California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara unveiled a new set of statewide insurance standards on Monday aimed at both fireproofing older homes against wildfire risk and keeping wildfire insurance affordable and available for homeowners.
According to the California Department of Insurance, the new standards comes in three parts. The first part, structure protection, will have Californians responsible for having a Class-A fire resistant roof, a five foot ember resistant area around the home, six inches at the bottom of exterior walls being non-combustible, having ember and fire-resistant vents, having upgraded windows such as double panes or added shutters and enclosed eaves..
Immediate surrounding protections were also a part of it, with Californian homeowners also seeing standards on clearing all vegetation and debris from under decks, removing all combustible sheds and other outbuildings or moving all at least 30 feet away from homes, and defensible space compliance, such as cutting trees and removing debris and brush from the yard. Finally, the last part ups community standards, with coordination with local fire districts to come up with the best evacuation routes, community clearing of brush and overgrowth, submitting local planning documents on wildfire plans, and coming up with funding sources to help meet the new standards.
The new standards, also known as “Safer from Wildfires,” are designed to greatly reduce the risk of wildfires and wildfire spread, especially in older homes that meet fewer of the current wildfire mitigation standards. With older homes meeting the new standards, Commissioner Lara says that not only will wildfire risk be greatly reduced, but skyrocketing insurance costs would be tempered.
While California has only had wildfire-resistant building standards in place since 2008, a drastic increase in wildfires and a low number of older homes not being made wildfire-resistant, as well as a number of destructive and devastating wildfires in recent years, have caused insurance premiums to skyrocket and some insurance companies to end insurance agreements. Since coming into office in 2019, Lara has made it one of his priorities to both improve fireproofing standards and halt insurance companies from dropping fire insurance policies.
With the new standards released on Monday, Lara hopes to hit two birds with one stone and have insurance companies offering discounts and incentives for retrofitting older homes.
New wildfire home mitigation standards
“Reducing the wildfire risk is critical to making insurance available, reliable and affordable for all Californians,” Commissioner Lara said on Monday. “The new standards would prompt insurance companies to offer discounts, providing incentives for retrofitting older homes. There are 12 insurance companies representing 40% of the insurance market already offering discounts to homeowners taking hardening measures. Three years ago, only 7% of the market was offered such discounts. The framework will help me as a regulator of the nation’s largest insurance market to expand insurance incentives to homes and businesses and that will save money and encourage safety.”
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci added, “Those homeowners that actually take the time to become prepared by taking actions like these we’re discussing today are going to be more resilient and will be able to deal with the impacts of these kinds of disasters and of course recover more quickly.”
Homeowner insurer companies, wildfire mitigation experts and others praised the new standards on Monday, but with some concern for those who make it through the cracks.
“The standards are good and make sense. If insurance companies, the state, and homeowners all agree on homeowners doing the work to get lower premiums and insurance companies not having to shell out as much in claims, more power to them,” explained insurance company investigator Pat Drummond to the Globe on Tuesday. “However, for any homeowner in a wildfire area who misses out on this, it may prove to be disastrous. It’s for lower insurance costs, saved lives, and saved property, but there will still be people refusing it because they don’t want to alter things or move things around the yard. For this to be effective, people need to treat this like a ruling from a local government on trimming trees on your property or something, and that kind of action sometimes inflames homeowners. Don’t believe me, go to a city zoning or planning meeting, or city council meeting, where they discuss home ordinance violations. The state needs to be clear on how they plan to nip that outcry out now instead of problems with it all later.”
The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Insurance, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Public Utilities Commission and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research were all involved with the new standards,