The short answer: In some cases, home insurance does cover plumbing damage and in other cases, it does not. A home’s plumbing is a common system of the house that gets damaged for various reasons. This crucial part of a home can become a major expense to repair in the event of damage. It is important to know when plumbing is covered under a policy and when it is not in order to be prepared for anything that comes your way.
- Plumbing issues or leaks that are sudden or accidental are covered under homeowners insurance policies, but gradual water damage is not covered.
- Damage that is determined could have been prevented will most likely not be covered under a home insurance policy.
- Damage caused by a burst water line or water heater rupture will most likely be covered by the insurance company under the policy.
When does homeowners insurance cover plumbing?
A homeowners insurance policy will generally cover plumbing damage when the damage is sudden and accidental. This means that if something caused a pipe to burst suddenly, odds are that the insurance company would pay for that damage claim. Damage caused to other parts of the house or personal belongings due to plumbing damage will also be covered when the damage to the plumbing is sudden and accidental.
A homeowner may even be protected in the event that there is some sort of leak in the plumbing that is hidden inside the walls of the house and unable to be noticed from inside or outside the house. This instance may be covered even if the leak has happened over a long period of time.
How does a home insurance policy cover plumbing damage?
There are several sections of coverage contained within a standard home insurance policy. These sections include dwelling coverage, other structures coverage, personal property coverage, loss of use coverage, personal liability, and medical expense coverage. In this case, we won’t discuss personal liability or medical expense coverage, but the other coverages are relevant as it pertains to plumbing damage.
Dwelling coverage is meant to protect the home’s structure and anything attached to the house. Say a pipe bursts due to a covered peril in the policy and causes damage to floors, walls, or other structure in the home. The policy would pay for repairs to these structures in this case. Some policies will pay on an actual cash value basis and some will pay on a replacement cost basis. The actual cash value is generally a lower limit than the replacement cost because it takes into account the depreciation of the structure. This form of coverage limit may result in a lower reimbursement amount for the same damage as compared to the replacement cost form.
Other structures coverage
This section of the policy protects any structures on the property that are not attached to the house. These structures may include things like a detached garage, shed, or something of that nature. If damage occurs to these types of structures because of plumbing damage that was the result of a covered peril in the policy, the repair costs may be reimbursed. It is important to note that the coverage limits in this section can be significantly less than that of the dwelling coverage discussed above. The maximum limit in a standard policy is typically 10% of the maximum limit of the dwelling coverage sections.
Personal property coverage
Personal property coverage is meant to reimburse the homeowner for any damage or theft to their personal belongings. This is one of the more relevant sections of protection when it comes to plumbing damage. A pipe bursting can scatter water everywhere damaging personal belongings such as furniture, jewelry, electronics, and other items. If the damage to the personal property was the result of plumbing damage that was due to a covered peril in the policy, then the insurance company will reimburse the homeowner to replace the belongings.
There are a couple of important points to note when it comes to personal property coverage. First, the standard home insurance policy such as HO-3 has a different list of covered perils for the personal property section compared to the above two sections of coverage. While the first two sections are on an open perils basis, the personal property section is on a named perils basis. The open perils coverage encompasses more perils than the named perils ones. The open perils form covers all perils that are not explicitly excluded in the policy, whereas the named perils form covers all perils specifically included in the policy and excludes all else that is not listed.
The second important distinction within the personal property section is that each type of personal property most likely has a sub-limit that is lower than the overall maximum limit of coverage in this section. For example, if a piece of furniture is damaged by a pipe bursting and it costs $1,000 to replace the piece, the policy may have a personal property maximum of $10,000 and a sub-limit for furniture of only $500. This means that the insurance provider will only reimburse the homeowner for $500 to replace the piece of furniture; not the full $1,000.
Loss of use coverage
This section of coverage is meant to reimburse the homeowner for any expenses that are incurred in addition to their normal living expenses due to a “loss of use” of their home. This is also known as additional living expenses coverage. These types of additional expenses include expenses such as a hotel stay, a meal at a restaurant, or other temporary accommodations that may be needed while the house is being repaired or reconstructed.
Plumbing damage and subsequent repairs may make the home unsuitable to live in for a period of time, forcing the homeowner to incur a bill for a hotel room. If this situation occurs due to a covered peril, the company will reimburse the homeowner for this expense. It is again important to note that there are limitations to how much the insurance provider will reimburse the homeowner, under the policy. This maximum limit can be quickly reached under the standard HO-3 policy.
When is plumbing damage not covered under homeowners insurance?
