Anybody who has owned a home for any length of time will end up having to deal with water damage. This alone is bad enough, but having to file a water damage claim with your insurance company may leave you wishing you had stayed in bed that day if you don’t know how to do it correctly.
First off, it is important to know what to avoid doing. Namely, try not to use the word “flood”. Flood damage is almost never covered under homeowners’ policies, unless of course you had the presence of mind and forethought to get covered under the National Flood Insurance Program. So if your pipes fail and overrun your living room, be sure to refer to it as “water damage”, not “flood damage”.
Prevent more damage from occurring. Whatever the problem was that caused the damage, fix it. Claims will often be denied if it can be proven that the damage was in any way caused by negligence on the part of the homeowner. As a homeowner and policy holder, you have an obligation to mitigate the damages. That means to do whatever is necessary to prevent the damage from getting any worse (if it’s in your power). That could range from turning the water mains off to calling an emergency water damage company right away instead of waiting a day or two.
Get familiar with your policy. Never assume (because we all know what that does) that water damage or mold damage is automatically covered. It may very well not be. Take the time now to sit down with your agent and go through your policy line by line. Knowing what is covered is half the battle, and you can add additional coverage as necessary. Mold coverage is a perfect example of this – most homeowners policies either exclude mold removal altogether or have a cap on it.
Document everything. Take photographs of the damage, and video if available. This may go a long way towards helping you plead your case with the claims adjuster or getting everything covered. Most adjuster wont fight you over something small, but if you tossed out a $15k water damaged oriental rug then you’d better have some sort of proof.
When it is time to file, contact your insurance company claim department, and provide all necessary information including your policy number, contact information, and details of the water damage involved.
Do not throw away any damaged items unless they present some kind of health risk such as mold growth, and even then if you can keep them outside your home until an adjuster has had time to examine them it can only help your cause. Having them on hand will help you in your attempt to get them replaced.
As mentioned, mitigate the damage, but save all receipts. This will help you get properly reimbursed for money you had to spend to stabilize the situation.
The insurance company will most likely send out a claims adjuster to assess the problem on behalf of the insurance provider. They will provide you with instruction on how to proceed. If you haven’t already chosen a mitigation company or construction company, your adjuster can help you with that. You should always request a copy of the adjuster’s assessment report. If the damage is extensive and you are having problems either eating, bathing or sleeping most homeowner’s insurance policies will have additional living expenses (AL&E) included which will cover a stay in a hotel and any food. Just keep all your receipts.
Fill out a proof of loss form with your provider. This will act as a sworn statement that will back up your insurance claim. It is usually required in cases of water damage.
Follow up on your water damage claim as many times as it takes. In some cases, the insurance provider will be diligent in keeping you updated as things progress, but if they operate the way many insurers do and drag their feet, don’t be afraid to make a pest of yourself. You paid into this policy and you have a right to know where they are in the claims process at any given time.
Of course, your local Clean Trust (formally IICRC) certified water damaged restoration professional can act as a liaison with your insurance company, making sure everything is covered and properly compensated.