Q

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?

A

Homeowners insurance may cover sudden and accidental water damage from something like a burst pipe, but won’t cover water damage from flooding, sewage backup, or gradual leaks.

Pat Howard 1600

By 

Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a senior editor and licensed home insurance agent at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

Updated December 3, 2021 | 4 min read

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A plumbing leak or water heater malfunction might not seem like a big deal, but water damage is among the most common and costly disasters your home can experience. In fact, the average home insurance claim related to water damage is around $11,000 — the second most expensive property damage claim behind only fire and lightning. [1]

Fortunately, your homeowners insurance often covers household expenses you can’t afford on your own, including incidents of water damage. However, coverage usually depends on how the damage occurred.

Under most standard policies, sudden and accidental water damage from malfunctioning plumbing or appliances is covered. But flooding and internal water damage due to neglect or poor maintenance is not covered.

Key Takeaways

  • There isn’t a clearcut answer to whether home insurance covers water damage — it often depends on the source of the damage.

  • Broken pipes, frozen plumbing, leaking washing machines, and other types of water damage that are sudden and accidental are usually covered.

  • Outside flooding, sewage overflows, or water damage losses that are considered obvious or preventable are not covered by homeowners insurance. 

  • For additional water damage protection, consider purchasing flood insurance or adding a water backup coverage endorsement to your home insurance policy.

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What type of water damage is covered by homeowners insurance?

Water damage is only covered by homeowners insurance if the cause of the loss is sudden and accidental. The damage also generally has to be internal or caused by a covered loss in your policy. 

A burst water supply pipe under slab would almost certainly be covered since the damage is sudden and internal. If a windstorm rips off a section of your roof and ensuing snow or rain damages your stuff, that may also be covered since the cause of the loss (wind) is covered. Likewise, if an ice dam causes your roof to fall through, you're likely protected under your home insurance policy.

Here’s a look at types of water damage that are covered, sometimes covered, and never covered by homeowners insurance.

Covered

  • Burst pipes

  • Frozen pipes in a heated home

  • Accidental overflow of systems or appliances

  • Any water damage caused by a covered loss

Sometimes covered

  • Leaks or mold hidden away in your floors or walls

  • Plumbing malfunctions from improper installation

  • Leaking roofs

  • Mold

Never covered

  • Flooding

  • Ground seepage

  • Preventable or obvious pipe leaks 

  • Frozen pipes in an unheated home

  • Sump pump or sewer line backups

Burst pipes and appliance overflow

Water damage from faulty plumbing, systems, or appliances — including washing machines, dishwashers, HVAC units, and water heaters — is usually covered. That means if a water supply pipe bursts and floods your basement, homeowners insurance can pay to repair your floors or walls or replace any damaged belongings. 

However, home insurance generally does not cover repair or replacement of the source of the water damage. So if you need to replace the section of plumbing or a broken appliance that caused the damage, you’ll likely need to pay for it yourself.

Frozen pipes in a heated home

In addition to faulty plumbing and appliance overflow, most standard policies also cover water damage resulting from frozen pipes. However, coverage only applies if the home is sufficiently heated at the time of the loss. If your home is unoccupied for an extended period of time and your pipes freeze up because you forgot to turn off the water supply, that likely wouldn’t be covered. 

Water damage caused by a covered loss

If a covered peril in your policy causes a chain of events that leads to water damage, home insurance will probably help cover the loss. In other words, if a windstorm tears off your roof and the accompanying rainfall damages the inside of your home, you'd be covered for repairs.

Genius tip: Gradual water damage or mold hidden away in your floors or walls may be covered

Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover water damage caused by poor maintenance or neglect. However, if water or mold damage is hidden away in your floors, walls, or atop your roof that causes wood rot and it can’t be proven that neglect led to the loss, your insurance may cover it. Be sure to read the fine print of your policy or ask your insurance company how mold and hidden water damage are covered.

What type of water damage is not covered by homeowners insurance?

