Most people who buy homeowner’s insurance tend to think about protecting themselves from financial loss should the house burn down. A much more common cause of damage to homes, though, is water. Leaky roofs, broken pipes, and blocked drains can produce a mess that is expensive and difficult to clean up and repair. However, insurance coverage for these losses is not always certain.
The standard homeowner’s policy may cover rain damage, depending on how rain enters the home. If a storm damages the roof or a window and allows rainwater to enter, the policy should cover the cost of repairing the damage. However, if the roof has no apparent damage but instead has suffered normal wear and tear, the policy will not cover the loss.
The policy will normally cover damage caused by water leaking from pipes, with some restrictions. If a pipe breaks and floods a few rooms, the policy will cover the cost of repairs to the rooms but not the cost of replacing the pipe. However, the policy will not cover the damage caused by a burst frozen pipe unless the homeowner has used reasonable care to either maintain heat in the building or shut off the water supply and drain the pipes and appliances of water. People who leave for warmer climates during the winter must make sure these steps are taken.
One lesson that many people learn the hard way is that homeowner’s policies do not cover damages caused by flooding. The standard policy does not pay for damage caused by floods; water on the surface of the ground; waves; tides; overflows of bodies of water; or water spray whether the wind drives it or not. It also will not pay for damage caused by water or floating debris that backs up into the home through sewers or drains or which overflows or discharges from a sump or sump pump. Finally, it will not cover damage to structures such as driveways, sidewalks or foundations from water pressure under the ground. A flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program may cover some of these types of losses. Also, many insurance companies may offer a small amount of coverage for damage resulting from sewer, drain or sump backup for an additional premium.
When a water loss occurs, it is very important to stop the water flow and begin the drying process as soon as possible. Broken windows and holes in roofs should be boarded up and water shut off to broken pipes. If the water is allowed to accumulate, mold and mildew may grow in the area. The longer the affected area remains wet, the longer and more expensive the repairs will be.
A good restoration contractor can help contain the damage and speed up the repairs. He can perform emergency work, such as removing carpets, installing fans and dehumidifiers, and vacuuming up the water. He will also protect furniture by setting it on blocks so that the legs are above the water. Because the wet carpet pad may produce a foul odor, the contractor will remove and dispose of it and replace it with a new one. This may save the carpet, thus holding down the total repair cost.
Homeowners who suffer water-related losses should work closely with their insurance agents and companies. Cooperation with the company may result in a fairer settlement; the agent can be the homeowner’s advocate with the company. Most importantly, the homeowner should act quickly to limit the damage and protect undamaged property. More than anything else, this will reduce the cost and inconvenience of the loss.