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Fire insurance can protect your home and belongings if embers from the chimney ignite your carpet or a wildfire engulfs your neighborhood. But understand how to get a fair settlement given the coverage you bought.

How does home insurance cover house fires?

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.

Most homeowners insurance policies include both dwelling coverage and personal property coverage, which means that it covers your house and your possessions. Both of these groups are covered for fire damage.

Your house

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

Your possessions

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.

What’s dwelling fire insurance?

While a standard homeowners insurance policy covers fire damage, dwelling fire insurance pays to repair your house, but not your belongings, after a fire. It can be used to pay for damage above your homeowners insurance maximum. Whether or not you need this will depend on your homeowners insurance maximums, so talk with your insurer to find out how you’re covered.

Or, purchase a standalone fire insurance policy to protect you against fires if you don’t have a homeowners insurance policy. But not buying a more comprehensive home insurance policy leaves you unprotected against storms, burglary and a host of other risks.

How does homeowners insurance cover wildfires?

Depending on where you live, you’ll get coverage against wildfires. While a standard homeowners insurance policy covers wildfires and house fires, 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 high-risk areas for wildfires — like California — home insurance lenders may have stricter requirements for insuring homes near forests or areas where fires are common. 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.

Compare home insurance policies with fire coverage

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Lemonade home insurance
Enjoy straightforward pricing, transparent flat fee from this completely digital insurer.
Allstate home insurance
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Protect your home and belongings and save even more by bundling insurance with Allstate.
USAA home insurance
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Enjoy great rates and wide coverage with USAA. Available to military members and family.
Policygenius home insurance
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This online marketplace does most of the work for you, matching you with quotes from 14 highly rated home insurers.
Liberty Mutual home insurance
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Invest in affordable insurance that protects your home and your property from damage no matter where you live.

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What if I can’t get fire insurance?

Some areas offer state-run programs that offer fire insurance to people who have been denied coverage. For example, the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan serves homeowners in high risk areas who might not otherwise be approved for a fire insurance policy.

The risks of underinsurance

Underinsurance is when you don’t have enough coverage to completely replace your home and belongings if they’re completely destroyed. For example, if you have your home insured for $1 million but it’s really worth $2 million, you’ll be out-of-pocket $1 million if fire completely destroys 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.

What to do after a house fire

If fire destroys your home or belongings, after the authorities put out the fire and you and everyone around you is safe, start thinking about your claim.

How to make sure you get the settlement you deserve:

  1. Contact your insurer. Let your insurer know ASAP — before starting repairs. If you make emergency repairs to prevent further damage, ask your insurer how you should go about those temporary repairs.
  2. 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 for the items you lost, such as old receipts or photos of you with the items. Also, keep all receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses caused by the fire.
  3. File your claim. Your insurer will provide you with a claim form. You’ll list details about the damage and submit supporting evidence.
  4. Wait for the adjuster. Your insurer will send an adjuster to inspect the damage, organize any emergency repairs and gather quotes from its network of builders and contractors. Cooperate fully, but you can also remind your adjuster about losses they’re overlooking.
  5. Wait for the results. If your claim is approved, 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 through the insurer’s internal disputes department or through your state’s insurance department.
  6. Let the rebuilding begin. Choose to go with one of your insurer’s preferred contractors or get quotes and hire your own. When the job is complete, the insurer will either pay the builders directly, or pay you to disburse to the service provider. You’ll also receive a check for any belongings that were destroyed.

How to make 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. These adjusters work for you, not the insurance company, to help you get fair repayment.
  • 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, 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.

How does home insurance cover fire damage to cars?

It depends on how the fire started, but typically your vehicle isn’t covered for fire damage under your home insurance. If your car is the only thing that caught fire, your car insurance covers the cost . But if your home burned down and your garage and car caught fire from the flames, your homeowners insurance should cover it.

How to protect your house from fires

Keeping your house protected from fire goes beyond insurance — you can improve your home’s construction and landscaping for fire safety too. Tips to try:

  • Avoid leaving fires or cooking appliances unattended. You can prevent a house fire from spreading by supervising firepits, grills, stoves or running electrical appliances like dryers and microwaves.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on every level. Ensure that you have this home-saving tool in multiple places throughout your house, especially for multiple-level homes. Keep one in high-risk areas like your kitchen, laundry room and garage.
  • Fireproof your roof, siding and trim. Consider replacing siding and roofing materials that burn quickly like vinyl, wood or asphalt shingles. Experts can help you choose more fire-resistant options, like brick or fiber cement siding and fiberglass-based asphalt shingles. You can also get products to help make risly wood or vinyl siding more fireproof. Exterior fireproofing is important for any home, but especially those in wildfire zones.
  • Think through fire-safe landscaping. You might clear trees close to your home and use rocks or a fire-resistant mulch like shredded hardwood. Keep plants pruned of dead material, plant in groups versus long rows and trim tree branches and canopies to keep trees spaced apart.
  • Consider your windows. Complete your home’s exterior fire-proofing with tempered windows and window screens to prevent a fire from reaching the indoors this way.
  • Clear your roof from debris. Keep fallen branches and leaves cleared from your roof that could fuel a fire.
  • Clean gutters regularly. Likewise, clean your gutters from fire-fueling material and consider installing gutter guards or screens to keep them clear. A good time to clean gutters is at the end of spring and fall.
  • Improve fire safety over time. If you can’t afford to totally renovate your home right now, you could look into cheaper methods now, like replacing old fire extinguishers and getting fireproof chemical treatments for your siding. Then, you can upgrade your roof, siding or landscaping when you make repairs or renovations in the future.
  • Update home inventory. If you ever needed to replace or repair anything in your home after a fire, it helps to have documentation about what’s in your home now. Walk through your home and take a video or a written inventory of everything you own, including jewelry, electronics and valuable items and tools. That will make any claims easier in the future.

Bottom line

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 and renovating your property for fire safety can go a long way.

To build the policy that’s best for you, compare homeowners insurance policies.

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