Unusual Earthquakes Leave Many Wondering: Is My Home Covered?

Debbie Saathoff, 62, of Bowie, Md., says she heard a giant cracking sound first. Then the pictures flew off the walls and vases on shelves came tumbling down and smashed as her home moved back and forth. "It was the scariest thing I have been through," she said hours after a rare earthquake rattled the Eastern Seaboard Tuesday. "I've never felt one before."

Fairly strong earthquakes in two areas of the country where they rarely strike provided the nation with a seismic double whammy this week. Tuesday afternoon's 5.8 magnitude temblor, based in Virginia, was felt in New York City and farther north, and on Monday night, a 5.3 magnitude quake struck southeast Colorado. The United States gets shaken by about 5,000 quakes strikes each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Reports of building damage were filtering out Tuesday after the East Coast temblor, including a leaning tower at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., less than 100 miles from the epicenter. But the quakes certainly will have many U.S. homeowners wondering about their own preparedness for a quake. Most homeowner's insurance or standard business insurance does not cover earthquake coverage. Additional earthquake coverage is typically available as an endorsement or as a separate policy. In California, where the risk of quakes is higher, homeowners can get coverage through the California Earthquake Authority.

Like many homeowners in the region, Saathoff inspected her property following the event, finding only a few small cracks in the garage cement. Because of the rarity of quakes in the area, she says she never considered getting earthquake insurance, but says, "I am sure my agent will be calling me now."

Do I need earthquake insurance?

This is a decision every homeowner must decide based on location, the value of their property, amount of equity in the home, proximity to a fault line, type of home construction and the value of belongings. United PolicyHolders has a buying tips guide that provides useful background information, both for homeowners and for renters. One rule of thumb, listed in the guide, is that homeowners should risk no more than 10% of their liquid assets in considering how much insurance to buy.

What does earthquake insurance cover?

Quake insurance includes a deductible that is generally calculated as a percentage, rather than a dollar amount. It can range from 2% to 20% of the replacement value of the structure. The higher the deductible, the more money consumers save on their premiums. In California, the standard CEA policy includes a 15% deductible, and only covers the house, not additional structures on the property such as pools or garages.

What does it cost?

Insurance prices vary greatly by region, insurer and type of structure and can range from $300 to $400 a year to several thousand. Older buildings cost more to insure than newer structures; brick structures cost more than wooden ones, which can tolerate shaking better. The cost is the calculated on a per $1,000 basis. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a brick building would cost between $3 and $15 per $1,000 in a high-risk area like the Pacific Northwest, whereas in New York City, the same structure would only cost between 60 and 90 cents per $1,000 to insure.

How do I know if my home has sustained damage?

Earthquakes can cause damage both to belongings in the house, as well as structural damage. Both can be expensive. After a quake, open cabinets carefully as contents may have been displaced. Check on gas or electrical lines, with appropriate professional help if necessary, to make sure nothing is defective or leaking. Do a visual check of the home's foundation to make no sure no cracks have developed. Homeowners should also take precautionary measures, like those recommended on the FEMA website, to safeguard their home against damage from future temblors.

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Fuzzimcnearney

When the sun is shining in your eyes and you can see where your going do you say,"that's mother nature"?
When you slide off the road and into a ditch do you say,"thats mother nature".
What do you say while drowning?That's mother nature.

August 26 2011 at 3:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
adenis2me

The change for stock market reporting and analysis is a lot less technical (with Moody's very plain analysis) . I would like to see you go back to the old method of analysis. i.e. price ratio, capitalization,etc. I'll be looking for a different web site if you keep Moodys "plain Jane" format. Sincerely, Denis Twomey, adenis2me@aol.com

August 25 2011 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
don and elaine

Earthquakes are becoming very poplar to mother nature. I guess one must be prepared.

August 24 2011 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hey u

I have 2 , which one are you refering to? Backseat or the trunk?

August 24 2011 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
flyfishy2k

I WAS IN THE EQ YESTERDAY. LASTED ALL OFFOUR SECONDS TOLD WIFE TO GO CHECK WASHING MACHINE CLOTHES WHERE OUT BALANCE SHE SAID SHE WASN'T WASHING CLOTHES i SAID OH MEEEEEEEEE

August 24 2011 at 1:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
pfjw

Mpfffff... since when has this been a surprise to anyone? We live in southeastern PA and certainly did feel the quake. But our house has stood since 1890 without damage from quakes, including a few much larger than the recent one, so I guess we will continue not to ask for the additional coverage.

August 24 2011 at 12:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pfjw's comment
Sue

i live in northeast penna.. everyone around us felt it. I must be used to shaking. We have a cement company and they blast alot.. so to feel shaking.. well to me its the norm..

August 24 2011 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mclkarim

Regular homeowner's insurance policies do not provide coverage for earthquake or flood. Those are either separate policies or added onto your regular policy for hefty premiuims. I live in Southern California and had earthquake coverage for years until they raised the premiums and cut the benefits so much that it became unaffordable and really not even worth it anymore. What good will it do if you have to pay a ton of money out of your pocket for the deductible to get your house fixed if you don't have it? Makes no sense, but that is the way it is now.

August 24 2011 at 11:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nottenkamper

Having a house in Big Bear Lake, California (we have big quakes 6.4 but usally a 3. something) few of us carry earthquake insurance, as it costs too much. I found that it was easier to pay Fema back 5,000 dollars at 5 percent, when I had damages in the 6.4 quake. I would be paying more than that to a insurance company over the years. I take a lot of photos of my house(inside and out) to prove what condition everything is in prior to a quake. We use wall straps
(get them at hardward stores) for all the furniture again the walls, and museum putty to hold items on shelves, as the doors fly open during a large quake. We have no rock fireplaces, as they came down. Bolt down T.V.'s or anything that can move that you want to stay in one piece. We all hang on, and wait it out. Good luck to all of us.

August 24 2011 at 11:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
alanjacksonjd

Eq damage is not covered under your standard homeowners insurance policy. You have to pay extra for the endorsment. Most agents don't even mention it unless you ask. I worked as a catastrophe adjuster during the 94 LA eq. The majority of the people didn't have coverage. Now I work as an attorney. I really feel sorry for the people who don't have coverage because their agent didn't open their mouth. www.stormclaims911.com

August 24 2011 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bill

You should be covered for any event no matter what but they keep on changing the coverage. The one I like the best is "It's an act of God", we don't cover that. Insurance companies are pretty much useless unless you want to spend mega bucks on a policy then they will do anything for you. Just like driving.....you can go 40 years without a ticket or an accident but file just one claim and the cost jumps way up.

August 24 2011 at 11:31 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply