You open the door and make your way down the familiar steps, but as you reach the bottom your feet step into a puddle. The lights reveal that water has completely infiltrated your basement. The situation can seem overwhelming. Where is the water coming from? What has been damaged? How can it be repaired? And most importantly, will homeowner’s insurance cover it all?
Finding out the Cause of the Flood
When it comes to finding out if damages are covered and to begin repairs, the first step is finding out what caused the flood. Most insurance companies will cover damage to the home that is “sudden and accidental” but they won’t cover damage caused by nature. There are some exceptions to this rule so you need to know the precise cause of the flood before approaching your insurance company to cover repairs and damages.
Is It Covered?
Types of Flood Damage That Are Covered by Most Insurance Companies
A standard homeowners insurance policy typically covers something called “sudden and accidental flooding” This includes leaks and flooding that are caused by something inside the home. To get coverage, the leaking item will typically need to have broken in a sudden or unexpected way rather than as the result of poor upkeep, negligence, or wear and tear.
If you keep your appliances in the basement such as a refrigerator, water heater or washer, a leak can occur in the water line. A slow leak can seep into the basement and cause damage, such as mold. A fast, sudden leak can cause flooding and substantial water damage. In both cases, an insurance company will find this to be under the “sudden and accidental” rule.
All damages and repairs to your home and belongings will be covered. However, your insurance company will typically not pay to replace the appliance itself. To replace the appliance, you’ll need to use a warranty, if you have one. They are available from the store, manufacturer, or as part of a service contract. Keep in mind that if your leaking appliance was not properly maintained, the insurance company may find the homeowner at fault and refuse to cover damages.
As with appliances, Homeowners insurance will cover damage to your home and belongings caused by the leak, but they will typically not pay to repair the pipe itself.
Any leaks due to broken, faulty or burst pipes are typically covered by your homeowners insurance. However, there are some exceptions:
- Burst pipes in a home that wasn’t maintained with heat during the winter
- Burst pipes in a home where the water was left on while you were on vacation
- Pipes that failed because they were old and crumbling and the homeowner failed to replace or maintain them
- Damaged pipes on the owner’s property that are located outside of the home (e.g. in the lawn)
- A broken pipe that is found before it has caused any damage to the home
In most of these instances, the “sudden and accidental” rule is not met because the homeowner did not take proper precautions to protect the home. In the last instance, the pipe itself is simply outside of
Flood Damage That Typically Isn’t Covered
The bad news is that while many types of flood damage are covered often the worst types are not. Floods caused by nature are often the most devastating and destructive and they are not covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy.
Flooding due to Nature
This includes damage that is caused by rising floodwaters, damage caused by melting snow, damage due to excess rain and even groundwater seeping into the basement. Since this type of damage is not covered it is important to consider where your home is located. If you live near a body of water or in an area that is prone to flooding you should consider investing in flood insurance. This specific type of insurance will cover you in many cases of floods caused by nature. Make sure you read carefully through what exactly is covered by these policies so that you are protected against flood damage.
While not an act of nature your homeowner’s insurance will not cover damage due to a sewage backup. Some homeowner’s insurance companies will offer additional protection for sewage backups but this comes at an extra cost and most will only cover $10,000 worth of damage. There are precautions and maintenance things you can do to your home to help prevent a sewage backup. You can use a standpipe, backwater prevention valve, floor drain plug, or even an overhead sewer.
How to Contact Your Insurance
It is important to contact your insurance once you have discovered the cause of the leak if it is something covered by your policy. You will want to contact your insurance before you do any repairs or mitigate the damage. You can remove the water but that is where you should stop until your adjuster comes to inspect the damages. If you begin demolition or repairs before reporting the flood to your insurance it can affect how much they pay in damages.
If you go through your insurance it is also important to go through a contractor. In cases of slow leaks or substantial flooding, there is a potential for mold damage. This damage can be costly and dangerous to your health and will need to be removed by a mold specialist. This will be covered through your insurance as well and can be reported to your insurance as soon as it is discovered. Your insurance company may suggest a contractor to use if you don’t have one.
When you contact your insurance is important to mention the cause and extent of the damage. They will send out an inspector who will evaluate the damage and the estimated cost to restore the basement back to the way it was. Keep in mind your repair expenses may be more than what insurance pays out especially if you upgrade or make changes to your basement during the repairs.
Once the claim has been evaluated your insurance will present you with a check and you will then be able to follow through with the repairs. Some insurances will want proof that the repairs were made so they may send an inspector out to verify. It can affect your policy or future coverage if your homeowner’s insurance is unable to verify that repairs were made to their satisfaction. If you have a mortgage, your mortgage company may hold your insurance payout until it has proof of the repairs.