New Rules Benefit California Property Owners in Firewise USA Sites. What CA Property Owners Need to Know.
Through a new set of rules dubbed Safer from Wildfires, the California Department of Insurance (CDI) has required insurance companies doing business in the state to provide discounts for residential property insurance when policyholders reduce their wildfire risks.
The Safer from Wildfires menu of creditable activities includes community-wide mitigation in the form of participation in the Firewise USA® recognition program. This is welcome news for property owners in active Firewise USA sites in California and can be viewed as a reward and additional acknowledgement of their efforts to protect their homes and neighborhoods from wildfire.
However, the new rules have spurred a lot of confusion among consumers. Let’s try to clear some of it up by answering these FAQs.
Does my insurance company offer a wildfire risk reduction discount?
California’s new rules come years after a few insurance companies had already voluntarily been offering discounts to their policyholders living in Firewise USA sites. For customers of USAA, Mercury, and a couple of other companies, this benefit was already available.
The CDI maintains a list of all the insurers doing business in the state that offer wildfire risk reduction discounts, whether for being a Firewise USA site or for meeting other criteria outlined in their program menu. Before doing anything else, consumers should find out whether their company offers a discount by exploring this list.
If your carrier is not yet on the list, be aware that CDI has given companies 180 days to make a filing that would provide a discount for one or more of the program categories.
Am I eligible for a discount?
Insurance companies have access to information about whether properties are part of a Firewise USA site through data providers that are working with NFPA®. If your company is on CDI’s list and specifically offers a Firewise USA discount, they should be determining your eligibility using these data. NFPA cannot make this determination for consumers, so it’s best to contact your insurance agent or a company representative with questions about eligibility.
I am more worried about losing my insurance than getting a discount. Does wildfire risk reduction make my home more insurable?
Whether to provide insurance or not, the cost of the policy, and any discounts are all decisions of the individual insurance company, which it bases on many different factors. In known high-risk areas, insurance companies are generally very interested in any wildfire loss reduction efforts that homeowners are making, especially if they fall into the categories listed in the Safer from Wildfire program.
Consumer education professionals advise that property owners shop around for insurance, since insurance companies compete for business. CDI also provides consumer protections for property owners, including what to do if your insurer does not renew your coverage.
How do I get involved with Firewise USA?
If your neighborhood is not already engaged in Firewise USA, check out firewise.org and invest a little time in reading through the process of how to get organized, evaluate wildfire risks to property, develop an action plan, and conduct annual events.
NFPA offers an interactive online tool to help neighbors organize their risk assessment and action plan. Its Firewise Portal walks you through the process of applying for community recognition. You can also work on protecting your own property from wildfire while working on the community-wide process through the tips and tools on the site.