We tend to think of sweeping hurricanes and thunderous tornadoes when we purchase homeowners insurance coverage, but a burst pipe is no less formidable — it can cost you almost $11,000 in damages, no small sum by any means.
Water damage is one of the leading causes of insurance claims today, leaving room for deeper issues like black mold. That’s why it’s important to consider water damage coverage when choosing your homeowners insurance plan.
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What is water damage?
Water damage can come from a number of things. A burst pipe, leaky roof and excess A/C condensation can all wreak havoc on your home and on your life. Even worse, the culprit isn’t always visible, so you have to be extra vigilant in dealing with water damage.
Standing water not only soaks your things and destroys them, but it also can create a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and mold. Humidity can heighten these risks.
There are three leading causes of water damage:
- Water or sewer backup
- Overflow and discharge
Most water damage causes are accidental or outside of a homeowners’ reasonable control. They can happen gradually, like with a leaking roof, or they can happen suddenly, such as a flood. Either way, most water damage is included in a standard homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy.
Sewer backup is not due to homeowner fault, but the damages are no less hazardous. Toxic chemicals and bacteria can seep into your home with the sewage and take over. The Civil Engineering Foundation only expects sewage backups to increase with each coming year.
When does my homeowners insurance cover water damage?
Some policies include coverage for water damage; others require you to purchase additional insurance.
Standard insurance policies include coverage for the following water-related damages:
- Ice, snow or sleet that can create water damages and cause a roof to collapse
- Water discharge and overflow
- Water heater damages, such as burning, peeling, cracking or bulging
- Frozen plumbing or pipes
You can be held responsible for costs of damages if you don’t maintain appropriate seasonal temperatures in the home, such as heat in the winter. You can also have to pay for damages yourself if you abandoned the property for an extended period of time. Also, some companies don’t cover damage from sewage pipes unless you purchase extended coverage.
These exceptions vary from company to company, so check what exemptions might apply to your policy.
[Read: Homeowners vs hazard insurance]
How to make a water damage claim
Depending on your coverage, your homeowners insurance will restore or replace expensive items like appliances and electronics in addition to the physical repairs of your home.
[Related: How to File a Home Insurance Claim]
Your insurance company will send an adjuster to your property to analyze the damages and officially determine the cause. Based on this report, the insurance company will decide if the damages are covered under your plan.
If you qualify for coverage, you will get connected with a local provider who will repair your home. Extractors and pumps can remove any standing water from your home, and fans might help make things dry faster. Carpets might be removed if possible, along with anything else that can prevent the floors from thoroughly drying.
The affected area will also be disinfected to eliminate any trace of mold or any other harmful materials.
How to protect your home against water damage
While some kinds of water damage are out of your control, there are some things you can do to protect your home from future water damage.
- Purchase a sewer and drain backup rider. Not all insurance companies include this coverage in their policies, so ask whether sewer and drain insurance is available for your home.
- Purchase appropriate flood insurance. Some areas are more prone to floods than others, so the need for flood insurance varies depending on where you live. You can purchase flood coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program, or you can opt for coverage through your regular provider.
- Reseal cracks in your basement and windows. Holes and cracks in the foundation of your home can appear in windows and basement floor. Refinish your floors with durable, waterproof materials, and caulk and reseal your windows to prevent leaks during wet weather.
- Install a backwater valve in your basement. A backwater valve will make sure that any flooding or seeping water goes out of your home but does not come back in.
- Regularly replace hoses and faucets. Replace all hoses every five to seven years. This includes things like your dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer, ice maker and water heater.
- Never leave appliances running. The best way to prevent disaster is to make sure there is never water running when you aren’t home. Don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine when you’re gone, and always shut off the main water supply to your washer before extended absences.
- Check for an emergency pressure release valve. This specialized valve is designed to relieve built-up pressure in your pipes during colder weather, which causes them to explode. If your home doesn’t have this valve, have one installed.
There are some things in life that we can’t prevent, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best to protect our homes from the elements.
A comprehensive homeowners insurance plan with dedicated water damage coverage can prevent you from becoming a future victim of water seepage and flooding.
Why did my water damage claim get rejected?
The most common reason why water damage claims get rejected is because the damage is gradual, rather than sudden or accidental. Gradual water damage occurs slowly over time, but because your pipes are hidden in the walls, you can’t always tell when damage is gradual.
For instance, water damage that is caused by a crack in your home’s foundation would be considered gradual damage. The same goes for a leaky pipe that eventually causes damage to a nearby wall or floor. Gradual water damage is essentially wear and tear, which is almost never covered by insurance.
If your water damage claim was denied, contact an agent and ask why. They can walk you through your policy documents and help you understand what is and isn’t covered. If you still think the claim should have been covered, you can also request for the claim to be reviewed.
When does homeowners insurance cover water damage?
There are plenty of situations when water damage is covered by insurance. Anytime water damage is sudden or accidental, or it results from another covered peril, it’s usually covered. But it also depends on the source of the water damage.
One of the most common examples is water damage after extinguishing a fire. If part of your home catches fire and the fire department uses a hose to put out the flames, the resulting water damage would be covered by insurance.
Let’s say a huge tree falls onto your roof during a major storm and rain water floods into your attic. The roof damage from the falling tree would be covered by insurance because it’s a covered peril. The water damage is a resulting damage, meaning it wasn’t the main source of the claim, but a side effect. In that situation, you would probably be compensated for a portion of the water damage.
Water damage insurance coverage exclusions
Every home insurance policy has exclusions, which are damages that are not covered. Although every policy is different, there are typically a few water source exclusions that are consistent. Here are the most common ones:
- Wear and tear: Overtime, your pipes, faucets and other water sources naturally degrade. Damage due to wear and tear is not covered by insurance.
- Sudden or accidental discharge: Accidental discharge occurs when a water source ruptures and releases water. This is most common with water heaters, pipes and washing machine hoses.
- Sewer backup: If the sewer pipe that connects your house to the street gets damaged, it won’t be covered by insurance.
- Water backup: If water backs up into any of your appliances, or if a pipe gets clogged and it leads to water damage, you’ll have to pay for the repairs yourself.
- Sump pump overflow: If the sump pump in your home fails and it leads to an overflow, insurance doesn’t cover the damage.
- Flood: Home insurance never covers flood damage, even if it results from a storm or natural disaster.
If you’re worried about water damage in your home, most insurance companies offer endorsements that can extend your coverage. Sump pump and water backup coverage is just one example. Additionally, homeowners who live in flood-prone areas should consider purchasing a flood insurance policy.
Too long, didn’t read?
Home insurance only covers water damage in certain instances. If you file a claim and it gets denied, it’s probably because the damage was deemed gradual, rather than sudden or accidental. If you’re worried about water damage in your home, it’s recommended to purchase endorsements which can extend your coverage and give you more protection.
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Last updated July 27, 2020 – Added new editorial advice on water damage.
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