When you buy homeowner insurance, the money you pay into the policy could ultimately account for a fraction of the money your insurance company might pay out to you in the event that you file a claim. Therefore, the policy itself is more of a risk for the insurer than it is for you, the policyholder. To ensure they can cover payouts, most insurers prefer to take on customers who live in low-risk homes.
Fire is one of the leading causes of property damage and home destruction. In residential properties, fires are most often the result of fallen candles, electrical circuits, stovetop accidents, cigarettes and heating disasters. During the colder months of November through February, insurance companies see a spike in claims due to fires caused by candles and heating systems. To get a low home insurance premium, the distance to fire station and crew from your address must not exceed five miles.
Fire Protection Class Basics
To determine whether a home is at a low risk for fire, insurance companies look at an exclusive rating given to the area of a property in question. The rating, known as the Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), comes from the Insurance Services Office (ISO). The ISO rates communities on a scale of one through 10 based on fire safety contingencies. The lower the number, the better the fire safety. If your neighborhood has a low FSRS rating, your insurance premiums will likely be at the lower end of the scale.
1. How the ISO Determines FSRS Numbers
For an insurance company to offer you a relatively low premium, your home would need to be in the category of homes that are unlikely to incur much damage in a fire. Therefore, the homes in your community would need to have nearby access to firefighters and a hydrant, as well as ample emergency-response services and a low frequency of past emergencies. The ISO bases its FSRS ratings on the following factors.
- Proximity to a fire department: Regardless of where you live, the insurance premiums on your home will primarily hinge on whether your community has a nearby fire department. After all, the closer you have firefighters on call to your address, the less your home is liable to burn in the event of a fire. If a home or community is more than five miles away from the nearest fire department, the area will automatically default to a 10 on the ISO rating system.
- Availability of firefighters: An FSRS for a given community is half-based on the availability of local firefighters. In order for a neighborhood to score a low number on the ISO rating scale, the nearest fire department must be within five miles of the homes in question. Moreover, the fire department must be staffed with a full-time crew who are ready to respond, night or day, to an emergency call within the department’s radius.
- Distance to a fire hydrant: For your home to score a low number on the ISO rating scale, there must be a fire hydrant near your property. The closer this hydrant stands to the foot of your property, the better. Homes in the one through eight rating bracket are generally within 500 and 1,000 feet of the nearest fire hydrant. Without this feature, even a well-staffed firefighting team would be less equipped to control a blaze on your property.
- Quality of local emergency services: To a lesser extent, the ISO rates communities by the quality of local emergency communications. When you dial 911 to report a fire, the operators should be able to connect your call to the nearest fire department immediately. If the call centers are ill-equipped to handle calls from your area, homes in your community are unlikely to score an FSRS of five or under.
- Community awareness: The ISO gives extra percentage points to communities that are well-versed and organized in the matters of fire prevention and safety. If you live in a newer community where the homes have sprinklers, you could score a lower FSRS.
Granted, an FSRS is not the only factor insurance companies base their insurance rates on determining home insurance premiums. Therefore, if your local homeowners’ association conducts fire-safety meetings and the residents in your neighborhood are active on these matters, your community might have a relatively scant history of fire emergencies, which could make you seem like a low-risk candidate for a policy.
2. How to Get the Information
The ISO shares its FSRS ratings with insurance companies and agents, but does not make such information available to the public. That means as a homeowner, you have no way to access the FSRS rating for your area. However, you can get a rough idea of how your home might rate by examining the general ballpark of insurance rates among neighbors in your community. You could gather this info by asking people in your neighborhood about the insurance rates they pay on their homes. If you do not feel comfortable asking these questions in person, try the Reddit or NextDoor forums for your local community.
From the ballpark of rates you receive, take the median number and compare that figure to rates in nearby communities. Homes built near urban areas typically have low FSRS ratings due to the ample availability of fire departments, emergency services and fire hydrants. Therefore, if homeowners in the nearest urban center have significantly lower premiums, you could safely assume the FSRS rating is considerably higher in your area.
Who Created ISO?
Verisk Analytics, a risk-assessment firm based in Jersey City, N.J., founded the Insurance Services Office, Inc., in 1971. The purpose of ISO is to determine the fire-risk factor of a given community. Based on a local area’s FSRS rating, insurance companies can determine whether to consider homes in that area a high, low or moderate risk.
While an insurance policy should protect you from losses in the event of property destruction, insurance companies exist to make money. Therefore, your insurer will be happiest to cover your home if there is only a remote likelihood you will file a claim at any point down the line. If fires are rare in your area, the insurance company can charge low premiums to you and your neighbors, because the payout on a single claim will consume just a fraction of the company’s overall income.
What Does the ISO Do?
