Homeowners insurance generally covers sudden and accidental water damage, especially if it’s from an internal cause like a failing appliance.
Certain causes of water damage aren’t covered, including flooding and lack of maintenance.
If you need to file a claim, contact your insurer as soon as possible and take steps to prevent further damage.
A leaky dishwasher. A burst pipe. A heavy rainstorm. Any one of these could cause water damage in your home. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute estimates that about 1 in 60 insured homes has a claim for water or freezing damage each year.
Unfortunately, a standard homeowners insurance policy won’t cover every type of water damage. Here’s a guide to what’s covered, what isn’t and how you can make the most of your claim.
Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?
A home insurance policy typically covers sudden and accidental water damage from causes such as burst pipes or failing appliances. It usually won’t cover water damage from flooding or lack of maintenance.
Depending on which parts of your home are affected, you could have coverage from two different parts of your policy. Your dwelling coverage pays for damage to the structure of your home, including the roof, walls and floor, while personal property coverage pays to repair or replace your belongings.
You’ll have coverage up to the limits listed on the declarations page of your policy, minus your deductible (the amount of a claim you’re responsible for).
Below are some typical causes of water damage and how your homeowners policy might be able to help.
Homeowners insurance generally covers water damage from an appliance that suddenly fails, but it won’t pay to replace the appliance. You typically won’t have any coverage if the failure is due to normal wear and tear or a lack of maintenance on your part.
Say your water heater springs a leak, sending water gushing across your basement floor. Your homeowners policy would likely cover the resulting damage, paying for new flooring and replacing ruined furniture. However, it wouldn’t pay to fix or replace the water heater unless you’ve added equipment breakdown coverage to your policy.
Equipment breakdown coverage is an endorsement that will pay to fix or replace HVAC systems and major appliances if they have an electrical or mechanical failure.
An important note on sump pumps: If your sump pump breaks down or overflows, the resulting water damage isn’t generally covered unless you’ve added specific coverage to your policy. Ask your agent about an endorsement for water backup and sump pump failure.
A homeowners insurance policy may cover water damage from sudden, accidental leaks, but it won’t cover more gradual problems you could have prevented through maintenance.
Here’s an example. If a strong windstorm blows some shingles off your roof, causing a leak, the resulting water damage would likely be covered. Storms are sudden and accidental, and wind is a covered peril on most home insurance policies.
However, if your 18-year-old roof starts leaking due to wear and tear over the years, your homeowners policy is unlikely to help.
The same goes for leaky windows or pipes. That slow drip under the sink probably isn’t covered — but a pipe that freezes and bursts probably is.
Backed-up drains and sewer lines
A sewer line backs up, causing a smelly mess in your bathroom. Are you covered? Probably not, unless you’ve added water backup coverage to your homeowners policy. This is typically the same endorsement that pays for damage from a failing sump pump or a backed-up septic tank.
Rain and flooding
However, there are some circumstances in which water damage from rain might be covered. For example:
Heavy wind blows a tree onto your roof, destroying some shingles and allowing rain into your top floor.
A large piece of hail breaks your window, and subsequent rain gets in through the shattered glass.
Putting out a fire
Say your kitchen catches fire. The firefighters respond quickly and keep the blaze from spreading to the rest of your house. However, the water from their hoses causes major damage to your floor and cabinets.
Your homeowners policy will likely pay not only for anything ruined by fire and smoke, but also for the water damage from extinguishing the fire.
What about mold from water damage?
It may take only a day or two for mold to form after water damage, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If the water damage that caused the mold is covered, your home insurance policy may pay for mold remediation, too. So if mold started growing after a pipe burst, you might have coverage. If the mold was a result of a flood, you probably wouldn’t.
Should you file a water damage claim?
Even if you think your water damage will be covered, filing a claim isn’t always a slam dunk. If the damage is relatively minor, you might not get much of a payout after the insurance company subtracts your deductible. And that amount could be negated completely if your insurance company decides to raise your premium because you filed a claim.
Keep in mind, too, that some insurance companies may refuse to renew your policy if you file too many claims. So for minor water damage, you may be better off paying for repairs yourself — especially if you’ve already filed other claims within the past five to seven years.
How to file a water damage claim
Once you’ve decided a claim is worth submitting, here are a few key steps to take.
Prevent further damage. As soon as you discover the problem, act quickly to keep it from getting worse. This could include shutting off the water to that part of the house or dehumidifying the room to prevent mold.
File your claim promptly. The sooner you reach out to your insurance company, the sooner you can be reimbursed. Depending on your insurer, you may be able to submit a claim online, by phone or on the company’s mobile app.
Document the damage. Before you do any cleanup or repairs, take photos or video of the damage. Your insurer will likely request an inventory of ruined personal belongings in order to reimburse you for them.
Make temporary fixes. While you shouldn’t schedule major work until your insurance adjuster has reviewed the damage, you can take smaller steps to protect your home. For example, putting a tarp over a leaky roof can prevent more water from getting in, and throwing out a damp carpet can keep mold from growing. Keep receipts for any purchases, as your insurer may reimburse you for them.
How to prevent water damage in your home
To avoid water damage claims altogether, follow these tips.
Clean your gutters and downspouts regularly, and consider installing gutter guards to keep leaves and other debris out.
In the winter, keep your thermostat at a temperature of at least 55 degrees to prevent burst pipes.
Regularly check major appliances — including hoses and pipes — for leaks and other damage, and make repairs promptly. You should also inspect your roof for damaged shingles.
Know where your home’s main water shutoff valve is in case you need to use it in an emergency.