Updated: March 2017
Q: We're planning to install a fire pit in our yard. Will I have a problem with my homeowners insurance? What kinds of risks should we worry about?
A: Standard coverages on a typical homeowners insurance policy probably offer protection for a built-in fire pit and associated risks, says Richard Longacre, an Allstate agency owner in Longview, Texas. However, it may depend on the type of fire pit you have and the coverages you purchase.
A small, portable fire pit would typically be considered a personal belonging (and damages to it protected under the personal property coverage on your policy), whereas a permanent fire pit may be considered an unattached structure and be covered under a different portion of your policy, Longacre says.
A structure, you say? Well, consider how elaborate some fire pits have become in recent years.
Longacre suggests getting in touch with local officials to check whether a fire pit is allowed in your area, or whether you need to follow any guidelines on where or how to build one.
If you're installing a permanent fire pit, talk to your agent about available coverages and limits. Make sure the coverage limits (the maximum your insurance company will pay out on your policy), are enough to meet your needs, Longacre says.
Structures that fall under unattached structures coverage are typically only protected for a certain percentage of the amount of insurance you have on your home. So, if you have $150,000 of insurance on your home, and the policy provides 10 percent coverage, you'd likely have a coverage limit of $15,000 on all the unattached structures on your property, which may include the fire pit.
Longacre suggests having a conversation with your insurance agent to assess that limit on your policy. "You want to understand how much coverage you currently have and how much extra you might need or want," he explains.
The best time to call, of course, is before you build the pit, he says. But do people typically do that? "They should," says Longacre, "but, no, they don't." We often don't find out until they start posting photos on Twitter and Facebook, he says with a laugh.
However, there may be instances where you are, in fact, required to disclose your fire pit to your insurer. In many wildfire-prone regions, for instance, insurance carriers require notice before they extend coverage to a fire pit. So it's probably best to make a call to talk with your agent, either way.
There are other potential risks as a fire pit owner, and different insurance coverages that could help cover them, Longacre says.
For instance, if one of your guests stumbles and falls in the fire pit, the guest medical coverage on your policy may help pay for their doctor's bills, he explains. If you're worried about flying embers sparking a fire in a neighbor's yard, the liability protection on your policy would likely help cover injuries or property damage that result from that. You should check the limits on these (typically) standard coverages to make sure they meet your needs, he says.
Once your pit is up and running, of course, then it's just a matter of practicing good fire safety and common sense, Longacre says. At a minimum, you'll want to take stock of weather conditions, and potential high winds, before you start a fire. And, you should always keep a fire extinguisher and a water hose nearby. And, of course, you'll probably want to "make sure you pay your water bill" as well, Longacre quips.