The ISO functions as an objective risk-assessment firm that examines each locale for its fire-safety contingencies. The ISO is not an insurance provider, nor does it act in partnership with insurance companies. Insurers use the FSRS ratings from the ISO to determine insurance rates for homes in a given area.
Given that the ISO exists to make risk assessments in local areas, the ISO does not communicate with the public. There is no way for individual homeowners to contact the ISO and negotiate lower insurance rates. For a community to score a lower FSRS rating, they would need to make improvements to the fire contingencies in that area. For example, if your community rated a 10 based on poor fire-safety services, the next ISO assessment could lower your FSRS rating if your township installs more fire hydrants and establishes a fire department with paid staff.
The ISO deems communities with an FSRS rating of one through eight as having sufficient fire safety contingencies. A community in the one to two range will generally have instant-response emergency services, ample fire hydrants and a neighborhood fire department. A community in the three to five range might have a fire department within three miles and an adequate supply of fire hydrants. A community in the six to eight range might have a fire department within four to five miles and at least one fire hydrant every 1,000 feet.
On the ISO scale, the negative zones would be anything at or above an FSRS rating of 8B, which the ISO assigns to communities that lack sufficient water supplies. If the nearest fire department lacks sufficient staff, or is a volunteer team, the ISO could rate your community a nine. Insurance companies generally charge high premiums to homeowners in communities with an FSRS rating of nine.
If the nearest fire department is more than five miles away from your neighborhood, your home will be in a group of properties with an FSRS rating of 10. Due to the high risks associated with homes located in that last grouping, most home insurance companies will not accept homeowners from communities with a rating of 10.
What Does It Mean for Me?
As a homeowner, there is no way to singlehandedly lower your FSRS rating. However, even if you live in an area in the seven to nine ratings bracket, you could lower your insurance premiums if you manage to convince an insurance agent your house would be a low-risk property for the company.
- The design of your home: The design, layout and safety features of your home could determine whether an insurance company will offer you lower rates on your premiums. For example, if your house is designed in a way that makes it difficult for fire to travel, the insurer might figure the house would be unlikely to burn extensively, even if your address sits at a five-mile distance from the nearest fire department.
- Home improvements: If your homebuilders used flame-resistant materials and installed a sprinkler system, those features could convince the insurer your house is a low-risk property. Even if your home lacks these features, there are steps you can take to boost the structure’s flame resistance. If your roof shingles are wooden, consider replacing them with slate or concrete shingles. If your rooms lack sprinklers, have a sprinkler system installed in your house. In the eyes of most insurance agents, that last move would likely serve as a major vote of confidence.
- Community engagement: Does the evidence point to a high FSRS rating for the homes in your neighborhood? If the nearest fire department is more than five miles away from your block and you cannot find a fire hydrant near your house, chances are your area has not scored well with the ISO. If you are involved in a homeowners’ association, you could raise the ISO issue with others in your community, and work toward ways to improve the situation. At meetings, your neighbors will likely be more forthcoming about their insurance rates, and you could gain tips on the best deals in town.
- Local development: Along with your fellow homeowners, you could lobby to have a fire department established nearby and have more fire hydrants installed on the streets in and around your neighborhood. Along with fellow residents in your homeowners’ association, bring the issues of fire safety and prevention before your local representatives. Lobby to have funds allocated for the improvement of emergency services. If enough people get behind the cause and demand these changes, the efforts could lead to the establishment of a new fire department near your house.
- Specialty insurance providers: If all the evidence points to a low FSRS rating for your area, it might become most apparent when you approach insurance agents, many of whom will look at the rating and reject your application outright. After all, your home would be a high-risk property in the eyes of most insurers. However, some insurance providers specialize in high-risk residential properties. While you would still pay higher premiums, you will at least be able to get your home insured, even at a remote address with no nearby fire department.
While there is no way to directly influence the ISO in how it rates the fire safety of a given community, there are steps you can take to mobilize your fellow residents to advocate for changes that, once implemented, could make your community a safer place to live. These efforts, in turn, could lower your FSRS rating and might bring your insurance premiums down to a more manageable rate.
Depend on Reisinger Insurance Agency, Inc., for Your Homeowner Insurance
When it comes to a home insurance policy, low premiums can help you save money in the short term while protecting your property for the long run. While it is noble and wise to invest in a secure plan, you should never have to pay a premium at some higher amount that is out of proportion to the value of your home and the neighboring properties in your community.
At Reisinger Insurance Agency, Inc., we help applicants get fair homeowner insurance policies that protect the value of the properties in question. As long as you choose to live in the home, you deserve to have the comfort and assurance your belongings will be safe after a fire or natural disaster. To lock in a fair deal, contact one of our insurance agents today to request a free quote on home insurance policies.