State officials on Monday unveiled a framework of “home hardening” measures Californians can take for their residences to prevent damage from wildfires and ultimately help lower premiums. insurance or the risk of being abandoned by their carrier.
State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara put together the guidelines with input from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission in response to the fate of the wildfires that swept through the Golden State over the past decade, including in the North Bay.
Such damage has led insurance companies to raise rates or reduce coverage in problem areas locally and in places such as the Sierra foothills.
“Making homes and businesses safer from wildfires protects all Californians, saves lives, reduces losses and makes insurance more available and affordable for everyone,” Lara said.
The guidelines include home hardening features including a Class A roof and ember and fire resistant vents. These are the roofs that offer the best fire protection and are made with materials such as fiberglass-asphalt composite or steel.
Other steps include clearing vegetation around patios and removing combustible sheds and outbuildings at least 30 feet from the house. The framework calls for community policies under local fire districts that define the boundaries of high-risk areas and outline evacuation plans.
Lara’s office said there are 12 insurance companies that offer voluntary wildfire safety discounts in California and account for about 40% of the overall market. Lara wants the framework to increase the number of participating carriers by implementing specific details.
“I will continue to push for more insurance companies to give these discounts,” he said. “I’m not going to rely on myself just to ask. We will go out and work on additional measures to ensure that consumers not only benefit from these discounts, but that they are given in a fair and equitable manner.
While the Sierra foothills have been a hotbed of action by carriers dropping coverage, it has also been a local concern following the 2017 North Bay wildfires as insurance companies re-examined their risk of exposure.
The number of non-renewals in Sonoma County triggered by insurance companies increased in 2020 to 2,829 policies from 2,341 in 2019, according to the Department of Insurance.
This is a relatively small amount considering the approximately 147,000 home insurance policies that were renewed or were new in 2020.
However, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of local property owners who have had to rely on the state’s FAIR plan, which is the state’s insurer of last resort. There were 689 county residents who signed up for the FAIR plan in 2020 and another 517 who renewed their FAIR policies for an overall total of 1,206.
In 2015, there were a total of 164 FAIR Plan policies in Sonoma County.