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August 24th, 2011

Are you and your home prepared for an earthquake?

by Gina Pogol


quakeEarthquakes are synonymous with the West Coast. However, yesterday’s 5.8 earthquake that hit Virginia reminds us all that earthquakes can occur on both coasts.

Regardless of where you live, you must ask yourself if you and your home are prepared for a quake. Earthquakes can cause untold damages and cannot reliably be predicted.

East Coast earthquake: Are you covered?

Here are some ways you can prevent earthquake-related damage to your home and ensure that your home’s insurance is up to snuff.


Earthquakes can’t be prevented, but earthquake-related damage can. Building codes in earthquake-prone areas are often more stringent than in less risky areas, but there is no guarantee that your area has enhanced its building codes or that your home is up to code. You can, however, have your home inspected and its seismic safety evaluated. Homes can be retrofitted to enhance their ability to withstand larger quakes.

Retrofitting your home can include:

  • House bolting
  • Foundation bolting
  • Concrete foundation repair
  • Cripple wall bracing
  • Floor leveling
  • Addressing drainage issues

You can protect your personal items from earthquake damage by securing pictures, mirrors, shelves and lights, by bracing computers and home electronics, and by anchoring fuel tanks and water heaters.

Consider the location of tall, heavy furniture and what could happen in a quake. You might want to rearrange your furniture if you have a bookcase looming over your bed! Finally, hazardous materials should be stored securely to prevent fires, explosions or poisoning.


Earthquake insurance is not always easy to get. Some states with the highest risk of loss from earthquakes have government plans that provide earthquake coverage to property owners who can’t get insurance through private insurers.

Earthquake insurance can be very expensive. Even in California, only 12 percent of homeowners carry it.

Why? Because unlike most insurance, you’re covered to a limited extent and only when there is significant structural damage. If you live in the Golden State, earthquake coverage averages $722 a year, but it only kicks in when the structural damage caused by a quake exceeds 15 percent of the home’s insured value; then it pays for damage to the structure and household items up to the policy limit.

So if your home’s insured value is $500,000, you have to eat $75,000 of damage before your earthquake policy pays for anything.

Is it worth insuring against earthquake damage? If you can afford the premiums, own a lot of expensive breakables, and are extremely risk-averse, it probably makes sense to insure. If you’re struggling to pay the bills and your home is $100,000 underwater, you probably have more pressing concerns than earthquake insurance.

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HSH.com's daily blog focuses on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets. Our mission is to relate how changes in mortgage rates and housing policy, as well as the latest financial news, impacts consumers, homebuyers and industry insiders alike. Our 30-plus years of experience in the mortgage industry gives us an edge as we break down the latest changes in an ever-changing market.

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Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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