The 2012 Arizona wildfire season has already started, and the U.S. Forest Service estimates that the 2012 season could be as bad as the historic 2011 fire season. The 2012 National Seasonal Assessment predicts an “above normal significant fire potential” for the mountains, with a normal significant fire potential predicted for other parts of Arizona. As of May 16, the Gladiator Fire had already destroyed four structures and threatened almost 400 more.
There are several steps homeowners can take to prevent fire damage to their property, including using fire resistant materials, providing a firebreak, and creating a defensible space around structures. If the worst does happen, homeowners also need to be sure that they are adequately insured to cover a catastrophic loss of their homes. The Insurance Information Institute lists four key questions homeowners should ask to ensure adequate coverage in case of a disaster:
- Is my insurance coverage enough to rebuild my home at today’s costs?
Insuring your home for its value may not be enough to rebuild your home at the price of current construction. Adequate coverage should include a replacement cost policy that will pay for the replacement of damaged property with comparable materials. Arizona homeowners might also want to consider an extended replacement policy that will pay an additional 20% above policy limits if a disaster–such as a widespread wildfire–raises the cost of materials and labor. Other options include inflation or ordinance riders which help cover the impact of inflation or new ordinances on construction costs.
- Is my insurance coverage enough to replace all of my possessions?
Most homeowners insurance policies cover possessions at a rate of 50-70% of the amount of insurance on the structure of the home. A home inventory is the best way to determine if this is enough coverage to replace your personal possessions if they are lost to a fire or other disaster. You can insure your personal possessions by either a cash value or replacement cost policy. Cash value policies cover the cost of replacing your property after depreciation. Replacement cost policies cover the replacement cost of your possessions at today’s prices. Your insurance agent can help you determine whether a cash or replacement policy is the best option for you.
- Will my insurance cover my extra expenses if my home is destroyed?
If your home is destroyed in a wildfire or other disaster, there will be additional expenses beyond replacing your home and possessions. Coverage for additional living expenses would pay for the extra cost of living away from home and includes expenses such as hotel bills and restaurant meals. It could also cover lost rental income if you rent out a portion of your property.
- Will my homeowners insurance adequately protect my assets?
This question isn’t directly related to disaster planning, but it is still an important factor in evaluating your homeowners insurance needs. Liability damage protects you against claims made for bodily injury or property damage caused by you, a family member, or a pet. Liability damage covers court costs as well as any costs incurred in a court judgment up to the limits of your policy. Additional coverage beyond your policy limits is available in the form of an excess liability or umbrella policy.
Wise preparation for fire season should include making sure your home is adequately insured. Your insurance agent can help you evaluate your insurance needs.