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Water Damage: Am I covered for...?

Sacramento types of water damage

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Water Damage: Will I be covered in the following scenario...?

Water damage is one of the most common reasons people make claims on their home insurance. Did you know that 22 out of 1000 homes suffer a water damage related loss each year! Burst pipes, leaky appliances and flooded basements often lead people to discover the details of their home insurance policies.

"Water damage and homeowners policies can be a volatile issue in many ways," says Don Griffin of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a trade group. "Generally, the damage caused by water will be covered, but whatever causes the damage — say, a leaking dishwasher hose — may not be."

Although your insurer might pay to replace a carpet damaged by your dishwasher leak, you probably have to replace or repair the hose at your own cost. If a sudden, unforeseen problem such as a frozen pipe leads to water damage, your home insurance covers repairs to both the broken pipe and your home and furnishings.

Here are common water-damage scenarios and their insurance consequences.

Scenario No. 1: The temperature drops to 10 below zero, causing your water pipes to freeze and burst. Frozen pipes (both copper and PVC) can cause a lot of damage to your home, vacation property or business. Frozen pipes can burst, causing water to leak inside walls and floors, causing expensive water damage that can go far beyond just the expense of repairing the pipes. A three millimeter crack in a pipe can spew up to 250 gallons of water a day, causing water damage to possessions and irreplaceable assets. Your floor is now covered in 6 inches of water.

Are you covered? Yes, you're covered for water damage from burst pipes, but most policies won't cover you if you've left the house unoccupied and without heat. If that's the case, your claim could be denied because you've failed to perform the necessary upkeep that would prevent the accident.

Let faucets connected to vulnerable pipes drip during extremely cold weather. This keeps the water moving and helps to reduce the chance of freezing.

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Scenario No. 2: Water leaks from your backyard pool, ruining your manicured lawn and flooding your basement.

Are you covered? The damage to your basement and your personal property are covered, but not the damage to your lawn. According to a sample policy, "We do not cover land, including land on which the dwelling is located." However, your lawn is covered if it's damaged by certain "named perils." These include fire, explosion, riot, aircraft, vehicles not owned by you and vandalism. The amount of coverage for lawns and plants is small — usually only up to $500. Swimming-pool leaks are not a named peril. But if your leak was caused by a tree falling on the pool, it would be covered.

Pools are meant to be watertight but sealants will deteriorate while other parts of your pool shift and settle or just plain wear out. Pools can leak through any of the fittings or accessories, plumbing, or even right through the shell. It is important to repair leaks, not only to save water, heat, and chemicals, but also to prevent undermining pool structural components and washing away fill dirt. A list of independent pool professionals who specialize in leak detection is available a www.PoolLeak.info

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Scenario No. 3: Your washing machine overflows, flooding the basement.

Are you covered? Yes. But it depends on your home insurer's view of the problem: Did you fail to maintain the washer properly or did sudden, accidental damage cause the flood?

"Most of the time, if an appliance breaks and water goes all over, insurance covers it. In the case of a washing machine, you might need to purchase replacement parts out of your own pocket because they were not maintained correctly, but the damage to your basement is covered," says Griffin.

Consider replacing hoses to major appliances such as your washer and dishwasher every two to five years. Steel, so-called "no burst" hoses have been shown to have a longer lifespan than other models. When you go on vacation, turn off the water to your washer while you’re out of town. Many homeowners have returned from vacation to find their washer hoses have burst, flooding their homes.

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Scenario No. 4: A sewer backs up, flooding your basement or crawl space.

Are you covered? No. Standard home insurance policies don't cover sewer backups, and many specifically exclude damage from sewer back-ups. Special endorsements are available, at added cost, for sewers and drains.

Category 3 water is referred to as “Black Water.” Black water contains pathogenic agents and is GROSSLY unsanitary. Black water includes sewage and other contaminated water sources entering or affecting the indoor environment.Toilet backflows that originate from beyond the toilet trap is considered black water contamination, regardless of visible content or color.

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Scenario No. 5: Water seeps from the ground into your basement, damaging your foundation and interior.

Are you covered? No. Seepage is considered a maintenance problem, not "sudden and accidental" damage, and is excluded from home insurance coverage.

When the groundwater levels outside the basement rises above the level of the floor, the basement acts like a boat in a pond. If a boat is sitting in water, water will leak in through any open cracks or holes. It works the same way with a basement. Hydrostatic pressure can push water through hairline cracks.

Scenario No. 6: During a heavy rainstorm, water leaks through your roof. The roof is damaged, as is furniture.

Are you covered? Somewhat. You're unlikely to be reimbursed for roof repairs because that's a house-maintenance issue. But the water damage to your home is covered. Damage to your furniture is also likely covered if you have a standard H0-3 homeowners policy, but not if you have a generic HO-1 policy (which many insurers don't even sell anymore).

If your neighbor's tree falls on your roof, the damage to your roof, home and belongings is covered. Your policy also reimburses you up to a certain amount, usually around $500, for the cost of removing the tree.

Clean out gutters and downspouts regularly. This helps prevent overflowing, which may damage your roof.

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Scenario No. 7: A nearby lake or river overflows its banks, causing a flash flood in your living room.

Are you covered? No. Flood damage is not covered by home insurance. You must purchase flood insurance for that. You can purchase flood insurance as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.

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Be careful how you report damage to your insurance company. While you should be truthful, make sure you explain the situation using the most accurate language — or you could find your claim denied.

Homeowner’s insurance generally covers household water damage if the damage is sudden and accidental, such as damage caused by burst pipes. It does not cover damage of the sort covered by flood insurance, i.e., rising water from outside; or damage caused over time by lack of maintenance.

"What you say initially can affect the outcome of your claim. Many people believe their house is flooded because it's full of water — but it's not a 'flood' by the insurance definition," says Allan Sabel of Sabel & Associates, a Bridgeport, Conn.-based adjusting firm.

This may seem like a minor distinction, but your insurer has a very narrow definition of a "flood," which is not covered by home insurance. To an insurance company, flooding means that the water came from an overflow of a lake, stream, river or other body of water. If it didn't, don't even say the word "flood," says Sabel. If your basement is filled with water due to a burst pipe, it's not a flood — even if its depth is knee-high.

"You just have to be careful," Sabel says. "Know exactly what is in your policy, what's covered, what's not covered, and report your claim accurately."

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