If a fire takes your home and belongings, fire insurance will help you recover and give you a place to stay while you wait.
Fire insurance can protect your home and belongings if an electrical appliance fails, embers from the chimney ignite your carpet or a bushfire engulfs your neighbourhood. It will also give you a place to stay with accommodation and living expenses cover while you wait for your home to be repaired or rebuilt.
Find out how to protect your home from fires and how fire insurance can help.
What is fire insurance?
Fire insurance is cover that comes standard on most home and contents insurance policies. It will pay to repair or replace your home and your belongings if they are damaged by fire. Plus it includes additional benefits like paying for your temporary accommodation if you can no longer live in your damaged house. Remember though, for a fire to have occurred, there needs to be a flame present. That's because most insurers won't consider other heat-related problems like scorching and melting.
What about bushfires?
Bushfire is the only specific type of fire you'll see referenced in your policy and that's because there are usually a few more pieces of fine print related to them. For example, you won't be covered for bushfire within the first 72 hours of buying your policy, but you're generally covered for all other types of fires from day dot.
What does your policy cover you for?
You can get two forms of fire cover with your home insurance. These are:
This protects the physical structure of the home itself, plus fixtures and fittings that are permanently attached to the house, like cupboards and carpets. If fire damages your home, most policies will cover you for the following:
- Repairing or replacing the home
- Temporary accommodation if your house is unlivable
- Demolishing the destroyed house and/or removing debris
- Regulatory fees related to building construction
- Professional services like surveyors and architects
This protects the belongings that are in your house, like your TV and clothes. Most policies will cover you for:
- Repairing or replacing your damaged items
- Storing your undamaged belongings if they can't stay at the property
- Removing and disposing of undamaged contents
Compare policies that protect your home and belongings from fire
An important note about underinsurance
It's obvious that going without any home insurance whatsoever is risky, but another type of risk has remained under the radar and quietly affects 80% of all Australians. It's called underinsurance and it's when you don't have enough insurance to completely replace your home and belongings if they were completely destroyed.
If you have your home insured for $1 million but it's really worth $2 million, you'd be out-of-pocket $1 million if a fire completely destroyed your house, unless you were willing to downgrade homes.
Even in cases of partial damage, you may not receive the entire amount. If the same $2 million home suffered $500,000 in damage, you may only get $250,000 of that because that's equal in proportion to your level of underinsurance. That's why it's a good idea to insurer your home for its entire value and review your contents insurance every year so you can keep on top of the value any new belongings might add.
Who needs fire insurance?
If you have small children, you need to think about getting fire insurance. Children are so likely to cause house fires that some providers consider them a cause of fires in their own right.
Similarly, senior citizens are also at disproportionate risk and a lack of mobility can also make it difficult to escape smoke inhalation and other hazards in time. Nevertheless, anyone who has a home with valuables in it and cooks there needs to think about getting cover.
Another reason for fire insurance you might not consider is winter. While more bushfires occur in hotter seasons, it's often the colder winter months that bring more house fires as people stay indoors and use heaters and other appliances.
How to lodge a claim after a fire
When you are ready to claim after a fire, here's what to do:
- Contact your insurer. You'll need to let it know ASAP so that they can assess any damage. You should also ask how to go about making any emergency repairs to prevent further damage if necessary and ask for an advance payment to cover any expenses of moving out of your home.
- Gather evidence. Take photos of the damage, get the police report and make a list of what you lost in the fire. Try to locate proof of ownership of the items you lost and keep all your receipts for your out-of-pocket expenses caused by the fire.
- Lodge your claim. Your insurer will send you a claim form or point you towards one on its website. Here you'll list details about the fire and the damage. Send this back to the insurer or upload it to its website along with your supporting documentation from step two. Your insurer will send someone out to inspect the damage, organise any emergency repairs and start gathering quotes from its network of builders and contractors.
- Wait for the results. If your claim is accepted, your insurer will pay to repair or replace whatever is covered by your policy. If your claim is denied, you have the right to several rounds of appeals, first through the insurer's internal disputes department and then through the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).
What fire insurance doesn't cover
All policies have exclusions or situations where you would not be covered. It's no different for fires. Here are some reasons an insurer could deny your claim:
- A bushfire happens too soon after you bought your policy. Most won't cover you against bushfires for at least 48–72 hours after buying your policy. The argument is that you could have bought your insurance only after you found out your home was in the path of an existing fire.
- The fire was intentional. You won't be covered if you or any of your guests start a fire with the intention of causing damage.
- It was an accident caused by negligence. A policy will generally only cover you if it is something you couldn't have helped (for example, the children knocked over a candle or there was an electrical fire). If you tried to grill a sausage using your chimney fire, there's a good chance your claim will be denied.
