Here in the cold northwoods, alternate and supplemental heat sources are common, and it is no secret that heating with wood can affect your Homeowners insurance. In this post, I’ll explain what issues you can expect and some tips on how to make your indoor wood burner as insurable as possible.
Before we start our discussion of different types of wood heating units, let me say that most insurance companies will want to confirm that your wood burner is not the only source of heat. Carriers want to make sure that you also have a thermostatically controlled heat source so that your home won’t freeze if you are away from home too long.
So let’s start with fireplaces. Unlike woodstoves and wood furnaces, most carriers don’t worry or even ask about fireplaces. Some people use the terms “woodstove” and “fireplace” interchangeably, but a fireplace is either built into a wall or encased by a stone or brick structure, while a woodstove is an appliance sitting in your room, typically with all four sides visible and able to radiate heat. Fireplaces are generally considered much lower risk, and the majority of carriers won’t make you jump through any hoops or charge you more if you have one.
Then there is the fireplace insert, which is a firebox stuck into a masonry fireplace cavity to improve heating efficiency. If the insert is basically a stove protruding from the fireplace out into the room, it may be treated the same as any other woodstove for insurance purposes. However, most fireplace inserts are decorative metal and glass units with a face that is flush with the front of the fireplace; these tend to be just fine with most carriers, with some exceptions.
For the most start, the insurance issues come into play once we start talking about woodstoves and wood furnaces. These types of units are the ones where insurance carriers start getting nervous about the increased risk of fire. The difference between a woodstove and wood furnace is that a woodstove warms the air in the room around it by radiating eat, while a wood furnace heats like a gas or electric furnace, blowing hot air through ductwork out vents into the various rooms of your home. Both types of units face the same types of challenges when it comes to insurance; so, for ease of reading, I’m going to refer to both as woodstoves.
All insurance carriers tend to be concerned about the potential for increased risk of fire posed by a woodstove. But how they react to this potential hazard varies widely from carrier to carrier. There are carriers who simply won’t agree to insure you if you have a wood burning stove. Others may require that your home is within five miles of a fire department and/or that the unit was professionally installed.
Speaking of professional installation, it is really a good call when it comes to a wood burner. The average homeowner simply doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to install their stove safely. If you are going to install your wood burner yourself, you should thoroughly study the clearance requirements, stove pipe specs and other installation instructions found in the owner’s manual. There are also other general codes out there that your carrier might require be followed; so it would be wise to consult with your insurance agent and also a qualified professional for advice before you begin. Once you’re done, having a knowledgeable party look over your work is a good call as well.
Let’s say your home is over five miles from the fire department and the woodstove was installed by the homeowner (or maybe you bought the home with the stove there and don’t know who installed it). Frankly, you won’t have as many carriers to choose from in your situation. But you will still have several options available, as long as your unit can pass some other requirements.
Most carriers will want to make sure that your woodstove is UL approved. “UL” is short for Underwriting Laboratories - an independent firm that tests and certifies consumer goods to make sure they pass basic safety tests. To tell if your unit is UL approved, look on the manufacturer’s information plate for either the UL logo (“UL” inside of a circle) or the words “Underwriting Laboratories” with a certification number. You could also google your stove’s make and model to see if there is information online confirming its UL status.
Some carriers will allow woodstoves which are used as more occasionally - as a backup heat source rather than the primary way you heat your house. The theory would be that the more you use the stove, the greater the risk something will go wrong.
Once you find a carrier who may be willing to insure your woodstove, the next step is usually final approval of the stove. Some carriers may simply ask you to fill out their woodstove questionnaire form, which asks a variety of questions including measured clearance distances around it, asking how often you clean the chimney and suchlike. For some carriers, this form seems to be a token requirement, while others may study your responses closely to confirm if all standards have been met. Some carriers have their own inspectors who they may send out to look at your stove and make sure it is safe to operate, perhaps offering suggestions if something isn’t quite right.
After final approval of your woodstove, there is still the matter of the wood heat surcharge. Most carriers who agree to accept woodstoves will add an additional $50 to $100 a year to your premium to account for the increased risk.
When discussing the wood heating topic, the insurance industry often uses the term “solid fuel heat”. Basically, a solid fuel heating unit is any device that burns something solid (instead of liquid fuel like natural gas, propane or oil). While wood is the most common type of solid fuel used to heat with, pellet stoves and corn burning stoves also fall in this category. While clearance requirements are often more relaxed for pellet and corn stoves, generally these are treated the same as other solid fuel stoves.
If you add any type of solid fuel burning device later on after you start your policy, it is important to let your carrier or agent know. Some Homeowners policies specifically state that if your unit starts a fire, they won’t provide coverage if they haven’t previously approved the unit in writing. (This provision sometimes extends to fireplaces and outdoor wood boilers as well.) Speaking of outdoor wood burners, see my separate post about insurance issues with these units.
Because I live and write insurance here in the north country, I deal with wood heating issues all the time and would be happy to answer any questions that you might have. You can reach me at 218-444-9360 or email@example.com.
About the Author
Agent Ken Cobb
Ken is the owner and principal agent at Pine Country Insurance in Bemidji. Active in the insurance industry since 2000,Ken uses his years of personal insurance knowledge and experience to assist clients in customizing insurance coverage to fit their needs. Ken considers himself a "farmer" rather than a "hunter"; rather than focusing on writing a lot of new policies as quickly as possible, he works on cultivating long term relationships based on trust with his clients. When writing new policies and meeting for annual reviews, Ken spends time with his clients explaining and helping them understand their insurance, and he is also pleased to share his knowledge with his blogging audience as well.
Ken Cobb is owner of Pine Country Insurance and has been active in the insurance industry for over 15 years. Meet Ken.
Coverage descriptions found in this blog are summaries provided for general educational purposes and cannot fully detail the terms, conditions, limitations or exclusions of a specific insurance policy. Please read your policy carefully.