By Margaret Heidenry
Whether you’re dealing with a slow leak in the basement or a steady drip from a hole in the roof, water can wreak havoc on your home—and your bank account. Once the water recedes, one of the first questions you’ll have is whether your homeowners insurance covers water damage and roof leaks. Well, we have you covered with the answers below.
Is water damage covered?
In a word, yes! A standard homeowners insurance policy will cover water damage and roof leaks unless they’re the result of gross negligence on your part. Even if the roof leak is caused by a windstorm or a tree crashing through the shingles, you’re covered.
Roof leaks are typically covered if a windstorm damages a home and creates an “opening” in the roof, says Stacey A. Giulianti, a lawyer in Boca Raton, FL. Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover any “preventable” damage to a property, so the key here is determining if the leak is caused by a sudden and unexpected event. For example, rain that drips in through a pre-existing hole is generally not a covered loss, because the insurance company would likely say you should have fixed the hole.
If a broken or frozen pipe turns your basement into a swimming pool, you can file a claim with your homeowners insurance and the policy will cover damages. Of course, each policy’s terms may include specific coverages and exclusions, so always read the fine print.
When is water damage not covered?
Water damage due to sewage and drain backups generally requires additional insurance coverage beyond a standard policy, says Joe Vahey, vice president and product manager at Erie Insurance.
Say your rain gutters are clogged because you haven’t cleaned them. With nowhere to go, water flows down the sides of your home and pools around the foundation, causing interior water damage.
“This type of claim, known as seepage, is a maintenance issue and often isn’t covered under your home insurance policy,” says Vahey. That’s because the damage is due to neglect that could have been prevented through proper home maintenance. Damage caused by manufacturing defects in your roofing material or installation errors are also not covered.
Another type of water damage homeowners insurance policies specifically exclude is that from flooding caused by a natural disaster (e.g., a hurricane). But you can purchase a separate flood policy.
Flood insurance premiums are pricey, however, and depend on the risk of flooding in the area where your house is located as well as the value of the home and its contents, says Thomas J. Simeone of Simeone & Miller in Washington, DC.
How to protect yourself from hidden costs
According to a study by Erie Insurance, nearly 27% of homeowners mistakenly believe their insurance will pay for damage that occurs to their roof through normal wear and tear. So proper home maintenance (clean your gutters!) and routine inspection (check and maintain your roof!) can go a long way to ensure any pooling water and roof leaks are caught early and fixed. If left unchecked, bigger—and potentially damaging—problems are likely to occur.