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Homes can catch fire for many reasons, from lightning strikes to a pot being left on the stove too long. From 2015 to 2019, firefighters responded to an average of nearly 350,000 home fires annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
You can reduce your risk of a house fire by not firing up the grill right next to your wooden deck railing and by storing flammable liquids in the proper containers. However, since you can’t eliminate every physical risk, it’s smart to protect against the financial risk of fire damage with homeowners insurance.
Here’s what you need to know about home insurance and fire damage:
- Does home insurance cover fire damage?
- When does home insurance not cover fire damage?
- Additional coverage options for fire damage
- How to file a claim for fire damage
Does home insurance cover fire damage?
Yes, homeowners insurance covers fire damage, in most cases. In fact, fires and lightning were the second- or third-most-common category of homeowners insurance claims every year from 2016 to 2020, according to the Insurance Information Institute. They made up about a quarter of claims each year, and the average loss was $77,340.
A standard homeowners insurance policy covers certain perils. Most people have an HO-3 policy, which provides open perils coverage for your home’s structure. This means every cause of fire damage is covered except things specifically excluded from the policy.
As for your personal belongings, a standard HO-3 policy offers named -perils coverage, which only insures your personal property against certain events listed in the policy. Fires and lightning strikes are usually included.
What types of fire damage does homeowners insurance cover?
Your insurance is likely to cover fire damage to your home caused by these sources, as long as the fire was sudden and accidental:
- Candle fires
- Kitchen fires (including grease fires and unattended stove fires)
- Space heater fires
- Faulty appliances
- Worn or faulty wiring
- Overloaded circuits
- Cigarette or smoking-related fires
- Barbecue grill fires
- Propane tank explosions
- Fire pit fires
- Fireplace chimney fires
- Wood stove fires
- Gasoline, paint thinner, oil, and mineral spirit fires
- Brush fires
- Garage fires
- Attic fires
- Christmas tree fires
- Fires from a neighbor’s house that spread to yours
- Wildfires, forest fires, and brush fires
- Fires caused by vandals
Types of home insurance fire coverages and coverage limits
Your home insurance policy is composed of six individual coverages, all of which may be relevant following a fire:
|Type of coverage||What it covers||Coverage amount|
|Dwelling||Fire damage and destruction to the home’s structure||You get to choose
(subject to minimums required by your mortgage lender and maximums allowed by your insurer based on rebuilding costs)
|Other structures||Fire damage to structures on the property that aren’t attached to the home, including sheds, fences, and free-standing garages||About 10% of dwelling coverage|
|Personal property||The cost to repair or replace personal items like furniture, appliances, clothing, and electronics damaged by fire, smoke, chemicals, and water and stolen by looters||Often between 50% to 70% of dwelling coverage|
|Loss of use||Hotel expenses and some other living expenses while your house is being repaired after a fire, to the extent they exceed your normal living expenses||About 20% of dwelling coverage|
|Liability||Legal expenses if you’re sued for any injuries or property damage caused by your house fire — for example, if your neighbor’s home catches on fire||Limits usually start at $100,000|
|Medical payments||Direct payments of medical bills for someone who was injured on your property during the fire||Usually between $1,000 and $5,000|
When does home insurance not cover fire damage?
Most home insurance policies exclude losses due to certain events. The homeowners insurance exclusions that might apply after a house fire include:
- Vermin: Insurers look at damage caused by rats, mice, squirrels, racoons, and other wild animals as preventable. Mice and rats in particular will chew on electrical wiring and the damage may lead to a fire. Your policy might not cover this type of fire if you had an obvious vermin problem that you ignored.
- Lack of maintenance or neglect: If your home had obvious damage that you failed to address, and that damage causes a fire, your insurer may deny your fire damage claim.
- Intentional damage: Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover intentional damage when the policyholder causes it. Don’t set your home on fire in the hope of getting an insurance payout. You’d be committing two crimes: arson and insurance fraud. Insurance carriers and fire investigators have ways to detect arson, and you won’t outsmart their collective experience and deep pockets.
- Vacant property: If you move out of your home and leave it vacant for too long, your homeowners policy may not cover it. However, some insurers write policies specifically for vacant homes, with coverage for named perils including fire.
- Continuous water leakage or seepage: Water damage can lead to electrical fires. If you’ve had a gaping hole in your roof for a month and an electrical fire breaks out in your attic, your loss may not be covered.
- Acts of war: Property insurance doesn’t cover acts of war, regardless of whether they’re declared by Congress.
In questionable situations, a public adjuster or insurance claims lawyer may be able to help you.
Check Out: What is Dwelling Coverage?
Additional coverage options for fire damage
When a fire damages your home, your financial losses might not be as severe if you have these types of coverage:
- Replacement cost coverage: Instead of reimbursing you for your property’s actual cash value, which factors in depreciation, your insurer will reimburse you for the full cost to rebuild the home at today’s prices. This includes the cost of labor and materials.
- Extended replacement cost coverage: This coverage can be a godsend if rebuilding costs jump in your area after a natural disaster (such as a wildfire). Damage to numerous homes often means there’s not enough labor and materials to meet demand.
How to file a claim for fire damage
To file a homeowners insurance claim for fire damage, you’ll typically need to follow these steps:
- Notify your insurer. Contact your insurance provider and file a claim with them online or over the phone.
- Document the damage. Take photos and videos of the fire damage to show to your insurance carrier.
- Make temporary repairs. Secure your property against further damage by making any necessary repairs. Avoid permanent or major repairs until after the insurance adjuster has assessed the damage.
- Meet with the claims adjuster. After you file a claim, your insurer will send out a claims adjuster to your property to look at the damage and file a report. Respond promptly to calls and messages from your claims adjuster. Once they finish their report, they’ll provide an estimate of how much your insurer should pay out for the repairs.
- Keep your receipts. Save detailed receipts for temporary repairs, additional living expenses, and any other costs your insurer may reimburse.
Keep Reading: How Much Homeowners Insurance Do I Need?
Disclaimer: All insurance-related services are offered through Young Alfred.