Water floods a home in Snohomish five years ago. With disasters striking the South, the Caribbean and Mexico — and storm season approaching — insurance experts say now is a good time review what homeowner policies cover and don’t. (Sarah Weiser / The Herald)

Water floods a home in Snohomish five years ago. With disasters striking the South, the Caribbean and Mexico — and storm season approaching — insurance experts say now is a good time review what homeowner policies cover and don’t. (Sarah Weiser / The Herald)

Calamities that your homeowner insurance doesn’t cover

With disasters striking — and storm season coming to the Northwest — you should review your policy.

People struggling with the devastation of hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria and the earthquake in Mexico provide a lesson for Snohomish County homeowners — and renters.

With storm season pending, experts say now is a good time to revisit insurance policies. Many people assume they have coverage against damage caused by perils such as floods, earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes and forest fires, only to discover they were mistaken after it’s too late.

“We’re seeing bigger, stronger storms. We all know eventually we’ll be subject to an earthquake,” said Kara Klotz, spokeswoman for the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. “It’s scary and daunting, and we don’t like to think about it. The biggest thing is to read your policy. Know what you’re covered for, and what you’re not.”

Most homeowner policies, for instance, cover water damage generated from inside the home (a broken dishwasher or leaky refrigerator) but not from outside (flash flooding or a broken sewer line). That coverage costs extra.

So does protection against earth movement: landslides/mudslides, sinkholes, collapsed hillsides, and possibly volcanic activity. These require a separate policy from specialty insurers.

Even if you think you’re covered for a particular peril, it’s wise to double check.

Roy White, director of the National Flood Insurance Program, told the Associated Press in September that only half of the 10 million U.S. properties that need flood insurance have it — despite a mandate for flood-plain homeowners receiving federally-backed loans to buy insurance through the program.

Though included in the initial mortgage agreement, policies can slip without the lender noticing. When loans are sold or repackaged, paperwork sometimes gets lost, and new lenders do not follow up.

In Florida, 59 percent of flood insurance premiums were not being paid, leaving just 41 percent of the state’s flood-plain residents covered for damages from Hurricane Irma, according to data from the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA).

In Snohomish County, there has been a 10.4 percent decrease in flood insurance policies after a rate hike in 2012 rose the average premium from $798 a year to $1,073, according to an AP report.

Klotz estimates less than 10 percent of Washingtonians have earthquake insurance. Some companies do not offer earthquake insurance, and those that do include deductibles up to 30 percent. This would leave the owner of a $700,000 home responsible for $210,000 in replacement costs.

“Earthquake coverage is really a personal choice,” said Kenton Brine, president of the Northwest Insurance Council. “The more you have invested in your home and the more budget you have available, the likelier it is that you’ll want earthquake coverage. If your home is your major investment, coverage probably makes sense. (It) could save you from bankruptcy.”

Many tenants mistakenly believe their landlord’s insurance will cover their losses in a catastrophe. But the landlord’s policy covers damage to the building, not to occupants’ personal belongings.

Those considering quake insurance should ask about total replacement coverage. This keeps pace with rising labor and material costs, ensuring you have enough money to rebuild your house, said Brine.

Brad Hilliard, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, advises people to keep an up-to-date inventory of everything they own. The easiest way is to snap photos and store them in the cloud.

“Pay close attention to closets, garages, barns and sheds,” Hilliard said. “There’s a lot to remember, at a very stressful time.”

Since each homeowner has unique needs, Hilliard recommends consulting with your insurance agent at least once a year. Ask plenty of “what if” questions (what if a tree makes a hole in my roof and rain gets in the walls…am I covered?)

Coverage for most common perils, such as wildfires and falling trees, is included in standard policies. But it pays to be vigilant.

There are more than 600 companies issuing personal insurance policies in Washington state, Brine noted. Some policies will be too restrictive, and some agents might be unwilling to write the policy you request.

“But most of them have what you need,” he said, “and they want to sell it to you. When weather comes to the Puget Sound region, it often hits Snohomish County harder than other areas, so make sure you are not under-insured.”

More in Herald Business Journal

No flashing lights planned for giant Port of Everett cranes

The Port sought public input on making them blue and adding lights or keeping them as they were.

Boeing asks that its big state tax break be suspended

The company hopes the move will resolve a trade dispute involving European rival Airbus.

Boeing finds debris in wing fuel tanks of several 737 Maxs

The company did not say what the objects were found, but one report said they included tools and rags.

Charge: Lynnwood tobacco smuggler dodged $1 million in taxes

The man, 57, reportedly dealt in illicit cigarettes. Tax returns claimed he sold hats and T-shirts.

Some dissent emerges on new engineering contract with Boeing

“This is being shoved down our throats,” said one SPEEA council rep.

FAA faces dilemma over 737 Max wiring flaw that Boeing missed

The vulnerability could lead to an emergency similar to the one that brought down two jets.

Everett’s new passenger terminal gets some national love

Paine Field was voted 8th-best among a selection of small airports, some of which aren’t all that small.

United pushes back expected return of grounded Boeing planes

United, Southwest and American are bracing for a second straight summer without their Max planes.

US manufacturing output hit by Boeing troubles, slips 0.1%

Excluding the production of airplanes and parts, factory production rose 0.3%.

Boeing and engineering union agree on new, extended contract

The board of SPEEA will recommend the proposal to its 18,000 members in the Puget Sound area.

Airbus CEO sees no short-term benefit from Boeing Max woes

The European planemaker’s competing A320 is sold out through 2025.

Virus outbreak in China poses a new problem for Boeing

A number of deliveries are ready for Chinese customers who “cannot come to Seattle to take delivery.”