This weekend marked the unofficial start to the spring flooding season with Winter Storm Riley expected to bring heavy snow, rains and flooding to areas across the eastern United States. Coastal flooding may cause tides to reach three to four feet above normal levels along the Massachusetts shore, while parts of the southeast may see six inches of rain and winds up to 70 miles per hour. Before that, the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys saw up to three times the normal amount of February rainfall, with a large portion falling in the past nine days. Meanwhile, parts of the Ohio River have seen the highest levels of flooding in 20 years, according to weather.com.
Needless to say, we've entered the time of year when many homeowners begin to wonder how they're covered against spring floods.
What protection is provided by your homeowners insurance?
If you already carry a homeowners insurance policy, you should be protected against some types of damage that arise from spring storms. For example, most homeowners policies cover damage caused by water entering your home directly through the roof, as long as the roof leak was not due to general wear and tear and your own lack of maintenance. So, for example, if heavy winds cause a tree branch to puncture your roof, and rainwater enters your home, you should be covered.
However, many homeowners don't realize that standard homeowners policies specifically exclude coverage for flooding. Flooding is classified as water that touches the ground first, and then enters your home, such as you'd see with an excessive amount of runoff due to heavy rains or melting snow. This type of damage can be prohibitively expensive, costing upwards of $27,000 for just one inch of flooding inside an average one-story home, according to FEMA.
A flood insurance policy is necessary to protect you against that type of flood damage. But according to a 2016 poll by the Insurance Information Institute, only 12% of homeowners carry this coverage. An overwhelming number of victims of last year's Hurricane Harvey discovered this too late.
If you were hoping to snag a policy to protect you against this week's weather, you're out of luck. Most new policies are subject to a 30-day waiting period starting the day you purchase coverage, according to FEMA.gov. That doesn't mean you shouldn't initiate your search for flood insurance now, though. A policy purchased today would still provide coverage against the seasonal risks that accompany most of spring, as well as the summer hurricane season.
How to buy a flood insurance policy
Unlike standard homeowners insurance policies, the flood insurance industry is regulated by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and you can purchase flood insurance insurance directly through the program. However, you may also be able to buy a policy through the insurance company that underwrites your homeowners policy, or an independent flood insurance company.
You should consider the total replacement cost of your home to determine the maximum amount of coverage you need. The NFIP caps most claims at $250,000, which should be enough to protect homeowners from most incidents, but could fall short if your home is totally destroyed by a hurricane or other disaster. If you think you need additional coverage, you should get a quote from an independent insurer that specializes in flood insurance.
How to prepare for a possible claim
If you've experienced water damage in your home, it is imperative that you respond as early as possible. Photograph any and all water damage to serve as proof of your claim, then take whatever steps necessary to remove the water and minimize the damage. Insurance companies are wary of claims that are due to a homeowners own negligence. So if you failed to perform maintenance on your roof, say, or if you allowed water to stand in your home for an extended period of time, your claim may be denied.
Move rugs, furniture, and other property out of the flooded area, then use a shopvac and towels to remove the water. Open windows, if it doesn't lead to more flooding, and turn on fans to further dry out the affected area.
Once you've taken steps to minimize the damage, contact your insurance agent to initiate a water damage claim. Send them your photographs as proof of your claim, and they will guide you through the claims process.