Earthquakes can cause devastation any time of the year and without warning. Many homeowners don't realize that damage from earthquakes is not typically covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy.
Although you may associate the risk of damage to your property from an earthquake to the proximity of an earthquake fault, remember that earthquakes can cause damage to property that is located a great distance from the epicenter.
The amount of damage caused by an earthquake depends on your distance from the epicenter, the size of the earthquake, nearby bodies of water, and the type of sediment under your property. Earthquake insurance can protect your property against an earthquake's most damaging effects, such as ground shaking, soil liquefaction, and slope failure, among other causes of damage from earthquakes.
This happens when the ground moves both vertically and horizontally. Ground shaking typically causes extreme property damage. In general, unreinforced brick or masonry homes will sustain more damage than more flexible wood-frame homes. If you have an older home that has not been retrofitted for earthquakes, the risk of damage is much greater. Ground shaking from a large earthquake can destroy buildings, seriously damage dikes, dams, and trigger large landslides.
Earthquake insurance can also provide coverage for soil liquefaction caused by earthquakes. Soil liquefaction can induce different types of ground failure causing a house to settle or tip. It can also cause flow failures that may produce fast-moving debris flows.
An earthquake can cause a slope failure, particularly if the slope is wet. This usually occurs when the earthquake induces flooding along the shores of lakes and reservoirs, where the ground surface drops below the water table, and along altered stream courses, canals, sewer lines, or other gravity-flow systems where slope gradients are lessened or reversed.
Earthquake coverage will help pay for the costs associated with earthquake damage, such as repairing or replacing your home, replacing the contents of your home, temporary accommodations, and paying a mortgage, second mortgage, or line of credit on your home if your home is destroyed. If you have a typical home loan and deed of trust, you will remain responsible for the loan balance even if your home is damaged or destroyed by an earthquake, so being financially protected by earthquake insurance is critical. The deductible and amount of coverage available for earthquake damages vary by state.
Many insurance companies have specific enrollment periods for earthquake insurance coverage. If you choose not to add the coverage when you purchase a homeowners policy, you may need to wait until your policy renews to add the coverage.