Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?

Standard homeowners insurance covers water damage when it’s sudden and accidental, but flooding from heavy rain is never covered.

Pat Howard 1600

By

Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a managing editor and licensed home insurance expert 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.

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With water damage claims one of the most common and expensive types of home insurance claims, you’re probably wondering: Does homeowners insurance cover water damage? 

The short answer? Yes. But only in certain situations. 

Most home insurance policies cover water damage if it occurs suddenly and accidentally from a source inside your home, like a malfunctioning washing machine or leaking roof. But standard home insurance doesn’t cover flooding caused by heavy rain or gradual water damage that happens over time.

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Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?

A standard homeowners insurance policy covers water damage as long as it’s sudden, accidental, and caused by one of two things:

  • Internal or structural issues — like faulty plumbing or a malfunctioning appliance

  • Covered perils — like rain or snow getting in through a damaged section of your roof during a storm

But water damage caused by flooding from heavy rain or poor maintenance on your part isn’t covered by home insurance. 

What type of water damage is covered by home insurance?

So, why type of water damage is covered by home insurance, and what type isn’t? The general rule of thumb is if the water damage is sudden, accidental, or unexpected, your home insurance will likely pay for the damage. But if the water damage is caused by neglect or poor maintenance — that’s never covered.

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Covered

Standard home insurance policies usually cover the following types of water damage:

  • Leaky or burst pipes (sudden and accidental)

  • Overflow of appliances (sudden and accidental)

  • Frozen pipes in a heated home

  • Mold caused by covered water damage or hidden away in floors/walls

  • Rain, snow, or ice — not including flooding

  • Extinguishing a fire

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Never covered

Standard home insurance policies usually don’t cover the following types of water damage:

  • Flooding or ground seepage

  • Gradual water damage 

  • Frozen pipes in an unheated home

  • Mold caused by excluded water damage

  • Sump pump or sewer line backups

Here’s a more in-depth look at common types of water damage and whether it is or isn’t covered by standard home insurance policies. 

Flooding from heavy rain

No. Standard home insurance policies typically don’t cover any type of flooding that originates outside of your home. This means floods caused by heavy rains, coastal waves or tide, groundwater seepage, or spring thaws are not covered. 

To cover your home and personal belongings against flooding, you’ll need flood insurance.

Where do I get flood insurance?

You can get flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a standard insurance company that offers coverage.

NFIP policies are backed by the federal government but sold through private insurance companies. While it’s typically easier to find coverage through the NFIP, it’s limited. They only offer one type of policy with dwelling coverage limits capped at $250,000. Homeowners with high-value properties might want to find flood insurance through a private insurance company instead.

Flood coverage is typically offered in one of three ways by private insurers:

  1. As an add-on to an existing home insurance policy
  2. As excess flood insurance to increase coverage amounts for an existing NFIP flood policy
  3. As a standalone flood insurance policy

Rain, snow, or ice

Yes. While homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding caused by heavy rain, it does cover other water damage from rain, snow, or ice. Basically, 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. This means if your roof collapses due to the weight of snow or a windstorm blows out your windows causing rain to pour into your home, your home insurance policy should cover the damage.

However, if your roof or windows had existing maintenance issues or prior damage that was never addressed, your home insurance company will likely deny the claim.

Overflow of appliances

Yes. Damage from overflow of water from appliances including washing machines, dishwashers, HVAC units, and water heaters is usually covered. This means if a misplaced spoon causes your dishwasher to malfunction, flooding your kitchen, your dwelling coverage should pay for the damage. And if the water damages your kitchen rugs and dining room table, your personal property coverage should pay to replace those items.

However, your home insurance won’t pay to repair or replace the source of the water damage, like your dishwasher in the example above. You’ll have to cover that out of your own pocket. 

