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Does Home Insurance Cover Natural Disasters?

In many cases, homeowners insurance covers damage caused by natural disasters. If your home is damaged by lightning or a tree falling on it, the insurance company might foot the bill.

However, there are some exceptions. For example, standard homeowners insurance policies usually do not cover damage from earthquakes or flooding.

You can get coverage for these events, but you need to take out an endorsement or standalone natural disaster insurance policy. Your state might also mandate insurance companies provide a certain level of coverage. Keep reading to learn more about what coverage you might have after a natural disaster.

How Natural Disasters Can Hurt Your Home

Natural disasters are an extremely costly expense for American homeowners. In 2022 alone, an estimated $98.8 billion in insured property losses were due to U.S. national catastrophes. Those losses can come in the form of various kinds of damage.

For example, 2022’s Hurricane Ian completely destroyed many structures in central and eastern Florida, while other homeowners faced roof and siding damage and flooding. The recent wildfires in California are another good example of how a natural disaster can damage a home. Property owners in the affected areas dealt with fire and smoke damage, lost acreage, and property loss.

These recent natural disasters stress how important catastrophic home insurance is. It can protect you from significant losses by reimbursing you during a sudden and unexpected event.

How Does Home Insurance Cover Natural Disasters?

When you buy a homeowners insurance policy, it has specified coverage in certain areas. Typical policies offer:

  • Dwelling coverage: This coverage pays for any damages to your home during a natural disaster. It can also cover structures attached to your home, such as a deck or patio.
  • Structure protection coverage: If you have other buildings on your property, such as a garage or shed, this coverage can help you replace them if they’re damaged in a natural disaster.
  • Personal property coverage: Your home is expensive, but so are your possessions. Personal property coverage can foot the bill if a natural disaster damages your furniture, clothes, and other belongings. 
  • Loss of use coverage: Also known as additional living expenses insurance, loss of use coverage helps you pay for housing, food, and other essentials if your home is unsafe to live in after a natural disaster. Coverage limits are usually a percentage of your dwelling coverage. Therefore, if you have $300,000 in dwelling coverage and 20% loss of use coverage, you’d have a $60,000 loss of use limit. 
  • Liability coverage. This kicks in if negligence on your part causes an injury or property damage. It’s not as relevant for natural disaster coverage.

What Types of Natural Disasters Does Home Insurance Cover?

Home insurance does not cover natural disasters uniformly. Here’s what insurance typically covers:

Disaster
Typically Covered By Standard Homeowners Insurance
Stand-alone Insurance Available
Policy Endorsement or Rider Available
Wind and Hail
Yes
Yes
Yes
Wildfire and Smoke
Yes
Yes
Yes
Snow and Ice
Yes
Yes
Yes
Lightning and Power Surges
Yes
Yes
Yes
Rainfall
Yes
Yes
Yes
Volcanic Eruption
Yes
Yes
Yes
Flooding
No
Yes
Yes
Earthquake
No
Yes
Yes
Landslides and Mudslides
No
Yes
Yes
Sinkholes
No
Yes
Yes
Nuclear Accidents
No
No
No

Wind and Hail

During intense storms, wind speeds can pick up, and hail might even fall. This is especially true if a tornado touches down near your home.

Examples of Damage

  • Shingles ripped off of the roof
  • Windows blown off and broken
  • Siding damaged by blown-around debris

Limitations of Coverage

While many insurance policies cover tornadoes, sometimes hurricanes are excluded. This is especially true if you live in a high-risk area like Florida or Texas that commonly has dangerous storms. In these cases, you may need to supplement your policy with a hurricane or windstorm endorsement.

Wildfire and Smoke

Wildfires can happen when conditions are dry, hot, and windy. Often, the fires can spread across communities, wreaking havoc in their wake. Even if your home is not in the direct path of the fire, the intense heat and smoke can also cause damage.

Examples of Damage

  • Structural damage to your siding and roof
  • Smoke damage to your walls
  • Complete and total loss of property

Limitations of Coverage

If a fire completely destroys your home and you have actual cash value coverage, your insurance company gives you what it deems a fair value for your home rather than what it actually costs to rebuild.

Snow and Ice

Snowstorms and ice storms can bring freezing temperatures, feet of precipitation, and dangerously slick surfaces. As snow and ice build up on your roof, it can add thousands of pounds of weight and become nearly impossible to remove until things warm up.

Examples of Damage

  • Roof collapse from heavy snow drifts
  • Burst pipes from freezing temperatures
  • Gutter damage from ice buildup

Limitations of Coverage

If your roof was already on the older side or poorly maintained, insurance companies might deny coverage when your roof suffers damage from snow or ice. They may claim that your negligence led to the roof’s failure.

