When it comes to your home, water damage is a much more common issue than you might think. Frozen pipes can burst in winter, washing machine hoses may leak and sprinkler systems can malfunction, all of which can cause extensive water damage to your home. The average water damage claim amounts to $11,098, and these issues cost a total of about $20 billion per year, making it a serious, and expensive, issue for homeowners.
Luckily, your homeowners insurance covers damages caused by a broad range of calamities, and that may include water damage, at least in some cases. But while homeowners insurance will often cover certain types of water damage, it can be difficult to know what is and isn’t covered. If you’re wondering whether your homeowners insurance covers water damage, or how to prevent the issue from getting worse, here’s what you should know.
Does home insurance cover water damage?
So when does homeowners insurance cover water damage, exactly? It depends on what caused the water damage. Water damage caused by a burst pipe is almost always covered. For example, if your pipe freezes and bursts, it’s likely your pipe and the water damage are covered under insurance (minus your deductible).
How coverage applies gets even more complex, though. A major dishwasher leak could be covered — or your claim could be denied. It all depends on the maintenance you’d performed up to that point. If you knew the dishwasher was having issues and didn’t deal with it, your insurer could argue that you were negligent and the water damage could have been prevented, which means your claim would be denied. It’s important to review the “Duties in the Event of a Loss” section of your homeowners insurance policy to understand what to do to prevent further damage should a claim situation occur.
Flood damage is almost always excluded under a standard homeowners insurance policy. You’ll generally need a separate flood insurance policy for this type of coverage.
What type of water damage is covered by homeowners insurance?
HO-3 policies are the most common homeowners insurance policies on the market. These versatile policies offer open perils coverage for your home and detached structures. Meaning that many scenarios where your home or detached garage is damaged due to water can be covered unless your policy specifically excludes the peril. Under the HO-3 policy form, your personal property coverage also accounts for 16 named perils, meaning that it has to be a listed peril in your policy to repair or replace your personal belongings.
Typically, you don’t need to worry whether or not your homeowners policy will cover water damage, because it will in many cases. However, it’s important to understand what scenarios are covered under your policy and in what scenarios your claim could be denied.
Rain and flood
This is probably where your mind goes first if you’re wondering what type of water damage is covered by homeowners insurance. Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from rain? If it’s storm damage, generally yes. But does home insurance cover floods? Almost always, no.
If a storm breaks a window and rain damages the furniture and sheetrock in your living room, your dwelling coverage will usually pay for the repairs to your walls and floor, subject to your deductible and limits. Likewise, your personal property coverage will usually cover your furniture.
However, if you happened to leave your window open and forget to close it before a rainstorm moves into the area, resulting in the rain coming in and damaging your furniture, your insurance claim to repair or replace your furniture would likely be denied.
Standard home insurance policies also don’t cover flood losses. Floods (along with earthquakes) are almost always specifically excluded from home insurance policies. So if those heavy rains lead to water pooling into your house, your standard policy won’t cover the damage. Homeowners can purchase flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Overflow of appliances
In most cases, your dwelling coverage will pay to repair damages caused by an overflow of water from appliances, but only when the overflow occurs accidentally and suddenly. For instance, if a sock somehow blocks your washing machine’s water outflow hose and floods your laundry room, your dwelling coverage should cover the ensuing damage. If the water damages other items in the laundry room, like a dryer or cabinets, your personal property coverage should cover the losses.
However, your homeowners policy won’t cover water overflow from appliances if your own neglect led to the problem. For instance, if you remove your washer’s drip pan and make a conscious decision not to replace it and water destroys your floor over a period of months, the insurer won’t pay for the damage.
When a pipe suddenly springs a leak or breaks due to an accident, your first thought upon discovering the mess will probably be about whether or not your homeowners insurance will cover the damage. Good news: dwelling coverage should cover the ensuing water damage. For instance, if you reach for a heavy iron skillet under your sink and crack a pipe while pulling it out of the cabinet, you should have a covered loss, and your claim would likely be honored. Under the same circumstances, your personal property coverage should pay to replace or repair items such as rugs. If damage to your cabinets occurs, your dwelling coverage should repair or replace them.