Leaky or burst pipes

Yes. If a pipe suddenly bursts or springs a leak due to faulty plumbing, your home insurance policy should pay for the flood damage. But note the keyword: suddenly

Your home insurance won’t pay for gradual water damage that’s caused by your own neglect. So if your bathroom sink’s supply pipe leaks over the course of months and it can be proven the damage was caused by poor maintenance, your home insurance company will likely deny the claim. 

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Frozen pipes in a heated home

Yes. In addition to faulty plumbing and appliance overflow, most standard policies also cover water damage caused by frozen pipes. 

However, coverage only applies if your 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, your home insurance company will likely deny the claim. 

Extinguishing a fire

Yes. Homeowners insurance usually pays for water damage resulting from putting out a fire. 

For example, say your garage catches on fire due to a covered peril and firefighters extinguish it. But water rushes into your laundry room — destroying your flooring, washer, and dryer. Your home insurance policy should cover the damage to not only your garage, but your laundry room’s flooring and appliances.

However, if the fire was caused by neglect or poor maintenance, your home insurance company will likely deny the claim.

Mold

Sometimes. Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover water damage caused by poor maintenance or neglect. But if water or mold damage is hidden away in your floors, walls, or atop your roof and it can’t be proven that neglect led to the loss, home 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.

Sewer backup

No. Standard home insurance policies normally don't cover water damage from sewer line backups or clogged pipes. That means if your basement sump pump overflows, the ensuing water damage wouldn’t be covered. 

However, most insurance companies offer water backup coverage as an optional add-on to protect against these losses, and some companies even include this coverage in their standard policy offering.

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Warning: Water damage caused by neglect or poor maintenance is NOT covered

Most home insurance companies will deny your claim if it can be proven that the damage was caused by neglect on your part or poor maintenance.

This means if your pipes or roof 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 and you wouldn’t be covered. 

How to get insurance to pay for uncovered water damage

In conjunction with your homeowners insurance, you can protect your home from most types of water damage by adding water backup coverage to your policy or purchasing separate flood insurance.

  • Flood insurance: You can purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program or a private insurance company that offers the coverage.

  • 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.

  • Service line coverage: Another homeowners insurance add-on, service line coverage reimburses you for repairs to damaged utility lines that run underneath your property. It also covers excavation and landscape restoration after necessary repairs are complete.

  • Mold damage rider: Some insurance companies offer a mold damage rider or endorsement which expands your policy’s coverage limits for mold damage. But not all states offer this type of home insurance add-on — and it can be expensive if you live in a mold-prone area.

Did you know? Average water damage losses cost nearly $12,000

Roughly one in every 60 insured homes has a claim related to water damage and freezing each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And from 2016 to 2020, the average water damage loss was $11,650, making it almost as expensive as the average wind and hail damage claim.

→ Take a deeper dive into surprising water damage statistics

How to file a water damage insurance claim

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. 

Here are six important tips to remember when filing a water damage insurance claim

  1. Shut off the main supply line if the damage is due to plumbing issues.

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

  3. File a home insurance claim ASAP if the damage is extensive and covered under your policy.

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

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

  6. Keep hotel, restaurant, and pet boarding receipts if you need to live somewhere else temporarily while your house is being repaired. If the water damage claim is covered, home insurance will likely reimburse you for your temporary living expenses.

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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

  • 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 and remove leaves and twigs from your gutters

  • Don’t store your belongings in  unfinished areas of your home where plumbing is exposed — or if you do, make sure they’re in water-proof containers

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 from natural disasters. That means flash floods, high tides, storm surge from hurricanes, and heavy rain that cause floods usually aren’t covered. However, if a flood is caused by a covered peril — like a burst pipe or overflowing dishwasher — then you’re likely covered.

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.

Does homeowners insurance cover flooded basements?

If your basement floods, in order to be covered by your home insurance policy, the water damage needs to be caused by something sudden and accidental — like a burst pipe. But if your basement floods due to ground seepage or heavy rain, you won’t be covered.

Author

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard

Managing Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

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Pat Howard is a managing editor and licensed home insurance expert 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.

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