Woefully Wet: Protecting Your Home from Water Damage

If you’ve ever returned home to find puddles of water where they don’t belong, you know it can be more than a nuisance. The presence of water may seem harmless enough at first, but the destruction to surfaces and belongings that often follows can be worrisome and expensive.

Water damage is one of the most common misfortunes that affect U.S. homes. In fact, one-in-50 homeowners filed a water claim each year between 2013 and 2017, with claims averaging about $10,000.1

Perils such as burst pipes, wind-driven rain, and damage from roof-top ice dams are typically covered by standard homeowners or renters policies. Damage from floods, resulting from the temporary inundation of dry land caused by overflowing river or tidal waters, requires a separate flood insurance policy. Flood policies are available from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and some private insurers. Property owners should protect their property with the appropriate amount and type of insurance coverage.

Woman on the phone looking at a leak in her ceiling.

Here’s a rundown of the water problems that often strike homes, as well as some tips for avoiding them when possible.

H2O Hazards

Pipe leaks. In the cold winter months, the increased pressure caused by freezing pipes can cause them to burst. It’s best to keep your home sufficiently heated, with the thermostat set no lower than 55° F (12° C) when you’re away. If you leave home for an extended period, you may want to turn off the water and/or have the system drained. Consider insulating pipes in crawl spaces and the attic. You can also install a pressure release valve in the plumbing system.

Water intrusion. Wind-driven rain can cause leaking from a damaged roof, window, or elsewhere. Regular maintenance such as caulking windows, checking regularly for roof damage, and clearing debris from rain gutters and downspouts can help prevent water from reaching the home’s interior surfaces during a storm.

Dripping hoses. Water lines running to appliances such as refrigerators, icemakers, water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines have been known to crack, leak, and cause damage to nearby walls, cabinets, and floors. Consider replacing hoses every five to seven years; checking annually for deterioration may help head off a disaster. Also, know the location of the main water shut-off valve so that you can reach it quickly and limit the damage in the event that you find water flowing from a hose or pipe.

Backed-up drains or sewer lines. Some standard policies cover these dirty messes, whereas others do not. Sewer backup riders may be available when they are not standard. You might also consider installing a backwater valve, which allows sewage to exit but won’t let it flow back inside the home.

From Moisture to Mold

To prevent the growth of mold, you will need to remove any standing water as quickly as possible and dry any drenched carpets, pads, or upholstery within 24 to 48 hours. Any surfaces that do not dry sufficiently may need to be replaced. Although homeowners insurance policies generally exclude mold from their standard policies, your policy may provide for professional help to clean up a waterlogged interior and minimize any permanent damage in order to avoid future mold growth.

The elimination of mold may be covered if it resulted directly and recently from a sudden, covered peril. If you do not file a claim for water damage and find out later that mold is present in the home, it could be considered a maintenance issue and probably will not be covered. If your home suffers water damage, you will want to contact your insurance company as soon as possible.

Time is of the essence, and your agent may be able to recommend a qualified restoration contractor and answer any other questions about water damage, mold, and what is covered by your specific homeowners policy.