House fires are fast, incredibly destructive and potentially deadly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency warns that even a small house fire can get out of control in as little as 30 seconds, and an entire home can be engulfed within minutes. House fires claim the lives of more than 2,500 people and cause an estimated $7.3 billion in property damage in the U.S. each year. Fortunately, all standard homeowners insurance policies protect against loss from accidental fires.
The insurance industry offers seven different levels of homeowners insurance policies, ranging from a basis HO-1, which covers limited types of disasters and is no longer sold in most states, to the comprehensive Special HO-3 policy that covers all disasters except those specifically excluded by the policy. All types of homeowners insurance policies cover loss from fire damage.
Level of Coverage
Just because your homeowners policy covers fire damage doesn't mean it will completely compensate you for your loss. Different policies offer different levels of coverage, and it is up to you to determine the level of coverage that you are most comfortable with. For example, your policy might offer replacement cost coverage. If your home or personal possessions are damaged in a fire, this policy will pay to replace your goods up to the maximum limits of your policy. If you have an actual cash value policy, your insurance company will subtract the cost of depreciation from the value of your damaged goods and pay you the difference.
Your deductible represents your contribution to the costs of repair and recovery from fire damage. You can think of it as a co-insurance you provide that complements your insurance company's coverage. When you experience a covered event, such as a fire, you are responsible for paying the deductible amount before the insurance pays anything. For example, if you have a $500 deductible, and a fire causes $2,000 worth of damage, the insurance company would cut you a check for $1,500. You would be responsible for the other $500. If you can afford to pay a higher amount after such an event, your insurance company will typically give you a break on your insurance premiums.
Your homeowners insurance policy will cover accidental fires, but it won't cover any loss if you intentionally set fire to your home. If a nuclear blast ignites your home, you are out of luck, as homeowners policies don't cover nuclear hazards. If the U.S. is invaded by a foreign army that puts your home to the torch, your policy won't be of much help. It doesn't cover loss that results from an act of war. But in just about every other case, you're covered.
- Ready.gov: Home Fires
- CNN Money: Wildfire -- Insurance When All Is Lost
- Insurance Information Institute: What Coverage Is Included in a Standard Homeowners Insurance Policy?
- Insurance Information Institute: Are There Different Types of Policies?
- Insurance Information Institute: What Types of Disasters Are Covered By My Homeowners Insurance?
Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.