Water is one of the most common causes of property damage in the United States, and it is not cheap to fix. According to the Insurance Information Institute, water damage impacts roughly 14,000 Americans each day—with the average insurance claim severity coming in at $11,650.
Most of us would agree that there's never a good time to deal with a surprise expense like that so it's worth knowing how to protect your home or property from water damage and what insurance is likely to cover (or not) if you need it.
Below we'll cover the basics on flood damage as well as other water damage common for property owners.
Does homeowner's insurance cover water damage?
Water damage that occurs suddenly (e.g. due to a burst pipe or failing equipment) is typically covered by homeowner's insurance but, unfortunately, most homeowners policies do not include protection from water damage caused by flooding.
This means that if you experience flooding on your property, you may be left paying for damages out-of-pocket. And those damages are likely to be in the thousands or tens-of-thousands.
Why doesn't homeowner's insurance cover water damage from floods?
Not only do most standard insurance policies not cover flood damage, they specifically exclude coverage for flood-related incidents.
The reason has to do with both the nature of flooding and the high cost of repairs associated with it. Floods are characterized by water flow entering a property from the outside, whether it be from heavy rain or a nearby body of water. The high volume of water that floods bring in can lead to significant property damage that can easily rack up repair bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Another reason homeowners insurance policies do not typically cover flood damage is that it is considered a high-risk occurrence. Floods are widely seen as unpredictable and uncontrollable natural events that have the potential to cause significant damage. Since they are so unpredictable, insurance companies view them as difficult to predict and thus carry a high financial risk.
If you live in an area prone to flooding then you may consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy to get protection from the high cost of flood-related incidents.
Like all insurance policies, flood insurance will carry specific coverage limits and exclusions, so shop around and always read the fine print and understand what is covered before purchasing a policy.
Protecting your property from flood damage: sump pumps and how they work
Even if you have flood insurance, you're better off preventing flood damage than repairing it after it occurs. The best approach to flood protection depends on the greatest threat of flooding to your specific property.
If the primary risk of flood is a body of water near your property then the best protection technique is surprisingly simple: sand bags.
Sand bags can be used to form temporary walls that block or divert water flow from getting to your property in the first place. They aren't a foolproof option, and they can only hold back so much water, but in situations where you live in or near a flood zone and a flood can be anticipated they are a good first step.
Sand bags are great for preventing nearby water from reaching your property but won't do much to prevent water damage caused by rising water tables.
If that's a concern, a more technologically advanced approach to flood protection is a sump pump, which can be installed in your basement or crawl space.
These devices pump water out of your property's basement or crawl space during floods. They're most commonly installed in homes with a high water table or in areas prone to natural disasters that lead to flooding. The device works by redirecting water away from your home's foundation and into a storm drain or dry well.
A sump pump will come in two major varieties: pedestal and submersible. Pedestal pumps sit outside the sump pit and have a motor that draws water up through a pipe. Submersible pumps, on the other hand, sit inside the sump basin and are fully submerged in water. They have a motor that drives a pump impeller, which pushes water out of the basin.
Most sump pumps are equipped with battery backup systems in case of power outages during storms. This ensures that the pump will continue to function even when electricity is not available, protecting your home during the most severe weather events.
The cost of a sump pump varies depending on their size and features. A basic model can cost as little as $100, while a more advanced system can run upwards of $1,000. The cost of installation will depend on the complexity of the job, and can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
Protecting your home from non-flood water damage
While floods are a major cause of water damage to properties, it's important to note that not all water damage is caused by floods. In fact, most water damage claims come from non-flood related incidents.
Understanding the most common causes of non-flood water damage can help you take preventative measures and ensure you have the right insurance coverage.
One of the most common causes of water damage is leaky or burst pipes. These can be caused by a variety of factors such as aging pipes, faulty installations, or extreme temperature changes. Slow leaks often occur when piping is cracked or ill-fitting, whereas freezing pipes can result in sudden and severe leaks.
Even small "silent but steady" leaks can lead to significant water damage over time if left untreated so it's essential you catch leaks early. WaterAvert Pro is a product we developed for these exact situations. It can quickly be installed in any area where leaks may potentially occur to alert you immediately.
Otherwise, you're forced to depend on regular inspections or signs of severe pipe damage like significant decrease in water pressure.
Another cause of non-flood water damage is broken appliances. According to U.S. Census data, 85% of households own washing machines. And a typical load of laundry uses anywhere from 7 to 35 gallons of water. That's plenty of water to cause damage if something goes wrong.
Washing machines are certainly not the only threat either. Dishwashers, water heaters, refrigerators, and any appliance that uses a water supply (like an ice maker, for example) are all common culprits to leak water if they malfunction or are not installed correctly.
Regularly inspecting and maintaining these appliances can help prevent water damage. As mentioned above, using a product like WaterAvert Pro for real-time water detection is a great way to catch water leaks early and protect your home.
Roof leaks are another common cause of non-flood water damage. Weather events like severe winds, heavy rain, hail, or snow can cause roof damage that results in leaks.
Regularly inspecting your roof and promptly repairing any damage can help prevent water damage to your property. It's also important to maintain nearby trees because they can often be a cause of roof damage that later results in leaks.
Lastly, blocked or clogged gutters and downspouts can cause water to back up and overflow, leading to water damage to your property's exterior and foundation. If the blockage is severe and water flow is significant then you might even get enough water pressure from blocked gutters or downspouts to create damage directly.
Using gutter guards, regularly cleaning gutters, and ensuring downspouts are properly positioned can help prevent this type of water damage.
What to do if you find water leaking
If you notice any signs of a leak, such as water stains, drips or puddles, be sure to take action immediately to prevent further damage. Catching leaks early helps to prevent the accumulation of standing water, which can lead to mold growth and structural damage.
Mold growth can wreak havoc on a property so stopping it before it starts should be one of your primary safety considerations as a property owner. Anytime water leakage occurs, inspect the entire area thoroughly and clean and sanitize any spots that may have become wet or moist.
If you're faced with severe or extensive damage that requires necessary repairs, we've got a full article covering safe water removal and clean up. But here's a quick rundown:
Shut off main water supply, if possible (obviously not an option for floods)
Turn off electrical sources in the area
Clear the nearby area of furniture, carpet, and household items to limit water damage
Remove the water and begin clean up
How can we help?
Our mission at FireAvert is to give property owners the tools they need to keep their homes and properties safe. Whether it's our cutting edge smoke alarm monitoring and real-time water monitoring systems, or education like this article, we're here to help.