With massive floods to the west of us, huge wildfires to the north and continuing sea-level rise to the east, New Hampshire homeowners would be wise to prepare for the worst. They can start by checking their home insurance.
That’s the message from the New Hampshire Insurance Department as part of a recent Consumer Advisory for Storm Preparedness. Among other things, the department notes that home insurance policies do cover fire damage, as required by state law, and cover storm-related damage from things like falling trees, but they don’t cover flooding and groundwater damage.
“Our standard message is: people need to explore all insurance options. We certainly encourage folks to buy flood insurance and review their current coverage packages,” said Keith Nyhan, consumer services director for the department. Of particular importance are exclusions, or specific damages that are not covered.
The message comes as a couple of companies have stopped offering homeowners insurance in hard-hit states like California and Florida because the risk of floods and fires has soared, and activists warning that insurance costs are going to skyrocket as climate change increases extreme weather events.
There have been no moves by companies to leave New Hampshire’s market, said officials, and none are expected.
“The possibility of that happening in New Hampshire is extremely low. We don’t have the level of extreme weather that other states have,” said James Fox, property and casualty director for the Insurance Department. “We work with the companies to balance the needs of the consumer and the needs of the companies. … We have a robust auto market, commercial market, homeowners market.”
The question of rising insurance premiums due to climate change risks is more complicated. For example, the massive wildfires that have swept Quebec and the Maritime provinces this year, places where the climate and forest cover is similar to New England, imply that our wildfire risk is becoming greater than the historical record would imply.
But that’s not enough to hike rates here, said Fox. “You need to show us there’s actually a risk in New Hampshire. Wildfires in Canada are not going to do it.”
Most changes in insurance premiums must be approved by the state Insurance Department based on actuarial evidence – data on past and expected payouts to customers versus income from premiums that shows the likelihood of financial loss if rates aren’t increased.
Fox pointed to recent cases in which a company wanted to raise auto insurance premiums for Hyundai and Kia cars that were easy to steal because of a software weakness, resulting in a rash of thefts out west.
“The insurer wanted to raise rates. But you need to show us that there’s actually a risk – you’re not going to say: In Arizona, there’s a problem,” he said.
He also noted that this year’s floods in Vermont wouldn’t necessarily be enough for flood-insurance rates to rise here because actuarial evidence requires more than a single year.
Nonetheless, extreme weather events are likely to increase as the climate heats up, making insurance coverage more important.
The Insurance Department recommends that people contact their insurance agent to go over the level of coverage and determine whether flood insurance might be useful. Another step listed in the advisory is to create a home inventory of what is owned, which can speed restitution for any damage.
“If you want to protect yourself against floods in New Hampshire you 100% can, no matter where you live in the state,” said Fox.
The full Consumer Advisory can be seen at nh.gov/insurance.