Each year, roughly one in 60 homeowners file a property damage claim due to water damage and freezing, making it the second most common type of home insurance claim. While fairly common, insurance providers often view things like pipe leaks or freezes as home maintenance issues rather than freak accidents, and they'll often point to this distinction when they deny water damage claims.
But in many cases, home water damage can happen due to no fault of your own. Furthermore, water damage often occurs in hard-to-spot areas of your home such as behind drywall or beneath your floorboards, which dismisses the idea that it could have somehow been prevented or that it was a result of the homeowner's negligence (another oft-cited reason for water damage claim denial).
While water damage claims are generally tricky to prove, following the steps in this guide can help ensure you're not having to cover all of these costs yourself.
5 steps to filing a water damage insurance claim
To file a successful water damage claim and get insurance to help pay for remediation and repair costs, you'll need to first find the source of the leak and prevent further damage from occurring. From there, check to see how water damage is covered under your policy, report it to your insurer if you think it's covered, and take photos and provide additional documentation or repair estimates to your claims adjuster, and get your claim reimbursement.
Here's how to file a home insurance claim for water damage.
1. Identify and stop the source of the damage
If you're able to find the source of the leak or flow of water, such as a burst pipe or broken water heater, locate and turn off the supply valve to prevent further damage from occurring. If you can't find where the leak originated, contact a plumber and have them do this for you as soon as possible. In either case, hang on to any broken components or scraps associated with the ruptured water line or appliance to present as evidence for your claim.
2. Review your policy to see if the damage is covered
Once you've determined the source of the water damage and turned off your water supply, review your policy to see if the water damage is covered. Below are some instances of water damage that are typically covered and not covered by homeowners insurance.
3. Report the damage to your insurer, but also consider the risks
Once you've reviewed your policy and you're confident that the water damage happened suddenly and was in no way preventable, contact your insurer to begin the claims process. However, it's also important to be aware of the risk of reporting this type of damage.
Properties with water damage claims on their record are often viewed by insurance providers as "high risk", especially if the home is over 50 years old, and sometimes require homeowners to replace their plumbing as a condition for keeping their policy after filing one of these claims. And they almost always result in a rate increase at policy renewal.
Given the potential downsides, check your policy deductible amount to determine whether or not it's worth it to file a claim in the first place. You'll need to pay your deductible before your insurance company will cover the rest of the costs, so if your home only sustained $2,000 in damage and you have a $1,000 deductible, it may not be in your best interest to file the claim since you'll essentially be splitting the costs with your insurer.
4. Take photos and gather evidence for your claim
After making your claim, your insurance company may send over a plumber or water restoration specialist to clean up or make temporary repairs. Before they arrive, make sure to take several photographs of the source of the water damage as well as any belongings that may have been damaged. Having a home inventory of your personal property is a convenient and effective way to expedite this process.
5. Meet with your claims adjuster & receive your payout
Your insurance company may also send a claims adjuster to your home to assess the damage in person and determine a claim settlement. To ensure you're getting a fair payout, consider hiring a contractor to give you an estimate of their own to compare against your insurance company's settlement offer.
What to do if insurance won’t pay for your water damage claim
If your insurer denies your water damage claim and you believe it should be covered, consider hiring a public adjuster. Public adjusters work on behalf of policyholders, as opposed to claims adjusters who represent the insurance company's interests.
Similar to the insurance company's adjuster, a public adjuster will come to your home, investigate the damage, and give you a repair estimate of their own. Depending on the extent of their services, they also may be able to negotiate with your insurance company on your behalf.
However, one thing to keep in mind is that you're responsible for paying the public adjuster — not your insurance company — and they often will want anywhere from 5% to 20% of your final claim settlement. Before going ahead with this option, look at the size of your claim and the public adjuster’s fee to determine if it’s worth it.
How to protect your home from additional types of water damage
While standard home insurance coverage covers several instances of water damage, there is also several sources of this damage that it doesn't normally cover, including sump pump or sewage backups and outdoor flooding.
Here's some additional insurance coverage to consider to ensure you're fully protected from all types of water damage.
Water backup coverage
Standard home insurance policies generally don't include coverage for water damage caused by sump pump, drain, and sewage backups. To fill this coverage gap, you may be able to add water backup coverage to your policy if offered by your insurance provider.
Water backup coverage is a home insurance policy endorsement that protects your home and personal property in the event that either is damaged by a sewage or sump pump backup. You can typically add water backup coverage to your home insurance policy for an additional $30 a year.
If you live in an area that’s at risk for flood damage, consider purchasing flood insurance. Flood insurance can protect your home from water damage from high tides, hurricanes, heavy rain, and other sources of natural flooding. If you live in a high-risk flood zone, your mortgage lender may require you to purchase flood insurance.