California officials unveil framework for homeowners to reduce insurance premiums

The guidelines include home-hardening items, including “class-A” rated roof and ember and fire-resistant vents.|

State officials on Monday unveiled a framework of “home-hardening” steps that Californians can take for their residences to prevent wildfire damage and ultimately help reduce insurance premiums or the risk of being dropped by their carrier.

State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara assembled the guidelines along with input from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission in response to the plight of wildfires that have struck the Golden State over the past decade, including within the North Bay.

Such damage has resulted in insurance carriers hiking rates or dropping coverage in problematic areas locally and in such places as the Sierra foothills.

“Making homes and businesses safer from wildfires protects all Californians, saving lives, reducing losses, and making insurance more available and affordable for all,” Lara said.

The guidelines include home-hardening items, including “class-A” rated roof and ember and fire-resistant vents. These are roofs that provide the highest fire protection and made with such materials as fiberglass-asphalt composite or steel.

Other steps include clearing vegetation around decks and removing combustible sheds and outbuildings to at least 30 feet away from the home. The framework calls for community policies under local fire districts that define boundaries of high-risk areas and spell out evacuations plans.

Lara’s office said there are 12 insurance companies that offer discounts for wildfire safety on a voluntary basis within California and represent about 40% of the overall market. Lara wants the framework to increase the numbers of carriers of participating by putting specific details in place.

“I’m going to continue to push to get more insurance companies to give these discounts,” he said. “I’m not going to rely on me just asking. We are going to be coming out and working on additional measures to make sure that consumers not only get these discounts, but they are given in a way that’s fair and equitable.”

While the Sierra foothills have been a hotbed of action by carriers dropping coverage, it also has been a concern locally in the aftermath of the 2017 North Bay wildfires as insurance companies reexamined their exposure risk.

The amount of nonrenewals 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.

That is a relatively small amount given the approximately 147,000 homeowner policies that were either renewed or were new ones in 2020.

However, there has been a sizable growth in the number of local homeowners who have had to rely on the state 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.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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