How to reduce home insurance premiums and fire risks

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In the United States, homeowners have received new guidelines to help them defend against increasingly frequent wildfires and the increase in associated insurance premiums.

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a not-for-profit research organization funded by insurers, announced that it had developed the first-ever standard capable of demonstrably reducing the risk of damage from a wildfire. . To earn the Wildfire Prepared Home designation, homeowners must meet a series of criteria — including, for example, clearing anything flammable like five-foot shrubbery around their home — and passing an annual inspection.

The tips will be especially helpful for homeowners in western US states that have been plagued by wildfires. The town of Paradise, California, 90% of which was flattened by the infamous 2018 blaze, immediately announced that all new construction would have to meet these standards.

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“This is a critical part of our rebuilding,” said Paradise City Manager Kevin Phillips. “We’re doing everything we can to show insurance companies that we’re mitigating risk and that we’re a community you’d want to come back and invest in.”

The state of California already has strict building codes for new construction in areas known to be fire-prone, but many homes predate these standards and therefore do not comply with them. The steps to reach the IBHS are even more difficult.

For many years, IBHS has done research for the insurance industry on how to protect homes and businesses from fires, including building test houses and burning them down in their lab. But Roy Wright, chief executive of the institute, said that in recent years western homeowners have also become hungry for such information.

“The catastrophic events in California in 2017 and 2018 changed that conversation about fire insurance,” he said. “All of a sudden, climate change
comes through the front door, these California families, they want to know what they can do.

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IBHS said the designation was based on the latest scientific knowledge and included a list of practical steps proven to reduce fire hazards, such as including and adding fine mesh liners to attic vents or outdoor terraces to prevent the spread of embers and the replacement of old cedar roofs. shingles with non-flammable material.

Widespread adoption of such standards would also be appreciated by the insurance industry. The industry lost 25 years of underwriting profits after the disastrous fire seasons of 2017 and 2018, according to Milliman Inc, a risk assessment firm that works with insurers and pushes for tougher building codes in fire material. It also increased rates in fire-prone areas and retreated altogether in some cases.

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While there is currently no guarantee that meeting the IBHS standard will result in lower insurance rates, the California Bureau of Insurance’s new draft regulations include language stating that insurance companies should grant rebates to homes that meet this standard.

It could be expensive and difficult to achieve higher fire standards, especially for older homes, but Phillips said for towns like Paradise, where insurance premiums can now exceed $6,000 per year , this is the only way forward. “Even if it’s a bit more expensive” up front, he said, “the long-term benefit is going to help make it the most affordable.”

Photo: Firefighters attempt to protect a home near Santa Claus Drive during the Caldor Fire near Meyers, California on August 31, 2021/Bloomberg

Copyright 2022 Bloomberg.

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