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Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Plumbing and Pipe Leaks?

Your homeowners insurance policy should cover any sudden water damage due to a plumbing malfunction or broken pipe. However, most policies exclude damage to your home that occurred gradually, such as a slow leak, or was caused by regional flooding.

Additionally, some types of damage related to water, such as mold, may be excluded from your standard policy, depending on the cause. However, if you want coverage, you can typically add additional coverage as optional riders.

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Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from leaking pipes?

Your home insurance policy should cover any sudden and accidental water damage from a plumbing failure, such as a burst pipe or ruptured water heater.

Water could cause enough damage that you'd need to repair part of your home's structure, replace destroyed property and possibly relocate for a few nights. Fortunately, there are three clauses in your homeowners insurance policy that may provide coverage if your house has water damage:

  • Dwelling coverage: Your policy's dwelling coverage clause insures the structure of your home, such as its roof, walls and floorboards. If part of your house is damaged by a covered leak or you have to remove part of a wall to repair a leak, your dwelling coverage will reimburse you. It also covers built-in appliances, such as a water heater.

  • Property coverage: Your policy will reimburse you for any personal property, such as clothing, TVs and furniture, that is destroyed when a plumbing malfunction causes damage to your home. However, certain luxury items, such as jewelry, may only be covered up to a $1,000 to $2,000 limit. The limit can be increased if you add an optional rider to your policy.

  • Additional living expenses (ALE) coverage: Sometimes referred to as loss of use, ALE will reimburse you for hotel, travel and food expenses if you're temporarily displaced from your home.

If water were to pour out of your washing machine when you're not home, it could cause your wooden floorboards to buckle. The water could also leak through the floor and damage the walls or ceiling of the floor below.

In this case, you would likely be covered by your insurance. After you file a claim, an insurance adjuster would come to your home to assess the damage. If the cost to repair or replace your floor, molding and lower-floor ceiling is $3,000, and your policy has a $1,000 deductible, your insurance would pay the remaining $2,000.

What kinds of plumbing damage aren't covered by home insurance?

Home insurance policies don't cover damage from normal wear and tear. And they won't reimburse you for water damage caused by a drain backup or flood, unless you have an endorsement.

Although covered water damage includes plumbing malfunctions and burst pipes, certain situations or types of damage aren't covered. When you initiate a claim for water damage, your homeowners insurance company will send an adjuster to assess the cause of the damage and the cost. They will evaluate:

  • The location of the pipes or other source of damage
  • Whether any damage is from an old leak or a new one
  • Whether there are any signs of deterioration, such as rust, that should have signaled a future leak
  • Whether the leak is simply the result of old age or wear and tear

The adjuster will evaluate if you reasonably could have prevented the leak. If they determine you could have, they may deny coverage.

Lack of maintenance

Water damage from normal wear and tear or a lack of maintenance will not be covered. For example, you might notice a minor leak but fail to do anything about it for a few weeks, since only a small amount of water is leaking. Gradually, that leak could cause a growing bulge in your wall, eventually prompting you to file a claim.

Unfortunately, you would have voided your coverage weeks earlier when you decided not to address the issue immediately. Your insurance company would likely claim that you failed to carry out routine maintenance and deny coverage.

Another common claim many companies deny is a burst pipe during winter. If you go away for the holidays and completely shut off your heat, the temperature may cause your pipes to freeze and burst. In this scenario, you may be responsible for the repairs, since you could have prevented it.

Sewage backup

A leaking toilet may be covered by your homeowners insurance policy, but a flooded or backed-up sewage system is not, even if it overloads your plumbing system.

Fortunately, most home insurance companies offer sewer or water backup coverage as an affordable rider that you can add to your policy. It's a good idea to get this optional coverage, because sewage damage can be hazardous to your family and destructive to your house and property.

Flood damage

Water damage results from a malfunctioning utility or pipe. Flood damage, on the other hand, occurs when water from heavy rains, an overflowing body of water or snowmelt rises to a high-enough level to enter your house or overload your plumbing system. Flood damage is excluded from your homeowners insurance policy, but you can buy flood insurance coverage through your insurance company, if they participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Evaluate your house's flood risk by viewing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map for your region and talking to your insurance agent. Once you've determined your risk, you can decide if flood insurance is necessary.

In some cases, the difference between flood and water damage is a gray area. Because of this, it's always best to contact your insurance agent as early as possible to determine what's covered and the steps you should take to minimize the damage.

Mold damage

Most homeowners policies exclude mold. However, insurance companies do provide a varying amount of protection against mold damage if it results from a covered leak. You should carefully read your policy to determine your coverage. Expect a reimbursement limit of $1,000 to $10,000 for mold remediation.

While any coverage is good, common mold claims can cost $15,000 to $30,000. However, as with sewage backup, many companies offer additional coverage as a rider. Be aware that if you live in a mold-prone area, such as Florida or parts of California, coverage may be substantially more expensive.

In addition to buying mold coverage, you should regularly clean, ventilate and dehumidify areas prime for mold growth to prevent it from spreading. These areas include:

  • Basements, or any other rooms partially belowground
  • Bathrooms, especially if they're used for showering and don't have windows
  • Laundry rooms
  • Cabinetry beneath sinks
  • Garages
  • Crawl spaces

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How to tell if you have a water leak

In many cases, a leak will be obvious and disruptive. Other times, it could go on for days without you noticing, causing an increasing amount of damage until it's fixed. Use these tips to uncover any leaks you might have in your home:

  • Look: Even if the leak is not directly visible, it will often create a sagging spot on your ceiling, a bulge in your wall or stains and discoloration. They may appear minor at first, but these spots will quickly grow larger and more obvious. They indicate additional damage you can't see. Responding to the problem as quickly as possible is important, both to minimize the damage and to make sure your insurance company will honor your claim.
  • Listen: If you suspect you have a leak, listen when the house is quiet, such as at night. A faint trickling sound or dripping noise is a telltale sign of a leak.
  • Smell: Does a certain room in your house smell musty? This is a sign of moisture and mold growth, both of which point to a leak. Even if the smell is in an area without water pipes, moisture can leak through cracks in your foundation and cause damage. Run a dehumidifier to reduce the mold risk while you seek the source of the leak.

What to do if you have a leak

If you've discovered a leak in your home, act immediately to prevent further damage. The first thing you should do is try to stop the flow of water. Some leaks can be solved by attaching a dishwasher hose properly or tightening a loosely attached pipe. Other times, you may need to shut off your home's water supply while you investigate.

Before removing any water, take photographs. This evidence may help you defend your claim with your homeowners insurance company. Once you've documented the damage, follow these steps to remove the water as quickly as possible:

  • Elevate any personal property, furniture and rugs to avoid further damage.
  • Open windows to allow air to flow through the room.
  • Run an air conditioner or dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air.
  • Use a Shop-Vac or sump pump to remove standing water.
  • If the leak is near any electrical wiring, turn off your electricity at the breaker to avoid electrocution.
  • Hang any wet rugs or carpet to dry.

Removing the water as quickly as possible will help minimize the ultimate cost of the damage. Once you've documented the damage and removed the water, contact your homeowners insurance company to initiate a claim.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author's opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.