Homeowners insurance protects your home and personal property against destructive weather, theft and elemental perils like fire or ice. For most perils, your coverage is fairly easy to understand and doesn’t require much reading in between the lines, but water damage to your home is a different story.
While water damage is never covered when it results from floods and sewer overflow, it’s usually covered if the damage is deemed by your insurer as “sudden and internal.” A burst pipe, wind-driven rain or malicious activity (maybe the person who burglarized your home used a Super Soaker) are usually all covered. Water damage as a result of neglect or gradual deterioration won’t be covered, even if it originated inside the house, and the residual mold that forms won’t be covered either.
Read on to learn more:
A standard homeowners insurance policy will cover water damage to the home or personal property within the home if it’s determined that the cause was sudden and came from inside the house. Certain weather-related perils that cause water damage may also be covered in a standard policy.
Unless you have an open-peril, or all-risk policy, your home insurance coverage will only protect property that’s damaged by specifically named perils, about 16 in total on standard HO3 policies. The dwelling provision of HO3s typically covers the structure of your home on an open-peril basis, but it’s common for even the broad HO3 policies to limit the personal property provision to named perils. Luckily, the following water damage perils will probably be “named” in the personal property section of your policy.
Rain, snow and ice dams that form on your roof are usually considered windstorm and weight of snow perils on your policy. Water damage from wind-driven rain or snow and collapsed roofs from ice dams may be covered if it’s determined that the damage was caused by a covered weather event or condition.
If its determined the water entered your home because of corrosion or rotting to your roof or siding, your insurance won’t cover it.
It’ll most likely be spelled out in your policy as “accidental discharge” or “overflow of water or steam,” but water damage that’s caused by sudden bursts or blockages in your plumbing system may be covered. This includes fire sprinkler systems, air conditioners, outdoor sprinklers, water heaters, and other circulatory piping throughout your home.
Water discharge from appliances like your washing machine or dishwasher are also covered. However, repair or replacement of the appliance itself may be excluded. For that, you may need a home warranty.
If there’s a fire in your home and the fire sprinklers are activated or firefighters are forced to extinguish the flames, any resulting water damage or mold would be covered.
If someone enters your home and intentionally destroys your plumbing or leaves the water running, that would be covered as a “malicious activity” peril in your policy.
If the water damage didn’t happen at a moment’s notice and is considered “gradual damage,” it probably won’t be covered by home insurance. If the water landed on the ground and flowed into your home, that also isn’t covered.
It may be possible to add a rider, or endorsement, to cover certain types of water damage and residual damage like mold or rot. Talk to your insurer about what add-ons or riders are available for your policy, or speak with a licensed representative at Policygenius who can walk you through the different coverages offered by your insurance company.
Floods, regardless of how the water originated, are excluded from every basic homeowners insurance policy. This includes, but isn’t limited to – rainwater, surging rivers, and drenched ground.
In order to get flood damage covered, you can get insured through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or if you live in one of the NFIP's participating communities. You can also get private market flood insurance if it's available in your area.
Water that overflows from sewage or drains and finds its way into your home is also not covered. However, most insurance companies offer water backup riders or endorsements to supplement this gap in coverage.
If water leaks from poorly constructed or old piping and appliances and they cause water damage and mold, that would be considered “neglect” by your insurer and won’t be covered.
Water damage is a finicky thing and can be difficult to determine when exactly your insurance company will cover repair costs. What one insurer views as sudden and immediate water damage, the next may espouse that it occurred over a long period of time.
Even if the damage is covered, you’ll still have to pay your out-of-pocket deductible, and frequent claims have a propensity for causing your premiums to go up. Water damage is one of the costliest types of damage your home can incur, costing homeowners around the country billions of dollars annually, according the Insurance Information Database. You’ll want to take these steps to make sure you’re not adding to the bill.
Gradual leaks are costly and aren’t covered by your home insurance, so you’ll want to check your piping every once in a while to make sure an egregious leak isn’t happening right under your nose.
Inspect bathroom plumbing: Make sure your shower and tub is draining properly and that the seal and caulking around the fixture is watertight. Same goes for bathroom sinks, and be sure to check the pipes under the sink every so often.
Inspect appliance hoses: Make it a habit to inspect your dishwasher, washer, and water heater every so often and check the hoses connected to each appliance. There are also leak sensors available on the cheap (Wirecutter’s top pick goes for around $30) that send audible alerts to your smartphone whenever a leak happens within a certain distance of the device.
Shut off the water when you’re on vacation: Spending time in water while you’re in paradise is one thing, but spending more time in water when you return from your trip is an entirely different story. Be sure to turn off the water supply to your washing machine when you’re away, and never under any circumstance leave the dishwasher or washing machine running as you leave.
We talked about the internal stuff, but there’s a lot you can do to limit the amount of unwelcome water entering from the outdoors. Even if a bad storm happens while you’re away, taking these steps will give you the peace of mind to enjoy your trip.
Seal roof, windows and doors: Most of the water that seeps in unbeknownst to you is probably getting in through one of these three avenues. Make sure your roof shingles are stable and not rotted and if so, make necessary repairs; make sure your windows are fully caulked; and be sure that the sealing on your door is still in good condition.
Check gutters: While you’re installing new shingles on your roof (just kidding, you should definitely hire someone to do that) clear any buildup of debris from your gutters to make sure that water is being properly drained away from the house.
Inspect irrigation systems: You’ll want to be sure your sprinkler systems are secure and watertight. One of the unintended consequences of irrigation systems is that when they leak, groundwater accumulates and can directly lead to and damage your home’s foundation, which is one of the more costly home repairs depending on the extent of the damage. You’ll also want to be sure your water is completely shut off during the winter to safeguard against frozen pipes.
In the worst case scenario that water damage does happen, you can at the very least limit the extent of the loss by protecting your personal property.
Ensure that your belongings are properly stored: This is especially true for personal property in older areas of the home that are particularly susceptible to leaks and pipe bursts, like garages, attics and basements. Make sure any valuables are properly tucked away in waterproof bins.
Keep a home inventory: If your stuff is wrecked by water damage, the best way to make sure you get reimbursed for the loss is to be able to point to a home inventory that proves your ownership of the property and its replacement value.
About the author
Pat Howard is an Insurance Editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in homeowners insurance. He has been featured on Property Casualty 360, MSN, and more. Pat has a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.
Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.
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