- There was no flame or the flame was too far away. You usually won't be covered for other heat-related damage like scorching, melting, soot or smoke if there wasn't a flame present or the flame was too far away from your property.
- Damage from ash, soot or smoke was caused by a fire away from your home. You'll only be covered for ash, soot and smoke if the fire also damaged your house or if it was from a fire within close range of your home (such as your neighbour's house).
- You acted recklessly. You won't be covered if you were drunk, on drugs or doing something illegal (including illegally storing explosive or flammable liquids) when the fire started.
- Your house didn't comply with fire regulations. For example, you have a wood heater that was not installed according to regulations.
Does home insurance cover fire damage to cars?
Your home insurance will not cover your car from fire damage, even if it is parked in your garage when the fire happens. To protect your car from fire damage, you will need car insurance. Either of the following two levels of protection would be enough:
- Third party fire and theft (TPFT). As it implies, this will cover you if your car is damaged or destroyed due to fire or theft, plus it covers you if you damage someone else's property or injure them.
- Comprehensive. This protects you for everything TPFT does and more. It protects your car from other natural disasters like storms and hail and it even covers you for damage to your car from accidents you cause.
You can find out more about car insurance in our car insurance guide.
How to prevent and put out kitchen fires
A combination of good habits and safety equipment can greatly reduce the odds of an accident.
You should never:
- Never swat at fires with a dishtowel, oven mitt or other cloth - It might seem instinctive, but it's a terrible idea. At best you're just fanning the flames. At worst you're going to ignite the cloth and then have two fires on your hands.
- Never try smothering a fire with flour or other flammables - Ingredients like sugar might catch fire themselves rather, and flour in particular might explode. Oven mitts, meanwhile, are often not fireproof. There's no substitute for a fire blanket.
- Never turn your smoke alarm off. A lot of people turn their smoke alarm off in the kitchen to prevent false alarms from occurring which means it doesn't help them when you need it most.
- Never leave children unattended. Never leave small children unattended in the kitchen while cooking, and get into the habit of turning the handles of pots and pans on a stovetop inwards so they can't be reached by curious hands. In general, try not to leave the kitchen unattended while cooking.
- Never leave things on. Always make sure you turn off the oven, grill, hotplate or any other cooking appliance. If you're not sure you did, it's probably worth double checking.
- Never cook with dirty equipment. Crusted on grease or other cooking crud in the oven might eventually reach a tipping point where it gets close enough to the heating elements to catch fire. It's generally a good idea to make sure all your appliances are clean and in good working order.
If there is a fire in your kitchen, your best bet is generally to try smothering the flames.
- How to fight microwave fires - Do not open the door. Instead, turn off the microwave immediately, and unplug it if it's safe to do so. The fire should smother itself.
- How to fight oven fires - The same principle applies as microwave fires. The safest thing to do is turn everything off and let the fire smother itself. If you try to save your food, or your oven, you simply risk spreading the fire.
- How to fight stovetop fires - Turn the stove off if possible, and then smother the flames by dropping a pan lid over them. If it's too big for that, use your fire blanket or fire extinguisher.
How to prevent electrical and other appliance fires
Although nowhere near as likely to catch fire as kitchens, lounge and bedroom areas are also more susceptible to fires than other the rest of the house, because there tend to be more electronics and appliances here, as well as fireplaces.
You should always use devices in line with the manufacturer's instructions, and there are certain steps to take for specific items.
- Powerboards. Don't overload power boards or other devices.
- Computers, phones and other devices. Avoid overheating computers, TVs and other electronics. Maintain good airflow around the devices and clean the dust as needed. It's also a good idea to stay on top of the news around your products, as there have been several recalls in recent years, following overheating laptops and phones catching fire.
- Fireplaces and candles. If you have a fireplace, always use a firescreen with it to prevent burning logs or embers from ending up on the carpet. Don't go to bed without fully extinguishing any fireplaces, candles and other open flames.
- Electric blankets. If you use an electric blanket, turn it on beforehand so it can warm up, and then turn it off once you're in bed.
- Heaters. Try not to keep any items too close to heaters, and in particular make sure they're not covered and that you don't keep any blankets, bedding or clothes too close to them.
- Dryers. Clean the lint filter regularly.
- Hairdryers, hair straighteners, laptops and others. Don't leave them on and unattended on a bed.
Home insurance policies typically require you to take reasonable precautions to avoid loss and damage.
For example, an insurer might deny a claim if it's found that you deliberately turned off a smoke alarm prior to a house fire, or didn't use a screen for your fireplace.
As you compare home and contents insurance policies, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the exclusions as well as the cover.
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