislature created an insurance plan called the California FAIR Plan (California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements) which is known as an “insurer of last resort”.  This coverage does not include liability or burglary coverage and may have other limitations.  Read your policy carefully for what is covered.   You have to be rejected by three insurers to be eligible.   Although the premiums will be higher, they will get you insurance in most cases.  It may take a while to process the application so allow for that if you need this type of help.  Ask your insurance broker if they can help you get FAIR Plan coverage if you need it.  You will need to get additional coverage for non-covered elements.

As with any kind of insurance, make sure you know policy conditions, what is covered and what the dollar limits are.  Make sure your home owners insurance has enough coverage to rebuild your house and includes things like “code upgrades”.  You will normally want at least $175.00 per square foot of living space coverage in our area, plus garage and outbuilding coverage.  I didn’t even mention earthquake coverage.  Ask your insurance broker about this.  If your home is in an Earthquake Fault Zone or Seismic Hazard Zone, you will likely want this coverage.  And remember, if your home is destroyed or damaged you will need documentation of its contents in the form of photos, videos, lists, receipts etc to get reimbursed.  Keep this documentation someplace other than your house.  Talk with your insurance professional to get the full scoop.  Cover your asset!  It may be your nest egg.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Bill Barksdale: I have been selling real estate in the Willits/Mendocino Co. market for over 18 years. I can be reached at Coldwell Banker Mendo Realty Inc. PH: 707.459.8888 or Email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I hope you will find my site (Bill Barksdale's Real Estate Site) of use to your home buying or selling a home now or in the future.

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