A fierce storm topples a tree, which crashes through your roof. The gaping hole above your bedroom is bad enough, but now rain is destroying everything in the room. You have a homeowners policy, but will it cover the structural damage and your ruined mattress and hardwood floor?
Water damage is much more common than you might imagine. Frozen pipes burst in winter, washing machine hoses spring a leak and sprinkler systems malfunction. Homeowners insurance covers damages caused by all types of calamities, including water damage. But to succeed in a water damage claim, you must know what your policy covers and how you can prevent water damage from rearing its ugly head in the first place.
What type of water damage is covered by homeowners insurance?
HO-3 homeowners policies are the most popular standard coverage on the market. These versatile policies cover 16 perils, many of which can lead to water damage, like frozen pipes and summer storms. Typically, you don’t need to worry whether or not your homeowners policy will cover water damage, because in the majority of cases, it will. However, it’s important to stay on top of your home maintenance tasks, because failing to promptly repair a problem could lead your provider to deny your homeowners insurance claim.
If a storm breaks a window and rain damages the furniture and sheetrock in your living room, your dwelling coverage will pay for the repairs, subject to your deductible and limits. Likewise, your personal property coverage will cover your furniture.
If an insurance adjuster determines that the rain damage is the result of neglect, however, the insurer won’t pay the claim. For example, if you fail to replace a broken window and rain pours in, damaging your walls and furniture, the insurer won’t cover the damage because you didn’t perform proper maintenance.
Standard home insurance policies don’t cover flood losses. Homeowners who live in flood prone areas can purchase flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Overflow of Appliances
Your dwelling coverage will pay to repair damages caused by overflow of water from appliances, but only when the overflow occurs accidently 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 consequent 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 and fail to replace your refrigerator’s drip pan and water destroys your kitchen 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 dwelling coverage should cover the subsequent 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 valid claim. Under the same circumstances, your personal property coverage should pay to replace or repair items such as cabinets and rugs.
But if leaking pipes cause damage due to improper maintenance, the insurer will deny the claim. For example, if you patch a leaking pipe with duct tape and the leak worsens, damaging your linoleum floor, the insurance company can deny your claim.
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 gas stove erupts in flames because an old, worn out hose bursts, the insurer may deny the entire claim due to poor maintenance.
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. In some cases, you may need to rent a water vac to remove standing water. 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 on your claim.
How to prevent water damage
Performing regular home maintenance is the best way to prevent water damage:
- On the exterior of 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 flower 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.
- Inside your home, seal windows to prevent seepage.
- 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.
- To prevent pipes from bursting during winter’s frigid temperatures, install an emergency pressure release valve to the plumbing system.
- Know the location of your water main valve and shut if off when a problem arises.
- Before leaving home for vacation, shut off the water supply to appliances such as 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.
Frequently asked questions
How can you prove water damage?
When preparing your homeowners insurance claim, take photos of all water damaged areas, including damage to your home’s structure and personal belongings like furniture and rugs. If water damage has destroyed personal items, remove them from the affected areas, but do not throw them away in case the claims adjuster wants to inspect them.
Does homeowners insurance cover water damage caused by floods?
No. Standard homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage. However, if you live in an area prone to flooding, you can purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Does home insurance cover removal of mold that was caused by water damage?
It depends. If the mold is the result of damage caused by a covered peril, such as a heavy rainstorm, your homeowners policy might cover mold remediation. However, many standard home insurance policies exclude mold damage.