But if leaking pipes cause damage due to improper maintenance, the insurer will deny the claim. For example, the insurance company can deny your claim if a leaking pipe worsens and results in long-term damage such as mold or wet/dry rot.
Extinguishing a fire
In most cases, your dwelling and personal property coverages will pay for water damage resulting from extinguishing a fire. If a grease fire destroys your kitchen and water used by firefighters rushes into your living room, destroying flooring, furniture and sheetrock, your policy should cover the damages.
But, if negligence led to the fire starting, the insurer may not cover the fire or water damage. For instance, if your stove was previously inspected and the inspector noticed a hose was old, worn-out and needed to be replaced, and you failed to do so, the insurer may deny the entire claim due to negligence.
Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from rain? We’ve already discussed some direct impacts above, but there’s another piece to consider: what if water from a sewer or outside drain backs up into your house after heavy rain?
Generally, if the backup originally occurred off your property, such as in the street, then the ensuing damage could be covered by your insurer. However, if the water backed up on your property, standard home insurance policies don’t generally cover this type of water damage. You’ll usually have the option to purchase additional sewer backup coverage to add to your home policy to step in should you ever face this issue.
How to file a water damage insurance claim
When water damage occurs, you need to take a few steps before you file a claim:
- Prevent additional damage by stopping water flow at the source. If a pipe bursts, shut off the water immediately.
- Make temporary repairs. If a storm breaks your living room window and incoming rain damages your furniture, cover the window with a piece of plastic sheeting to minimize the damage. In some cases, you may need to contact a contractor to make more extensive temporary repairs.
- Remove all wet and ruined items but do not throw them away, because you will need them when you file a claim as evidence of the damage.
- Remove excessive water. You may need to rent a water vac to remove standing water in some cases. Thoroughly dry affected areas to prevent mold.
- Move undamaged personal items to a safe place.
- If the damage was prompted by illegal activity, call the police and file a report.
After you’ve taken steps to secure your belongings and prevent further damage, it’s time to start preparing to file an insurance claim:
- Take a detailed inventory of all damages to your home and belongings. Take photos or videos — closeup and wide-angle — of all affected structures and personal property.
- Collect receipts associated with the incident to include them in the claim. For example, if you purchase a tarp to cover a hole in the roof, you can include the expense in the homeowners claim.
- Contact your insurance carrier to file a claim. Claims filing varies by insurer. Some providers allow you to file claims online or using a mobile app, while others prefer you contact a claims center or agent.
- Complete all claims documents and file them within the allotted time. Include photos, receipts and videos with your claim.
- If the disaster renders your home uninhabitable, move out and add loss of use expenses such as hotel bills and restaurant tabs to your claim if your policy includes the coverage.
- Schedule an appointment with a claims adjuster. The adjuster will thoroughly inspect the damage to determine its cause and how much the insurance company will pay for your claim.
How to prevent water damage
Performing regular home maintenance is the best way to prevent water damage:
- Inside and outside your home, seal all windows to prevent water seepage.
- Remove any trees whose roots may interfere with the underground aqueduct system.
- Angle the soil in any planting beds that border your house downward to prevent standing water and direct rainwater runoff away from the structure.
- Install gutter guards to prevent debris from blocking water flow. Remove debris from downspouts and position them to divert water away from your house.
- Regularly inspect your roof for damaged or missing shingles. For newer roofs, hire a professional roof inspector every five years. Older roofs should be professionally inspected every one to two years.
- Check exposed pipes for signs of cracks or leaks. Repair or replace damaged pipes immediately.
- Inspect hoses that connect to appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. Replace worn-out and damaged hoses immediately.
- Seal showers and tubs to prevent water leakage.
- If you live in a cold climate, install an emergency pressure release valve to the plumbing system to prevent pipes from bursting during winter’s frigid temperatures.
- Know the location of your main water valve and shut it off when a problem arises.
- Before leaving home for vacation, shut off the water supply to refrigerators and washing machines.
- Pay close attention to your water bill for drastic increases in water use. Excessive water usage could indicate a potential problem in your plumbing system.