Thinking of Buying Earthquake Insurance? Earthquake Facts, Pros, and Cons

Image shows a highway with a crack down the middle somewhere in the southwest, as well as an infrared map of the U.S. of earthquake hot spots, and a home with a crack in the side. Text reads: "Facts about earthquake insurance: costs of earthquake insurance varies based on your location; home and personal property in 40+ states are at risk of earthquake damage; earthquake coverage is included in homeowners' insurance; earthquake insurance must be bought separately or added to your policy by endorsement."

The Balance / Tim Liedtke

Earthquake damage is not covered under a standard home insurance policy. Depending on what state you live in, you may or may not need to worry about earthquake insurance. The Insurance Information Institute says that millions of people in 42 states are at risk of earthquake damage to their homes or belongings.

It may surprise you to know that even in states like California, the California Earthquake Authority ays that even with a high awareness of the risk of earthquakes, only 10% of Californians purchase earthquake insurance. So if you don't have it yet and are wondering if it is worth paying for, you're not alone.

Learn some facts about earthquakes, the real risks, and some pros and cons of having insurance that covers damages caused by them.

Are You Really At Risk of an Earthquake?

The first thing you need to learn when you're thinking about purchasing earthquake insurance is the real risks of where you live. The U.S. Geological Survey has the information you need to find out.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. has about 20,000 earthquakes a year. Most people don't realize that they might live in a zone that could be affected by an earthquake. Out of 50 states, 42 are at-risk.

Which Geographical Areas Are at Risk of Earthquake Damage? 

The known earthquake zones are mapped out on the USGS' websites. Coastlines and mountain ranges are the areas that have the most activity, but this doesn't mean that there isn't a fault near you. The USGS notes that faults can take thousands or tens of thousands of years to return to an active state, so there might be many unknown faultlines across the U.S.

Since the records only show known earthquakes and areas mapped by modern sensors, there is no way to know if a quake might occur in places where there has been no seismic activity in the past.

The Insurance Information Institute outlines the actual risks in each of the U.S. regions that can help you decide. Their site can inform you about the risks in Central, Eastern, or the Western United States. The data from a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) study also provides some good insights to help you assess your risk.

The Pros of Earthquake Coverage

The main advantage of buying earthquake insurance is that it will protect the money you have invested in your home if a quake damages it.

If you experience earthquake damage without insurance to offset the costs, you may have to continue paying your mortgage and paying for a new place to live out of your pocket. Your financial obligations, like your mortgage, will not disappear; they will grow.

  • If an earthquake causes property damage, you will be covered for repairs or a rebuild rather than losing everything or going further into debt to make your home livable.
  • In lower-risk zones, the cost is lower, so you won't be paying as much as people pay in high-risk zones. It is always worth getting a quote so you can make an informed decision. If you find out earthquake insurance is only $20 a month, maybe it's worth paying for the peace of mind it can bring you. You may also think about taking a higher deductible to reduce the monthly payments.
  • If you cannot live in your home after an earthquake, you may get additional living expenses to live elsewhere while your home is being rebuilt. This way, if you are still making payments on the mortgage for that home, at least you're not paying for a place to live as well. Costs could triple if you had to make payments on your old mortgage and a place to live while the new home you took out a loan for is being built.

Cons of Buying Earthquake Insurance

There are not many downfalls of earthquake insurance, aside from those related to price and cost.

  • It might cost more in states with more risk. You have to decide if you can afford to pay for damages from a quake or need help from insurance based on the amount of risk.
  • You will have a high deductible to pay in addition to the one on your regular home insurance policy. The deductible for earthquake insurance is often a percentage of the coverage on the building amount, like 5% of the value of your home.

Current Trends That Make Buying Earthquake Insurance Important

You don't have to be living near or on a fault line anymore to feel the ground shake or suffer damages. Modern disposal methods might be at fault.

In 2016, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Oklahoma. This earthquake might have been the result of human activity like waste water fluid injection into deep wells. Fracking has been linked to 1%–2% of human-induced quakes; the rest are caused by waste water injection.

If you live in regions where there is fracking or mining, you may be at greater risk of an earthquake than in the past. Speak to your insurance agent to get a quote for earthquake insurance. This will help you decide if it is worth putting a few extra dollars in your budget.

What Kinds of Damage Do Earthquakes Cause?

Aside from having your home shaken apart, there are many ways it can be damaged due to an earthquake. Earthquake coverage added to your policy might cover:

  • Partial or total damage
  • Collapse
  • Structural damages that create dangerous circumstances and require repair
  • Damage to other property and landscaping
  • Explosions
  • Fires
  • Gas Leaks
  • Landslide/avalanche damage
  • Flood and water damage

The Outlook for Earthquake Insurance Costs

Insurance is based on the ability of the insurer to pay out losses and collect enough money to cover the claims that occur. Since there are not many people buying earthquake insurance, the cost is higher because there isn't enough being collected as a whole.

If more people purchased it, then the cost of the insurance would drop. There are normally long periods between disasters, which would allow the companies to collect enough to reduce costs and pay for damages.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Earthquake Insurance

Only you can decide whether or not it is worth paying for earthquake insurance. It is tough to predict when an earthquake will occur. While regions may have long periods of low activity, it only takes one major event to damage or destroy your property.

This insurance is about protecting the money you've invested in your home. By not having it, you take the risk of having damage to your home and losing property that you can not afford to repair or replace. 

If you have a mortgage to pay off, you may end up paying even more because your mortgage company will still want to be paid even if an earthquake destroys your home. If your home is paid off, you lose all of the value it has built up over the years with no way to recoup the loss.

The best course of action is to become informed. Look over official data from the U.S Geological Survey about the region you live in on its Earthquake Hazards Program website. This program gives you information about your state and lists resources you can use to decide whether you should get earthquake coverage for your home.