Water damage, including damage from freezing, is one of the most common types of property damage claims filed by homeowners, along with wind and hail, theft, and fire and lightning. Water damage home insurance claims accounted for 28.4% of the claims filed in 2019 and 19.9% in 2020.
Whether it’s caused by severe weather, faulty household appliances, or plumbing issues, accidental water damage tends to be costly to repair. In the 5-year period ending in 2020, the average insurance payout for water damage was $11,650.
Homeowner’s insurance covers some types of water damage, but not others. Since water damage is so common and costly, it’s important to understand when homeowner’s insurance covers water damage to ensure you have the protection you need.
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What Kind of Water Damage Is Covered By Home Insurance?
Water damage coverage may vary depending on the policy and insurer, but as a general rule, homeowner’s insurance policies offer protection for water damage that results from a sudden and accidental event covered by the policy. The most common homeowner’s insurance policy, the HO-3, offers coverage for a broad range of unexpected water-related events. Homeowners with this type of policy usually have coverage for water damage that results from:
- Frozen pipes: Water expands when it freezes, causing pressure that can lead pipes to crack or even burst. Homeowner’s insurance typically covers damage when a pipe bursts, so long as it happened when the home was sufficiently heated.
- Accidental water overflow: This coverage includes sudden leaks from plumbing systems and household appliances. For instance, if a laundry room floods due to a washing machine hose failure, the damage is likely covered.
- Windstorms or hail: Interior water damage that occurs because a home sustained damage from strong wind gusts or large hail is typically covered. This water damage coverage might be excluded in hurricane-prone areas.
- Firefighting efforts: Water from fire hoses can cause significant damage to furnishings and building parts. This is generally covered if the fire itself was a covered peril.
What Kind of Water Damage Is Not Covered By Home Insurance?
Generally, homeowner’s insurance does not cover water damage that occurs gradually and could have been prevented by the homeowner. It also does not cover damage from water that enters the home at ground level or lower. While specific exclusions can vary from one policy to another, damage from the following situations is typically not covered:
- Wear and tear: Homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover normal wear and tear. If a roof leaks over time because the shingles are curling and cracking due to age, the resulting water damage likely would not be covered.
- Maintenance issues: Water damage that results from poor maintenance is generally excluded. This could include gradual water damage from a slow leak that went unrepaired.
- Flooding: Flood damage is excluded from standard homeowner’s insurance policies, regardless of the cause of the flood. This includes flash floods, river floods, heavy rain, storm surges, and mudflows. Instead, flood damage requires its own separate flood insurance policy for coverage.
- Sewer backups: Standard homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover damage from wastewater that flows up into a home from the sewer or drains. However, some insurers offer endorsements that can add this coverage to a policy.
- Groundwater seepage: Water damage that occurs when groundwater seeps through cracks in a home’s foundation is not typically covered. That’s because seepage is a gradual process that could be prevented with careful maintenance.
Options for Excluded Water Perils
There are optional types of insurance that can add coverage for water disasters that are excluded from homeowners insurance policies. Some can be purchased as an add-on to an existing homeowners insurance policy, while others are available as stand-alone policies. Some additional coverages to consider include:
Flood insurance is a separate policy that offers coverage for water-related losses due to river overflows, storm surges, and other types of floods. Homeowners can buy it from private insurance companies or from the federally backed National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Costs vary, but NFIP premiums averaged $1,875 in 2021.
Sewer Backup Insurance
Homeowners may have the option to buy a rider or endorsement that adds sewer backup coverage to their existing homeowner’s insurance policy. Sewer backup insurance is also available as a separate policy. Homeowners could expect to pay around $50 to $250 a year for this coverage.
In hurricane-prone areas, homeowners insurance policies may exclude windstorm damage. Homeowners who want coverage for wind-related water damage may choose to buy a separate windstorm insurance policy. This insurance could be cost-prohibitive for homeowners in some coastal areas, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars a year.
Water Seepage Coverage
In some states, insurance companies may offer a rider or endorsement that adds coverage for gradual or repeated leakage. When available, it can be added for an additional premium.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Water Leaks and Other Collateral Damage?
In homeowner’s insurance, water damage coverage may include leaks, such as plumbing leaks and roof leaks, as long as the leak occurred accidentally and suddenly. Homeowners policies offer this coverage for both the structure of the home and its contents, such as clothing, furniture, and electronics.
Standard homeowner’s insurance policies may provide limited coverage for certain high-value possessions, such as antiques, artwork, and computers. Homeowners may be able to buy an endorsement or rider to add more personal property coverage for valuables.
How to Protect Your House From Water Damage
Restoring a water-damaged home can be costly, so it’s a good idea to regularly review your insurance for water damage to make sure you have adequate financial protection. Since some causes of water damage may not be covered by homeowners insurance, it’s also important to take steps to prevent or mitigate water damage.
Check and Maintain Plumbing and Appliances
Be proactive to catch undetected leaks around the home. Regularly check for pooling water under the sink and around water-using appliances, such as the dishwasher or washing machine. Check pipes and faucets for cracks, rust, flaking, and other visible wear and tear. Correct any problems you find.
Maintain Your Home’s Exterior
Seal gaps and cracks in your home’s exterior to prevent rainwater from entering the building. Regularly check the roof for worn or damaged shingles that need to be replaced and caulk the windows to seal out leaks. Repair cracks in the foundation to help prevent groundwater from seeping into the basement.
Install Water Damage Mitigation Features
When it’s time to make renovations and upgrades, consider incorporating water-resistant building materials to help protect your home. For example, opt for non-porous flooring materials such as ceramic tile or vinyl flooring, and consider installing stainless steel cabinets in the kitchen or bathrooms. Consider investing in water leak detection alarms to find leaks before they cause significant damage.
How to File a Claim for Water Damage
The process for filing water damage claims can vary from one insurer to another, but follows these general steps:
1. Stop the Leak, If Possible
To keep accidental water damage from getting worse, take steps to stop the flow of water. For example, in the event of a burst pipe, quickly shut off the main water supply to the home. Move undamaged items out of the water’s path.
2. Contact Your Insurer
Once the situation is under control, contact your home insurance company to report the incident. Deductibles apply for each homeowners insurance claim, so confirm the amount you’re responsible for paying toward the water damage.
3. Fill Out Claims Paperwork
Carefully complete the claims forms provided by your insurer. Be prepared to give details about what happened and estimate the cost of the damage. It’s a good idea to include documentation that supports the claim, such as photos or videos of the damage.
4. Meet With a Claims Adjuster
The insurance company may send a claims adjuster to your home to assess the water damage and determine if the loss is covered. The adjuster may offer an initial check to help you get started on repairs.