Sometimes it Takes a Village to Lower Cost of Home Insurance

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(Ken Light, Photographer)
Embers from the 2017 Tubbs wildfire in Santa Rosa blew from a nearby "very severe" wildland into this urban development, devastating it in several hours.

    The subject of homeowner insurance premiums has been bubbling up recently. Many people are finding their premiums are being doubled or more, and many folks moving into town have had a hard time finding coverage.
    There is no mystery as to why. With climate change, wildfires have become part of the new normal and Orinda is in an extremely high and very high-risk zone. In fact, it could take as little as one hour for a wildfire to rip through the town.
    Insurers have not been calculating this risk into premiums in the past, but are now. Rates will continue to rise. In addition, there is a mandatory moratorium on non-renewals which ends Oct. 27 for Orinda’s zip code so we can expect cancellations to start then, too.

What to do?
    First, the good news. Being in a designated Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) such as Orinda is does not make it harder to get insurance. And, it is possible to lower the risk of a wildfire and to give yourself the best chance of keeping your insurance and buying affordable insurance. This has to do with understanding how insurance companies are adding wildfire to their risk-assessment formulas.
    Unlike earthquake preparedness, in which an insurance rate does not depend on whether you shore up your foundation or not, a wildfire requires an interdependent type of preparedness: If I do not harden my home, I am putting you in danger and if you do not harden your home, you are putting me in danger. A wildfire spreads, gathering energy and speed as it goes. Insurance companies know this and they are looking at whole neighborhoods to assess risk.
    The best thing you can do to preserve your homeowner’s insurance is to work with your neighbors to make sure all of you have hardened your homes against wildfire.

Here are ways to do that:
    Join or create a Firewise group. In Orinda there are more than eight neighborhood groups, with more forming all the time. When you are certified, you will be able to show an insurer that your neighborhood is reducing the risk of a wildfire. Find out how to do that at the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) website (www.mofd.org/our-district/fuels-mitigation-fire-prevention/firewise).
    Support the Orinda Firewise Council, a peer support group for Firewise groups in Orinda, by joining its mailing list or having your Firewise group become a member. Email melanie@melanielight.com.
    Get active with agencies that can help. Start attending MOFD and City Council meetings. Ask the people who are running them to fund fire prevention and to tend to the infrastructure.
    There is no guarantee that you will be able to keep affordable homeowners insurance but if you do the mitigation, you will look better to other insurers. Some companies are now insisting that you do mitigation, sometimes extreme mitigation, before they insure you. Having done work already will work in your favor. Also, you will be safer from a wildfire, especially if your whole neighborhood has done the mitigation.
    If you get renewed at decent rates, good for you. Some companies are still looking for business in Orinda – at least for now. The bonus is that if you do the work and join the Firewise community, you are safer. Also, the neighborhood is assessed at a lower risk for future renewals, which may translate into lower premiums.
    We are in challenging times in many ways. The challenge of wildfire and insurance is a formidable one, but at least we know how to minimize a wildfire and can present our best case to insurance companies by hardening our neighborhoods.

Melanie Light is chair of the Orinda Firewise Council. She can be reached at info@melanielight.com.

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