Fire insurance can protect your home and belongings if the dog knocks over a candle, embers from the chimney ignite your carpet or a wildfire engulfs your neighborhood. But what’s exactly covered depends on your specific policy.
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What is fire insurance?
Fire insurance is a type of coverage included in most homeowners insurance policies. It will pay to repair or replace your home and your belongings if they are damaged by fire. Plus, it often includes additional benefits like paying for your temporary accommodation if you can no longer live in your damaged house.
Supplementary fire insurance
While a standard homeowners insurance policy covers fire damage, some insurers also offer standalone fire insurance policies. This can be used to pay for damage above your homeowners insurance maximum or temporary accommodation not covered by your policy. Whether or not you need this will depend on your homeowners insurance maximums, so it’s a good idea to talk with your insurer to find out how you’re covered.
You can also purchase a standalone fire insurance policy to protect you against fires if you don’t have a homeowners insurance policy, but this leaves you unprotected against storms, burglary and a host of other potential risks.
What does a home insurance policy cover after a fire?
Most homeowners insurance policies include both dwelling coverage and personal property coverage, which means that it covers both your house and your possessions. Both of these groups are covered for fire damage.
If fire damages your home, most policies will cover you for the following:
- Repairing or replacing the home
- Temporary accommodation if your house is unlivable
- Demolishing the destroyed house and/or removing debris
- Regulatory fees related to building construction
- Professional services like surveyors and architects
This protects the belongings that are in your house, like your TV and clothes. Most policies will cover you for:
- Repairing or replacing your damaged items
- Storing your undamaged belongings if they can’t stay at the property
- Removing and disposing of undamaged contents
The risks of underinsurance
Underinsurance is when you don’t have enough insurance to completely replace your home and belongings if they were completely destroyed. For example, if you have your home insured for $1 million but it’s really worth $2 million, you’d be out-of-pocket $1 million if a fire completely destroyed your house.
You can avoid underinsurance by insuring your home for its entire value rather than insuring it for less just to save on your monthly premium. You should also get your home appraised regularly or after a renovation and adjust your insurance based on any increase or decrease in your home’s value.
Does homeowners insurance cover wildfires?
Yes, depending on where you live. While a standard homeowners insurance policy will cover wildfires, they can be excluded from coverage in areas that are at high risk. If your policy doesn’t include coverage for wildfires, you may be able to purchase a standalone fire insurance policy.
In some areas with a high risk of wildfires, home insurance lenders may have stricter requirements for insuring homes near forests or in areas where fires are likely. There may also be additional requirements to get insurance, such as managing undergrowth or trees on the property. Fire mitigation techniques are increasingly common to get insurance in these high-risk areas.
The best way to find out how you’re covered for wildfires is to read your policy or contact your insurer. And if you’re looking for a new policy, check with your insurer before signing any paperwork.
How to make a home insurance claim after a fire
If your home and/or belongings were destroyed by fire, you’ll naturally want to get somewhere safe until the authorities put out the fire and you can return. Only after you and everyone around you is safe do you want to start thinking about your claim.
- Contact your insurer. You’ll need to let your insurer know ASAP — before starting any repairs. If you need to make emergency repairs to prevent further damage, ask your insurer how you should go about it.
- Gather evidence. Take photos of the damage, get the police report and make a list of what you lost in the fire. Try to locate proof of ownership of the items you lost, such as old receipts or photos of you with the items. Also keep all your receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses caused by the fire.
- File your claim. Your insurer will send you a claim form or point you towards one on its website. Here you’ll list details about the fire and the damage. Submit the form along with your supporting documentation from step two.
- Wait for your claim to be assessed. Your insurer will send someone out to inspect the damage, organize any emergency repairs and start gathering quotes from its network of builders and contractors. Be sure to cooperate fully, but also feel free to remind your insurer of any losses it might be overlooking.
- Wait for the results. If your claim is accepted, your insurer will pay to repair or replace whatever is covered by your policy. If your claim is denied, you have the right to several rounds of appeals, first through the insurer’s internal disputes department.
- Let the rebuilding begin. You can opt to go with one of your insurer’s preferred contractors or get quotes and choose your own. When the job is complete, the insurer will either pay the builders directly or pay you and expect you to handle the rest. You’ll also get a cheque for any belongings that were destroyed.
Tips on making a successful fire insurance claim
Here are a few steps you can take to help the claims process run smoothly:
- Understand your policy. Read your policy documents carefully so you aren’t caught off guard when you find out you’re not covered for something you thought you were. For example, you may not be covered if you scorch your carpet with a hot iron if there was no flame present. You may also find that you are covered for expenses you didn’t know about, such as temporary accommodation costs while your home is being repaired.
- Consider hiring a public adjuster. If you disagree with your insurer’s quote for how much the damage will cost to repair, consider hiring a public adjuster to get your own independent quote.
- Know your rights. If your claim is denied or you’re offered too little, you have the right to place a dispute with your insurer’s internal complaints department. If that still doesn’t resolve your issue, you can appeal the decision to your state’s insurance department and/or hire an attorney.
When homeowners insurance doesn’t cover fires
All policies have exclusions or situations where you would not be covered. Common exclusions include:
- A fire that happens too soon after you bought your policy. Many insurers will have a waiting period before your policy kicks in to prevent fraud.
- Arson. You won’t be covered if you or any of your guests intentionally start a fire.
- Accidents caused by gross negligence. While true accidents, like a knocked-over candle, are generally covered, recklessness isn’t. For example, if you set off fireworks in your home, you won’t be covered. This may include starting a fire while drunk or on drugs.
- Acting illegally. You may not be covered if you were doing something illegal, like storing explosives or making meth, when the fire started.
- Bringing your home up to code. If you’ll be required to make modifications to your home when repairing it to bring it up to code, your insurer won’t pay the extra cost.
Does home insurance cover fire damage to cars?
Not typically, but it depends on how the fire started. If your car is the only thing that caught fire, your car insurance will be responsible for the cost. But if your home burned down and your car caught fire from the flames, your homeowners insurance may cover it.
A homeowners insurance policy will cover fire damage. But if you live in a wildfire zone or need to increase your coverage, adding standalone fire insurance can help.
Be sure to carefully compare homeowners insurance policies to find the one that’s best for you.
Frequently asked questions about fire insurance