As a homeowner, your home is your biggest asset, so you want to be prepared for anything. While it’s not necessarily the most exciting thing, planning ahead for the worst-case scenarios and making sure you have the right homeowners insurance coverage is one of the best ways to protect your home.

Water damage repairs can be costly, especially as water can sometimes damage your entire floor or ceiling and result in expensive restorations. In fact, claims for water damage are the second most frequent claims after wind and hail damage. Unfortunately, you can’t count on homeowners insurance to cover every kind of water damage.

Nobody likes being caught by surprise—especially if it means having to cough up extra cash you didn’t plan for. Here we’ll break down which forms of water damage are covered by home insurance, which aren’t, and how you can best protect your home to prepare for anything.

Basics of homeowners insurance

Having homeowners insurance is the best way to protect your home. This form of insurance covers the cost to repair or entirely replace your home in the event of damage or destruction. There are three main aspects of this insurance.

Structural insurance

Structural coverage, also known as dwelling coverage, is the part of homeowners insurance that protects the actual structure of your home. For instance, if your home is damaged or destroyed by fire, lightning, or other disasters, this form of coverage would pay to rebuild it or repair it.

Personal property insurance

This part of your home’s coverage protects your belongings within your home. For instance, if your computer, home office, expensive jewelry, or art collection is destroyed in a fire or disaster, this aspect of your insurance would replace it or repair it.

Personal liability

Personal liability protects you from lawsuits in the event that a guest or visitor is injured inside your home or by a family member or pet.

The two aspects of homeowners insurance that apply to water damages are dwelling coverage and personal property coverage. For instance, if the structure of your home is damaged by water, your dwelling protection would cover the costs of repairs.

 Similarly, if your personal belongings are damaged by water, personal property coverage would pay the cost of repairs.

Types of water damage that are covered 

While understanding what is covered and what isn’t covered can be tricky, here are some helpful guidelines to help you understand what insurance covers.

Sudden and accidental 

For homeowners insurance to cover water damage, it must qualify in two different areas. The water damage must be both sudden and accidental. If the water damage has been occurring slowly over a few weeks and you simply haven’t repaired or addressed it yet, homeowners insurance likely isn’t going to cover it.

In the same way, if you know your washing machine is leaking and have failed to repair it, the damage is no longer accidental, so insurance will not apply.

Plumbing damage

Most water damages can be traced back to plumbing issues. For example, a leaking or burst pipe, a broken appliance, or a crack in your faucet would be considered a plumbing issue. Homeowners insurance should cover water damage from plumbing issues if the damage is sudden and accidental.

Types of water damage that are not covered

Here are some helpful guidelines of what types of water damage are not covered by your homeowners insurance policy.

Unresolved maintenance issue

Homeowners insurance will not cover any water damage that results from a plumbing issue you have known about yet failed to address. If a pipe suddenly bursts or starts leaking, in comparison, this is sudden and accidental and would be covered.

However, if you’ve known about a leaky pipe or maintenance issue for a few weeks and simply haven’t replaced it yet—well, insurance likely isn’t going to cover any damages.

Replacing the source of water damage

Homeowners insurance will cover the damages incurred by any sudden, accidental leaks. However, insurance usually doesn’t pay to repair the broken appliance or replace it entirely.

Flood damage

Unfortunately, homeowners insurance also doesn’t cover flood damage. Regardless of whether this damage was caused by severe rainstorms, rivers or lakes overflowing, or flooding due to the position of your home, standard home policies don’t cover damage from floods.

However, floods happen. If you live in a location at risk for flooding, it’s important to keep your home protected. Consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy to protect your home from damage. 

You may even be required to purchase flood insurance if you live in an at-risk area.

Flood insurance covers the cost to replace the structure of your home and everything contributing to the foundation. This includes electrical structures, plumbing, and anything else attached to your home. Flood insurance also covers your personal belongings, so if a flood damages your clothing, electronics, or furniture, flood insurance will pay to replace these.

Sewage or drainage problems

Another form of water damage that isn’t typically covered by homeowners insurance is from sewage or drainage problems if your sewer backs up and water leaks into your home and damages your personal property or home’s structure.

However, there are ways to protect against potential sewage problems by purchasing a separate form of coverage. This is typically known as water backup coverage. This form of protection helps pay for structural damage or personal property damage incurred by a sewage or drainage problem.

Gradual damage

Insurance only covers damage that happens suddenly. This rules out any water damage that’s been occurring gradually, even if you’ve been unaware of it. Your insurance claim may even be rejected if the damage is gradual.

The best way to be prepared for gradual damage is to check your home’s water systems and keep proper precautions and maintenance. It’s better to be safe than have to cough up hundreds of dollars to replace part of your home because you’ve had a leaky pipe for a few weeks and haven’t known about it.

Water safety tips

Because the standard homeowners insurance policy doesn’t extend to gradual damage or things that aren’t sudden and accidental, it’s vital to check your home before buying it and before insuring it to make sure there are no issues that could cause potential water damage.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) offers a few tips for preparing and protecting against water damage:

  • Inspect your faucets for leaks.

  • Inspect your water heater and make sure all hoses are connected properly and leak-free.

  • Inspect showers and tubs for proper water-tight seals and caulks around them. If there are any cracks, be sure to fill them with caulk or get them replaced.

  • Check your pipes for cracks or leaks.

  • Locate the main shut-off valve for the water in your home. If there is a burst pipe, you will know how to shut off the main valve and save your home from further water damage.

  • If you’re leaving for a vacation or a long period of time, shut off the water supply as well. This protects from potential leaks and damage while you’re away.

  • Seal your windows properly so rain won’t damage your home.

  • Check for leaks or cracked shingles on your roof that could lead to potential water damage to your roof.

  • Declutter your gutters. This is important as the build-up in your gutters and downspouts can accumulate and cause water damage.

  • Make sure your irrigation systems and sprinklers are not cracked or broken.

Other things to know

There are some exceptions to what various insurance policies will cover concerning water damage. The best way to understand what your specific provider covers is to talk to your insurance agent. They will be able to help decipher the fine print in your policy and advise you on what extra precautions to take.

Finding the best homeowners insurance provider for you can be a challenge, especially if you’re unaware of how much insurance you even need.

>>COMPARE: Get a homeowners insurance quote

Summary

Water damage is one of the most frequent reasons American homeowners file insurance claims. While experiencing water damage may seem like a small change, the cost of repairing damage from water adds up fast and can leave you with bills to pay out-of-pocket.

For this reason, knowing what your insurance policy does and doesn’t cover when it comes to water damage is vital to preparing and protecting your biggest asset! If you’re concerned about potential flood damage or sewage back up, find an insurance provider that has a separate plan to protect your home.

>>LEARN MORE: Do you have the right homeowners coverage?