- Water damage is one of the most common—and costliest—problems your home can experience, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
- Standard homeowner policies don’t protect against water damage caused by flooding.
- Homeowners insurance policies only cover sudden and accidental water damage, not losses caused by failure to maintain your home or appliances.
- Every year, about one in 50 homeowners files a water damage or freezing claim.
While having homeowners insurance is a good way to safeguard against damage to your home, policies can be murky when it comes to water damage.
“Homeowners insurance will typically cover water damage that happens without warning,” says Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications for the Insurance Information Institute.
That means if a pipe bursts suddenly in your home, it will likely be covered by your insurer. But if you have a gradual leak in your basement that causes damage, your claim will probably be denied. “Homeowners policies don’t cover damages that result from unresolved maintenance issues,” says Ruiz.
Water damage—including bursting pipes and freezing temperatures—is a common cause for filing homeowners insurance claims: Every year, about one in 50 homeowners files a water damage or freezing claim. This accounts for about 29% of all claims, with an average claim cost of $11,098.
To help give you some peace of mind, here’s a look at what types of water damage are typically covered by standard homeowners insurance policies, as well as advice for preventive measures you can take.
Inside this article
What types of water damage are covered?
Imagine this: The hose in your dishwasher just erupted, leading to a mini river in your kitchen. While you’re ankle-deep in water damage, you’d rather not sink deep into debt.
The good news is your homeowners insurance policy will cover the water damage in your kitchen in this instance. This typically falls under “dwelling coverage” and you’ll be reimbursed for repairs to the structure of your home.
What about the appliance that caused the damage? Most home insurance policies exclude the cost of replacing a faulty appliance, whether it’s a dishwasher, refrigerator or washing machine. To replace your appliances, you need to purchase a home warranty.
“Homeowners insurance shouldn’t be confused with a maintenance policy,” says Ruiz. “If your dishwasher or other appliance has had a slow leak for years and you never repaired it, you probably won’t be reimbursed for damages.”
Types of water damage typically covered by standard homeowners insurance:
Burst pipes: This can include frozen pipes that burst.
Accidental leakage: This includes plumbing and appliance leaks.
Water damage that occurs after a fire: This could be from damage caused by water used to put out flames, such as from sprinklers.
Roof leaks: This includes leaks to your home caused by damage to your roof (but not fixing your roof).
Rainstorms or hail: This could include damage from heavy rain or hail.
After you’ve incurred water damage in your home, it’s important to file an insurance claim as soon as possible. In addition, you’ll want to document the source of the water leak and resulting property damage by taking photos. If you’ve sustained extensive water damage to your home, get an estimate from a restoration expert on the cost of repairs.
What types of water damage are not covered?
Another possible scenario: A wet winter has brought unrelenting rain and snow, which have damaged your home, causing roof leaks and water damage.
While a homeowners policy will typically cover losses including frozen pipes that burst and water damage from a roof leak, “if your roof is over 20 years old or has gradually declined over time, and you’ve failed to repair or maintain it, you will most likely not to be able to claim a roof leak,” says Avner Gat, president of Avner Gat Property Loss Consultants in Los Angeles.
In addition, the following sources of water damage are not covered in standard homeowners insurance policies.
Water damage due to lack of maintenance: Neglecting your property or appliances could result in claim denial.
Water seepage: Water that seeps into your basement from the ground is usually not covered.
Flood damage: Floods are typically not covered under standard homeowners insurance. If you have frequent severe weather or live in a flood zone, you should purchase separate flood insurance.
Mold: Mold coverage depends on the cause. If it forms because of lack of upkeep, it won’t be covered. However, if it’s classified as “resulting damage from a covered peril,” such as water damage from a burst hot water heater, it will be covered.
Sewer backup: Melting snow can overwhelm sewer systems and cause backup in the drains of your home, possibly causing damage to your floors, walls and more. While sewer backup isn’t covered by most homeowners policies, Ruiz says it can be purchased as a separate policy or an endorsement (an amendment to an existing insurance contract).
How to file a water damage claim
After you’ve incurred water damage in your home, it’s important to file an insurance claim as soon as possible. In addition, you’ll want to stop the leak to prevent further damage and document the source of the water leak and resulting property damage by taking photos. If you’ve sustained extensive water damage to your home, contact a restoration expert to estimate the cost of repairs.
“If a customer believes their insurance company is giving them a lowball offer related to water damage and they don’t agree on the amount of the loss, an insurance adjuster can help,” Gat says. “Many homeowner policies contain an appraisal clause that allows both the consumer and the insurer to hire an insurance appraiser.”
Preventing water damage in your home
The best way to protect your home against water damage is to prevent it from occurring. Ruiz recommends the following preventive maintenance:
Check your plumbing and heating systems once a year for leaks and cracks.
Inspect the water supply lines for refrigerators and washing machines several times a year to ensure they’re securely attached and not leaking.
Check your water heater several times a year for rust or leaks.
Consider purchasing water sensors. Ruiz says these handy devices can be placed near washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, sinks and other places where water damage can occur. Using Wi-Fi, these sensors can send out notifications to homeowners via a smartphone app to detect and contain potential leaks before damage occurs.
Gat reinforces the importance of this point: “If you notice a leak in your home, it’s important to address it right away,” he says. “If you procrastinate with repairs, this is considered negligence on your part and can be used by your insurance company as legitimate grounds to reject your claim.”