Plumbing damage is not covered in every instance. There are a plethora of cases where insurance companies will not cover plumbing damage. The most common instance where a policy will not cover plumbing damage is when there is a leak that over a period of time, causes damage. Have a leaky faucet or a washing machine? You are on your own to fix those leaks or pay for someone else to fix them for you. Major damage to be caused to a home, other structures or personal belongings can occur from plumbing leaks. These can be very costly repair or replacement expenditures. Unfortunately, the standard home insurance policy will be of no help to a homeowner.
Another common instance that is not covered is damage caused by frozen pipes. In most cases, damage from frozen pipes is determined to be due to homeowner neglect, whether that be not sufficiently heating the home or whether the homeowner left the home for an extended period of time and did not shut off the water supply. These instances would result in a denied claim. It is important to note that if it can be determined that the home was heated sufficiently and the pipes still froze, this instance would most likely be covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy.
Sewer lines or sump pump backups are other common occurrences that aren’t covered under an insurance policy. Old piping that is no longer used will also most likely not be covered under a standard policy, along with general wear and tear over time.
There are numerous perils that homeowners insurance policies exclude from coverage for not just plumbing damage, but any other damage as well. These perils include, but aren’t limited to:
- Intentional damage
- Nuclear hazards
If you are in areas that are prone to events such as flooding or earthquakes it may be worthwhile to get additional coverage to protect the home from those perils.
Additional coverage to protect against plumbing damage
Some homes may be prone to mold, flooding, or earthquakes or it may be known that the plumbing is old. While normally these sorts of perils aren’t covered under a standard policy, luckily, there is additional coverage that homeowners can purchase to protect themselves from damage caused by these perils.
Sewer line/sump pump backup coverage
Also known as water backup coverage, this is a protection that can be added as an endorsement on the homeowners policy. This added coverage will protect the homeowner in the event that there is a backup of some sort and is only a minimal additional cost to the homeowner.
Mold damage rider
Mold is a common issue resulting from plumbing damage. Mold can sometimes cause insanely expensive damage to a home. Generally, mold damage is not covered in a standard insurance policy. Adding a mold damage rider to your home insurance policy can greatly increase your coverage as a result of mold damage and cover mold damage that stems from a peril that is not covered in the policy.
Flood insurance can be incredibly important to consider depending on where you live. This is common insurance that is purchased by homeowners in addition to their standard home insurance policy. All flood insurance policies are purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program and can sometimes be significant costs.
What steps can be taken to prevent plumbing damage?
There are a few different steps that a homeowner can and should take to prevent a broken or leaky pipe from happening in their home.
First, winterizing one’s home is especially important. The wintertime is the time for broken pipes due to freezing. Shutting off the water flow and draining any water still in a hot water tank or in the pipes themselves is a good thing to do, especially if the home is left vacant for long periods of time.
Second, replacing old and outdated plumbing. Upgrading old appliances can help prevent plumbing damage along with replacing pipes that are old and potentially rusted from use.
Third, trimming or removing any trees, shrubs, and roots that may interfere with the plumbing.
What to do if there is a plumbing leak
If you do discover a leak in your home, immediate action will be crucial to minimizing the damage. Follow these simple steps to give yourself the best chance of preventing damage or preventing further damage that can be costly.
- Immediately stop the flow of water: Try to find the origin of the leak and prevent water from flowing through that origin point to wherever the leak is showing up. Some leaks are simple fixes such as tightening a connection, some may be more intensive to repair. You may need to shut off water to the entire house to prevent further damage and fix the leak.
- Take pictures of the damage: Photo evidence is necessary in order to have a claim covered for plumbing damage. Attempt to take many pictures of the damage from different angles to ensure that the claim will be covered by the company.
- Turn the power off: Electrical wiring may be in the path of the plumbing damage. Water and electricity mixing is a recipe for disaster. Turning the flow of electricity can prevent electrical damage and keep the occupants of the home safe.
- Remove furniture or any belongings away from the damage: After pictures of the damage have been taken, remove the personal property away from the source of damage to prevent the belongings from being damaged further.
- Remove the water from the damage source: There are numerous ways to remove the water including wiping it up with towels, opening a window to provide airflow, or utilizing a dehumidifier. Removing as much water as possible as quickly as possible will prevent mold and other damage from occurring.
Plumbing damage can potentially cause tens of thousands of dollars, make sure you are protected and prepared to mitigate any damage that may be caused. Now, if you know that there is an existing faulty plumbing system in your home, you must have it fixed to prevent further damage. In order to prevent damage, you should always check along with spaces that are more prone to damage like your kitchen, laundry room, or your bathroom.