10 Essential Water Damage Insurance Claim Tips
SmartFinancial Offers Unbiased, Fact-based Information. Our fact-checked articles are intended to educate insurance shoppers so they can make the right buying decisions. Learn More
Not all types of water damage are covered by a standard homeowners or renters insurance policy. Your insurance should cover sudden water damage sourced from within your home and may cover damage from some external sources, but generally won’t cover flood damage or damage you could have reasonably prevented.
Read below for 10 essential water damage insurance claim tips you need to know if you’re wondering how to get insurance to pay for water damage.
10 Things You Need To Do When Filing a Water Damage Insurance Claim
If your home or belongings have been damaged by water and you want your insurance company to help cover the costs, you should follow these 10 insurance claim tips for water damage.
1. Find the Source
If anything you own shows signs of water damage, the first step you should take is to figure out what caused the damage. Locating the source can help you determine whether it is covered by home insurance and how you could prevent further damage.
For example, if the damage was caused by a burst plumbing pipe, you may want to turn off your house’s water supply. Conversely, if your house begins to suffer rain damage after high winds blow something through your window, you should patch up the window to keep out as much rain as possible.
2. Understand Your Coverage
Not all home insurance policies cover all types of water damage, so it’s important to make sure you understand your coverage so you don’t waste your time filing a claim that will be rejected by your insurance company.
For example, standard homeowners policies typically don’t cover damage from flooding but may provide coverage if the floodwaters got into your home because of a covered peril like a windstorm. In addition, if you paid the extra cost for flood insurance, it’s much more likely that you’ll receive reimbursement from your insurance provider after a flood.
3. File a Claim As Soon As Possible
After a covered loss, many insurance carriers require you to file your claim as promptly as possible. The meaning of “prompt” varies from insurer to insurer, meaning you could have anywhere from 30 days to a year to get the claims process started. Be sure to check the details of your policy for more information on your insurance company’s requirements.
Do not delay the process, as you risk losing any information necessary for a successful claim. You generally won’t be reimbursed for lost belongings unless they were ruined by a named peril mentioned in your policy. As a result, it’s crucial to start the claims process before you lose any evidence that proves your items were destroyed by a covered peril.
4. Be Honest With Your Insurance Company
It’s important to be honest with your insurance company about the source of your home’s water damage. Lying to your insurance company by saying the water damage was caused by a covered peril when it actually wasn’t could qualify as insurance fraud.
In addition, insurance fraud is considered a felony in many states. For example, you could face a jail sentence as long as three years and a fine as high as $10,000 if you are convicted of insurance fraud in Ohio, depending on the amount of money involved in the fraudulent claim.
5. Document All Water Damage
You need to document as much information as possible about your home’s water damage so that your insurance adjuster can appropriately evaluate the extent of the damage. This might mean taking photos and videos of the damage and creating an inventory of any items that were ruined and how much those items were worth.
6. Clean, Dry and Drain Areas With Standing Water
After your house experiences a significant amount of water damage, you should try to mitigate future damage by cleaning, drying and draining the areas affected by standing water. Insurance companies generally won’t cover damage that you could have prevented. As a result, even if the water got into your home because of a covered peril, you might not receive full reimbursement if you failed to take reasonable steps to contain the damage.
You should also take steps to prevent the spread of mold once you have cleared the standing water from your house. Even if you have flood insurance, your policy likely won’t cover mold damage unless a government order or continued flooding prevents you from returning to your home to make emergency repairs.
7. Move Unharmed Goods Away
You should relocate any item you can reasonably move that hasn’t been damaged by water but could be if left unattended. Insurance generally only covers losses from sudden or unexpected causes, so you might not be reimbursed for items that were destroyed after the initial peril since the source of their damage might no longer be considered unpredictable.
8. Keep Damaged Items for Claims
While you should immediately throw away food and other damaged goods that could pose a health risk, you should otherwise hold on to any personal property that was damaged by the water. Like photos and videos, you can present the damaged items to an insurance adjuster to help them determine an appropriate payout for your claim.
9. Consider Getting a Second Opinion
If your house has undergone a significant amount of water damage and the details of your claim are complex, it can be useful to get a second opinion from a public adjuster who doesn’t work for any insurance company. A public adjuster can provide expert testimony to submit as evidence for your claim or let you know if your insurance carrier has offered an unfair settlement.
10. Start Your Recovery
Once you have set up a time for an insurance adjuster to inspect your property, you can begin to work toward your post-water damage recovery. This will likely involve contacting professionals to repair any damage and searching for replacements for the most important items you lost.
Be sure to save any receipts, invoices or contracts if you have work done before receiving your insurance payment. You may be able to submit these to your insurance company in order to be reimbursed for the repairs and replacements you had to pay for out of pocket.
What Type of Water Damage Is Covered by Home Insurance?
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies generally cover the structure of your home against any source of water damage that isn’t expressly excluded by the policy and cover your belongings against perils specifically listed in the policy such as snowstorms and theft.
See below for examples of perils that could result in water damage in your home and that your insurance will most likely cover.
Fire or lightning
Firefighters cause water damage to your furniture in the process of dousing a fire
Heavy winds blow a portion of your roof off and allow rainwater to get into your home
Weight of ice, sleet or snow
Water leaks through your roof after snow builds up and creates an ice dam
Theft and/or vandalism
A disgruntled neighbor throws a rock through your window during a rainstorm and the rain causes your electronics near the window to short circuit
Water/steam discharge from home systems and appliances
Your basement floods after your water heater unexpectedly malfunctions
Freezing of home systems
Standing water in your pipes freezes and causes the pipes to burst
Is Gradual Water Damage Covered?
Homeowners insurance generally doesn’t provide coverage for gradual water damage caused by neglect or poor maintenance. For example, if you have a leaky pipe or a hole in your roof that causes water to build up over a period of several months, your insurance company likely won’t cover any losses since you should have recognized and fixed the issue before it could cause a significant amount of damage.
For example, American Family Insurance offers a hidden water coverage endorsement that covers gradual damage from water leaks you weren’t aware of.
What Type of Water Damage Isn’t Covered?
Some sources of water damage are not among the named perils covered by your personal property insurance and will commonly be excluded from your dwelling coverage. Unless you purchase extra coverage, your home insurance likely won’t cover water damage caused by any of the following:
- Flooding from heavy rain, high tides, overflowing rivers or dam failures
- Earth movement like mudflows
- Artificial sources like broken sump pumps or sewer backups
In addition, your insurance provider may not pay to repair or replace the source of a covered loss. So while you will likely be reimbursed for any water damage that occurs after your dishwasher suddenly malfunctions, your insurer likely won’t give you money to buy a new dishwasher.
How To File a Water Damage Claim
You can take the following steps to file a homeowners insurance claim for water damage.
- Call 911 and have the responding officers fill out a police report if the damage resulted from a crime like theft or vandalism.
- Notify your insurance company that your home has experienced water damage and you intend to file a claim.
- Document all of your losses as thoroughly as possible.
- Make emergency repairs to prevent additional water damage that your insurer may not cover.
- Inform your mortgage lender that you are filing a claim.
- Gather photos, inventories, police reports and any other evidence you will need to support your claim to the insurance adjuster.
- Save receipts, invoices and other documents related to the resolution of your water damage claim.
- Track your claim to make sure you are filling out any necessary paperwork in a timely manner and don’t miss any deadlines set by your insurance company.