Insurance coverage for mud leaves homeowners mired in fine print

Justin Stoltzfus

You get home insurance to protect yourself from worst-case scenarios. If you're extra risk-averse, maybe you supplement your basic policy extra coverage like flood insurance and earthquake insurance. When it comes to mudslide damage, though, you're probably not covered.

Stand-alone mudslide or landslide policies for are hard to come by -- and may be impossible to get if you live in high-risk areas. Worse yet, mudslides are not covered by home insurance or flood insurance.

Mudslides vs. mud flows -- what's covered?

Read the fine print -- all mud is not the same. Moving mud comes in the form of mudslides and mudflows. Neither is covered under basic home insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Flood insurance, available through the National Flood Insurance Program NFIP), covers mudflows but not mudslides.

So what's the difference between mudflows and mudslides? According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA), a mudflow is a runny, watery stream of mud, while a mudslide is a movement of more solid chunks of earth. In other words, according to FEMA, a mudflow resembles a milkshake, while a mudslide resembles cake.

What causes mudflows and mudslides?

Solid earth can become vulnerable to mudflows or mudslides in any part of the country. Ground saturation is a common cause, according to FEMA. According to the American Red Cross, other causes include:

  • Extreme seasonal changes like rapid freezing and thawing.
  • Wildfires, which can change areas in ways that result in rapid erosion.
  • Volcanic eruptions.

How can I minimize damage?

FEMA estimates mudslides and mudflows cause up to $2 billion in property damage and 25 to 50 deaths each year in the United States. While it may not be possible to get home insurance protection from mudslides, there are some measures homeowners can take to minimize the damage they cause.

FEMA recommends using plants and retaining walls to anchor existing ground, as well as providing channels for storm water. The Washington State Department of Health recommends getting a ground assessment of your property to evaluate risk. In case all else fails, it's a good idea to have home evacuation plans in place and learn to recognize the warning signs of mudslides:

  • Doors or windows suddenly start sticking.
  • Bulges appear in the ground at the base of a slope.
  • Water breaks through the ground surface.
  • Cracks form in your home's foundation.

Fences or trees start tilting.

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