Although it probably provides little solace, those facing the aftermath of water damage in their home may find some comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Approximately one in every 50 insured homeowners will file an insurance claim for water damage each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Moreover, of all the home insurance claims related to property damage that were filed from 2013 to 2017, more than 30 percent were for water damage. When it comes to basements, research shows that an astonishing 98 percent will experience some form of water damage during their lifespans.
Unfortunately, water damage appears to be more or less inevitable for today’s homeowners. Fortunately, much of the damage is covered by standard homeowner’s insurance plans.
While these standard policies are designed to cover a wide range of soggy scenarios, certain causes of water damage require additional types of coverage or optional add-ons. It pays to know what’s covered under your plan, and what isn’t.
Water damage that IS typically covered by homeowners insurance
Given that the issues are not caused by poor maintenance (e.g. rusted old pipes that have been neglected by the homeowner), homeowner’s insurance will indeed cover water damage caused by plumbing issues such as burst pipes and accidental overflows. This is fortunate considering plumbing issues are probably the most common cause of water damage in homes.
Snow, Rain, and Ice Events
Water damage caused by stormy weather, such as:
This is covered under homeowner’s plans because these scenarios are considered sudden, short-term weather events rather than extensive flooding events (which are not covered).
For example, if your roof were to collapse from heavy snow, repairs from the resulting water damage would most likely be covered given there was no evidence of existing corrosion or neglected rot in the roofing.
Although it’s not a common cause of water damage, homeowner’s insurance will cover damage caused by a home invasion. For example, if someone were to enter your home and leave the faucet running, or intentionally damage a pipe, water damage resulting from this malicious activity would indeed be covered.
Water damage that IS NOT typically covered by homeowners insurance
Gradual Water Damage:
In general, homeowner’s insurance will only cover water damage that is the result of an immediate event which causes damage to the interior of your home. Any claims for damage caused by slow leaks that happened over a long stretch of time—and therefore could have been addressed before extensive damage occurred—will likely be rejected by your homeowner’s insurance company.
One common example of this type of non-immediate water damage is mold. Mold emerges gradually and, if dealt with expeditiously, can usually be resolved before any extensive damage occurs.
Large Scale Flooding:
When it comes to insurance, flooding is a category in and of itself. Water damage caused by large scale, local flooding is covered by specific flood insurance. This type of coverage is available through private insurance companies as well as the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Damage Caused by Poor Maintenance:
When water damage is the result of long-standing maintenance issues in your home, it isn’t viable for coverage under most home insurance plans. This is why it is important to routinely assess the structures that make up your home, including but not limited to your home’s:
It’s also crucial to keep records of these assessments and any maintenance, routine or otherwise, done on your home. These records will help in case you need to prove to your insurance provider that your water damage is not the result of homeowner neglect.
In most cases, if water damage is caused by sewage flowing from an outside tank or drain, it won’t be covered by standard home insurance policies. However, many home insurance providers do offer supplemental sewer backup add-ons that will cover you in these scenarios.
It’s worth discussing these options with your home insurance agent who can explain whether, depending on your home’s location and sewer system, additional water backup coverage is necessary.
What exactly can I be reimbursed for?
Not every home insurance plan is the same, and water damage related coverage will vary from policy to policy. That said, most home insurance plans will cover the following as they relate to water damage:
Your home insurance company will likely reimburse you for the home repairs required in the aftermath of water damage.
If the water damage destroys your home’s built-in appliances, such as a furnace, your homeowner’s insurance will likely reimburse you for the cost of a replacement.
Your home insurance company will likely reimburse you or partially reimburse for any items destroyed by the sudden water damage to your home. This includes clothing, electronics, and furniture. Of course, some personal items—like photographs and heirlooms—are priceless and irreplaceable.
Unfortunately, home insurance cannot reverse this type of damage.
Additional Living Expenses:
If the water damage in your home requires you to move to a temporary living space while repairs are being carried out, your home insurance plan may cover the cost of your hotel, food, and travel expenses during this time.
TIPS FOR FILING A WATER DAMAGE CLAIM
Start Right Away
As with all insurance claims, it’s always beneficial to start the process as early as possible. The longer you wait to file a claim for water damage, the more likely it is that the damage could be considered gradual and therefore not viable for coverage. Most insurance companies require you to be prompt with filing a claim.
Take Photos of Damage
When it comes to insurance, it really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. If it’s safe to do so, grab your phone and snap some photos of the water damage. It’s also worth going through old photos taken in the same area of your home that can serve as “before” photos and further evidence of the damage incurred.
Go Through Paperwork with Agent
You are not expected to be an expert on the complexities of your home insurance policy as it relates to water damage. Although it helps to have a cursory understanding of your coverage going into the process, take advantage of your insurance agent’s knowledge and work together to complete your paperwork. Here’s how to get insurance to pay for the water damage.
HOW DO I PREVENT WATER DAMAGE?
Unfortunately, certain instances of water damage are simply not preventable. It is these sudden and unexpected occurrences that are typically covered by home insurance. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to actively avoid preventable water damage through routine maintenance.
There are indeed many ways to reduce the chances of water damage, most notably the following:
Routine Plumbing Maintenance
Hire a plumber to assess your pipes and water-based appliances regularly, particularly if you live in an older home. A plumber will be able to replace old parts and spot any potential problem areas before they lead to serious damage.
Repairing Cracks in Your Foundation
Foundation cracks are a common cause of basement flooding. If you suspect this to be an issue in your home, hire a professional foundation repair and waterproofing company to address it as soon as possible. As with plumbing maintenance, this is especially relevant to older homes with older foundations.
Cleaning Out Your Gutters
Keep your gutters and downspouts clear of leaves and other debris to avoid a backup of rainwater. In addition to leaks from water buildup, the weight of the leaves, branches, and dirt that collect in your gutters can put a strain on your roof and lead to a partial collapse.
Hiring a Landscaper Skilled in Drainage Solutions
Some basement flooding can be prevented through landscaping that is designed to help your yard drain rain and snow runoff more efficiently. A professional landscaper can also trim any tree boughs that are at risk of breaking and falling on your roof during a storm.
Looking for Early Warning Signs
Be a vigilant homeowner. Keep your eyes peeled for early signs of water damage, as well as areas that may be vulnerable to water damage. Don’t ignore small drips or buildups of moisture. These could be major red flags for larger plumbing issues down the road. For basements, pay attention to drafts coming from outside. Remember, if air can get in, so can water.
Although water damage in the home is not anybody’s idea of a good time, it is exactly the reason why home insurance exists. So, don’t panic. Rest assured that there is a team of professionals (who deal with similar claims every day) ready to get your home looking its best again.