How Do ISO Fire Ratings Impact Homeowners Insurance Rates?

Your area's ISO fire score is a rating that determines how well your local fire department can protect your community and home. Insurance companies use the score to help set home insurance rates, as a home that is less likely to be severely damaged or destroyed by fire is cheaper to insure. However, the impact of your area's ISO score on your homeowners insurance policy varies by insurer. What's more, ISO does not publicly release scores, so it's not easy to look up your area's score or how it's impacting your insurance rates.

What Is an ISO Fire Rating?

A company called the ISO (Insurance Services Office) creates ratings for fire departments and their surrounding communities. The ratings calculate how well-equipped fire departments are to put out fires in that community. The ISO provides this score, often called the "ISO fire score," to homeowners insurance companies. The insurers then use it to help set homeowners insurance rates. The more well-equipped your fire department is to put out a fire, the less likely your house is to burn down. And that makes your home less risky, and therefore less expensive, to insure.

An ISO fire insurance rating, also referred to as a fire score or Public Protection Classification (PPC), is a score from 1 to 10 that indicates how well-protected your community is by the fire department. In the ISO rating scale, a lower number is better: 1 is the best possible rating, while a 10 means the fire department did not meet the ISO's minimum requirements.

According to the ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS), there are four main criteria to a fire rating score:

  • 50% comes from the quality of your local fire department including staffing levels, training and proximity of the firehouse.
  • 40% comes from availability of water supply, including the prevalence of fire hydrants and how much water is available for putting out fires.
  • 10% comes from the quality of the area's emergency communications systems (911).
  • An extra 5.5% comes from community outreach, including fire prevention and safety courses.
  • Any area that is more than 5 driving miles from the nearest fire station is automatically rated a 10.

Depending on your state, it's possible to get a maximum score of around 106% on the survey, although any fire department that scores above 90% receives the highest ranking, a 1. Very few fire departments receive that ranking--only 0.71% of all communities surveyed have a 1. A rating of 5 is both the median and most common rating fire departments received. In general, urban areas tend to have better PPC scores than rural areas, as urban fire departments are closer together and often receive better funding.

What Is My Home's ISO Rating?

Unfortunately, the ISO does not provide its fire safety scores to the public, so you can't look up your home's PPC rating directly from the organization. However, the organization does provide the information for free to each fire department it inspects. You can usually contact your local fire department and provide your ZIP code to find out the score for your area and when your department's score was updated.

How Does My ISO Impact Insurance Rates?

The formulas homeowners insurance companies use to determine their insurance rates are complex and constantly changing. But, all other things being equal, a lower PPC score for your area will translate to a lower homeowners insurance premium, as it means your home is at a lower risk for serious fire damage. Home insurance companies offer lower rates if you have a good ISO rating because a well-prepared fire department should be able to put out your home's fire more quickly.

However, how your rating impacts your homeowners insurance premium varies by insurer, and it's often only one of many factors it considers with regards to fire safety. For example, some companies will ask about your home's proximity to a fire station or fire hydrant, as well as whether you have a fire alarm or sprinkler system. And some insurers, namely State Farm, do not use the ISO's score to set homeowners premiums at all. Instead, they use their own metrics based on factors like historical fire data.

With that in mind, if your homeowners insurance premiums have increased due to a negative ISO fire rating, or you're no longer able to get home insurance at all, you may be able to bring your costs back down by shopping around for the best homeowners insurance company for your needs.

If your area has a poor fire score, it's a good idea to take extra steps to fireproof your home, like installing a sprinkler system or smart smoke alarms. Many insurance companies provide discounts to homeowners who take extra steps toward fire prevention, which may help you offset increased insurance costs. What's more, it will simply keep your home safer from fire damage.

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