When water damage isn’t sudden, accidental, or unexpected, homeowners insurance usually won’t cover it. For example, if your bathroom sink’s supply pipe leaks over the course of months and it can be proven the resulting water damage was preventable and obvious, you won’t be covered for repairs. 

Additionally, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover water damage caused by flooding, sewer line backups, or ground seepage.

Flooding

Floods, regardless of how the water originated, are excluded from most basic homeowners insurance policies. This includes, but isn’t limited to rainwater that flows into your home from the ground, waves, or overflow of any body of water. To protect your home from flooding, you’ll need to purchase separate flood insurance.

Sewer line backups

A standard policy won’t cover water damage from sewer line backups or clogged pipes. If your basement sump pump overflows, the resulting water damage also wouldn’t be covered. For coverage against sump pump or sewer line backups, you’ll need to add an optional water backup coverage endorsement to your homeowners insurance.

Neglect or lack of maintenance 

If your pipes leak over an extended period of time and the damage is in plain sight, your insurance company would likely consider this a case of neglect or poor maintenance and you wouldn’t be covered. 

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How to get insurance to pay for water damage

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all water damage insurance policy, you can protect your home from most types of water damage by adding water backup coverage to your homeowners insurance or purchasing a separate flood insurance policy.

  • Water backup coverage:  A popular homeowners insurance add-on, water backup coverage modifies your policy to cover water damage caused by broken sump pumps or sewer line backups. However, similar to your standard coverage, it won’t pay to replace the source of the water damage.

  • Flood insurance: If you live in a participating community, you can purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). NFIP policies are backed by the federal government but sold by private insurance companies. Most homeowners insurance providers offer NFIP coverage to eligible residents. 

➞ Learn more about flood insurance

6 quick water damage insurance claim tips

If your home starts to smell musty or you notice dark or wet spots on your floors, ceiling, or walls, you may have an expensive problem on your hands. And when it comes to water damage, time is not on your side, so be quick to act:

  1. If the damage is due to plumbing issues, shut off the main supply line.

  2. Move your personal belongings away from the impacted areas of your home.

  3. If the damage is extensive and covered under your policy, report it to your insurance company immediately and file a claim.

  4. Document the damage with photos, videos, and create an inventory of any damaged possessions.

  5. If water is entering through your roof, windows, or doors, make temporary repairs. Your insurance company will likely pay for these expenses when you file a claim.

  6. If you need to live somewhere else temporarily while your house is being repaired, be sure to hold onto hotel, restaurant, dry cleaning, and pet boarding receipts while you're away. If the water damage claim is covered, home insurance will likely reimburse you for your temporary living expenses.

How to prevent water damage

When it comes to homeowners insurance coverage, water damage is a tricky and confusing topic. What one insurer considers sudden and accidental water damage, another may view as preventable and expected.

Even in cases where water damage is covered, you still have to pay your out-of-pocket policy deductible before your homeowners insurance kicks in. Additionally, water damage claims often lead to higher premiums

To prevent water damage, consider the following: 

  • Inspect your home’s plumbing

  • Inspect hoses and water lines connected to your appliances

  • Be sure to shut off your water if you leave your home for an extended period during the winter months

  • Make sure your roof, windows, and doors are sealed and in good condition

  • Check your gutters

  • If you store belongings in your basement or an area of your home where plumbing is exposed, ensure the storage containers are enclosed and properly sealed.

Frequently asked questions

Is ceiling water damage covered by homeowners insurance?

If your ceiling has water damage, whether or not it’s covered will depend on the source of the water damage. For example, if a pipe bursts and water leaks down into your ceiling, your homeowners insurance will likely reimburse you for repairs.

Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

Most standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover water damage caused by flooding. That means flash floods, high tides, storm surge from hurricanes, and other causes of flooding are not covered. To supplement this gap in coverage, you’ll need a separate flood insurance policy.

Is water leak damage covered by homeowners insurance?

Water damage from plumbing or roof leaks is covered by homeowners insurance if it’s sudden or accidental. However, if you were aware of the leak or the source of the damage was in plain view, you likely won’t be covered.