Lightning and Power Surges

Lightning strikes can happen any time there’s a storm, hitting nearby trees or your home. Sometimes, these strikes can cause a power surge that causes nearby lines to malfunction.

Examples of Damage

  • Electronics or appliances destroyed by a power surge
  • Roof damage from a tree that’s fallen on your home after being struck by lightning
  • Fire damage after a lightning strike

Limitations of Coverage

If your home has old wiring that contributed to the damage after a power surge, your insurance company may use this fact to deny your claim. Also, power surges due to an electrical company making repairs are generally not covered.

Rainfall

Heavy rains often coincide with other disasters like high winds or lightning. If this rain gets inside your home and causes water damage, your insurance could cover the bill. 

Examples of Damage

  • Water damage on your ceiling after your roof is damaged
  • Window sills destroyed by water after wind blows out the glass
  • Mold in the drywall after a tree cracks a window

Limitations of Coverage

Rainfall coverage is not flood coverage. If your home is damaged due to rising waters, damage is not covered. Damage is also not covered if rain gets in through a pre-existing hole in your roof or windows.

What Types of Natural Disasters Does Home Insurance Exclude?

Homeowners insurance does not cover every natural disaster. For example, if you live in a high-risk area more susceptible to certain weather events, your insurance company knows there’s a greater chance it might have to pay a claim. To compensate for this, it makes you buy additional coverage to cover certain events specifically. Some of the natural disasters you do not have coverage for on a standard policy include:

  • Flooding, including floods caused by storms and hurricanes: Flooding happens when water levels rise and seep into your home’s lower levels, causing water and mold damage.
  • Earthquake: Earthquakes can shake your home’s foundation, causing cracks and possibly making your home unstable.
  • Landslides and mudslides: Sometimes, the land your home is built on can shift, especially after heavy rains.
  • Sinkholes: Sinkholes can cause the ground to collapse, swallowing up your home and anything else around.
  • Nuclear accidents: A nuclear accident can happen when a nearby nuclear plant malfunctions.

How to Get Natural Disaster Insurance for Excluded Events

If you’re interested in getting coverage for excluded natural disasters, you can typically add a rider or buy a standalone policy.

  • Flood insurance: Flood insurance protects your home and the possessions inside it. You’re covered in situations from overflowing bodies of water, hurricanes, mudflows, and more.
  • Earthquake insurance: Earthquake insurance consists of dwelling, property, and loss of use coverage. It’s a good idea if you live near active faults or in an area that has historically seen a lot of earthquake activity.
  • Sinkhole or landslide riders: You cannot buy a separate policy specifically to cover sinkholes or landslides, but you may be able to add a rider to your existing policy that offers coverage up to a specific amount.
  • Nuclear accident coverage: The Price-Anderson Act requires the U.S. to have a $13 billion insurance pool for nuclear incidents, so you do not need to buy this insurance.

How to File a Claim After a Natural Disaster

To file a claim after a natural disaster, take the following steps:

  1. Inspect the damage: Assess what’s damaged, make notes, and take pictures.
  2. Contact your insurance company: Most companies have an online form you can fill out or a number to call.
  3. Help your insurance company inspect the scene: Usually, it will send out an adjuster to survey the damage.
  4. Wait for a decision: Your insurance company may take a few days to decide what it’s covering.

The steps are the same whether or not it was a federally declared disaster. However, for certain federal disasters, you may be able to get financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

How to Protect Your Home Against Natural Disasters

The ideal way to protect your home is to invest in insurance for natural disasters. However, there are other ways you can prevent damage from happening in the first place, such as:

  • Maintaining your property: A well-maintained property has a better chance of standing up to adverse weather conditions than one already in disrepair. Stay current with all maintenance projects, including roof repairs, gutter cleanings, and tree trimming.
  • Paying attention to weather forecasts: If you know a big storm is headed your way, you can take certain precautions to mitigate damage. For example, you may be able to board up windows and pack away outdoor furniture.
  • Grading your home’s lawn: The ground surrounding your home must be sloped away from your building. This can prevent flooding during heavy downpours.
  • Turning off your utilities before disaster hits: Turning off your water, gas, and electrical lines can prevent additional damage if an earthquake, flood, or lightning strike hits your home.

What This Means for You

A natural disaster can strike at any time. Having homeowners insurance can give you financial protection during these times of uncertainty. However, homeowners insurance does not cover every type of disaster. It may pay to buy an additional policy for uncovered events, like flooding or earthquakes, especially if you live in an area prone to these disasters. Certain online tools, like the FEMA’s Flood Map or the United States Geological Survey regional information page, can help you know if additional coverage makes sense for you.