Earthquake Insurance

Many wonder if they should choose to add earthquake insurance to there home insurance policies.  Most choose not to, but after reading this article you may feel differently about adding earthquake insurance to your home insurance policy.

Only about one in five Oregon homeowners have earthquake insurance, state officials say.   Among Farmers Insurance policyholders, it’s one in eight, says Jerry Davies, a company spokesman.  It’s a low pickup rate for a state that’s among the three likeliest to suffer a severe quake.

More than three centuries ago, the last great Cascadia Subduction Zone quake struck offshore.   Scientists think it was a magnitude 9.0.

They’ve documented 40 similarly huge earthquakes over 10,000 years along the fault, says Chris Goldfinger, head of the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State University. On only seven occasions did the time between earthquakes span more than 300 years.

Research by Goldfinger for the U.S. Geological Survey puts the odds of a powerful earthquake off the southern Oregon coast in the next 50 years at one in three, Goldfinger says.  That’s a lot higher odds than the Oregon lottery.  Earthquake insurance is looking better!

Earthquake Insurance Portland Oregon

When the big earthquake hits, it could be stronger than those that have devastated Haiti or Chile.  Geologists say the ground here could shake for four minutes.   Soon after, a tsunami will wreck the low-lying coastline.  Landslides, fires and hazardous spills will follow, possibly along a “hot spot” like the oil tank farms along the Willamette River in Portland. We’ll feel aftershocks for months, too — some up to magnitude 7.

And it doesn’t have to be The Big One to hobble your home.  Strong earthquakes centered in Washington’s Puget Sound area have caused damage in Portland.

Linda Mark, 36, bought her first house in February.  But she started shopping for earthquake insurance in November — pre-Haiti and Chile.  “I knew the Portland housing earthquake risk,” the Southeast Portland resident says.  “I don’t want to be stuck with a mortgage and a house I couldn’t live in.”

Oregon earthquake insurance is not like health insurance or auto insurance.  It’s catastrophic insurance.   It’s what insurance was created for in the first place: Protecting yourself against a devastating financial loss that will happen at some point in the future, even if it’s not in your lifetime.

Is it obtainable?   Is it too costly?  That depends on your home’s insured value, location, age and construction type, as well as your carrier and your deductible.  A survey by the Oregon Insurance Division of the 20 insurers that generate 80 percent of homeowner premiums in the state found:

Oregon earthquake insurance isn’t that expensive.  Coverage for a $300,000 wood-framed home with $150,000 for personal property protection can cost $200 to $300 a year.   That’s an extra $25 on your monthly mortgage payment, or about 10 fewer lattes.  Coverage for Mark’s 1,800-square-foot, 1925 home will cost an extra $20 a month, said her broker, Mark Strauss of Leonard Adams Co. in Portland.

Older homes and those made of brick or masonry will cost you more.  Some insurers won’t touch homes built before 1940.  But retrofitting them can drive premiums down.   Mark figures she’ll spend about $3,000 bolting her sill plate to her foundation and save $18 a month in premiums.  That step pays for itself in 14 years, but it also might save your home.

Jay Kushner, an engineer and owner of Seismic Technologies in Portland, retrofits homes from about $3 to $4.50 a square foot of basement or crawl space.  You can do it yourself for less, but Kushner says he makes his own plates, which are stronger and better fits than those found at big-box stores.  Post-Haiti demand for his services has left him booked three to four weeks out.

Oregon earthquake insurance won’t cover incidental damage from a small quake.  Policies have high deductibles, ranging from 10 to 25 percent of the insured amount of your home.   Mark’s deductible will run from $34,500 to $57,500 just to replace the structure.  Another deductible applies to replacing household contents.

Earthquake insurance policies won’t cover damage from landslides or tsunamis, unless earthquakes caused them, state officials say.  Coastal residents can get tsunami protection from flood insurance via the National Flood Insurance Program.  They do, however, cover shaking caused by volcanic activity and damage wrought by aftershocks within a 72-hour period.

Renters can get earthquake insurance for their personal belongings.   But the endorsement must be specifically requested, and it’ll probably tag 10 to 15 percent to the cost of your policy.

Even if you don’t get earthquake insurance, take other precautions.  Strap your water heater to the wall studs, especially a natural-gas heater.  Have a stash of emergency water, food and supplies.  Have a family convergence or communications plan.  Secure columns to the bottom of the house and the floor.  That won’t get you earthquake insurance, but it might save your house.

Just ask Ms. Mark.  Earthquake insurance is worth the money and the piece of mind!

To get a quote on Oregon earthquake insurance, complete the form above and receive home insurance quotes (with earthquake insurance included) from the top home insurance companies in Oregon!

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