We all know the dreaded drip, drip, drip of a water leak. It’s the sound of a potentially expensive repair or at minimum, an annoying cleanup. Either way, you want to be prepared when it happens. Knowing what your homeowner’s insurance covers in terms of plumbing and pipe leaks is the first step.
In general, sudden plumbing issues are typically covered by insurance but plumbing problems that occur over time due to lack of maintenance may not be. The policy may cover damage resulting from plumbing breakdowns, but it won’t cover the cost to repair the plumbing itself. Insurance is intended to help in emergencies, not a substitute for regular maintenance.
What Insurance (Probably) Does Not Cover
Most policies do not cover old plumbing and pipe leaks. If you’ve got a slow leak and you ignore it until it gets worse, that’s likely not covered by your homeowner’s policy. When you file a claim, your insurance company will send an adjuster. They will determine the cause of damage, and decide whether it qualifies for coverage. Here are general guidelines on what insurance probably does not cover.
- Normal wear-and-tear and lack of maintenance are not covered. If you neglect your plumbing and pipes, you essentially have voided your policy.
- Leaks that started small and have gotten progressively worse over a period of years are not covered. The time to address them was when they started.
- Pipes that freeze because you turned off the heat would be categorized under neglect. So, if you went away on a winter vacation, and failed to take the necessary steps to protect your pipes, the damage that results may not be covered under your policy.
- Mold may be excluded from your standard policy. However, you could purchase additional coverage.
- Water damage from any flooding is not covered unless you have a flood policy.
What Insurance (Probably) Covers
From certain plumbing issues to broken, burst, or frozen pipes, your homeowner’s policy probably covers the ensuing damage if you have taken reasonable care and performed continued maintenance. For example, coverage for freezing of a plumbing system only applies if you “maintain heat in the building; or shut off the water supply and drain all systems and appliances of water.”
Insurance pays to repair the pipes or plumbing in these cases. It also compensates you for covered items that are damaged by the leak. Coverage A (which includes the plumbing system) will cover the plumbing system if there is a fire, tornado, explosion, etc. The contract specifically excludes coverage for “wear and tear, deterioration and latent defect, inherent vice” – basically, the policy will not pay for the plumbing system or pipes for leaks, broken, etc. – that is the homeowner’s responsibility. If it is a covered loss, the insurance company pays for the ensuing damage, i.e. flooring, baseboards, drywall, and personal property.
Your insurer will likely send someone out to determine the cause of loss and inspect the damage. You will get reimbursed by your policy, minus your deductible (which is the amount that you chose to pay out-of-pocket before insurance kicks in).
There are four different parts of your homeowner’s policy that address damage caused by plumbing and pipe leaks:
- Dwelling coverage covers the structure of your home. This includes the roof, walls, and floorboards. However, if you have to remove a wall to see if there is a leak, that would not be covered. There are companies that will come out and complete a Leak Detection Report to determine where the water is coming from. If the loss is covered and over the deductible, your insurance will pay for the report.
- Personal property coverage protects your possessions that may be damaged. Coverage may apply if there is “an accidental discharge or overflow of water from within a plumbing system or household appliance.” Damage that occurs gradually due to a leaky pipe is generally not covered. Protected possessions include clothing, TVs, and furniture. There are dollar limits for certain items such as money, jewelry and firearms, so check with your insurer. (You could add an extra rider to cover those items.) For personal property coverage on a homeowner’s policy, you typically get 50 or 75% of Coverage A, the total amount of coverage for your home.
- Other structures coverage protects detached buildings, such as garages or guest houses, that may be damaged due to plumbing issues. The coverage limit for other structures is generally set at 10% of your home’s coverage limit. That means if your home is insured for $200,000, the coverage limit for your garage would be $20,000. For an additional premium, you can add an endorsement for additional coverage.
- Depending upon the extent of the damage, your house may not be livable. If that’s the case, you would need to stay somewhere else. You would be covered for any necessary increase in living expenses, such as lodging, food, and gas. Under Coverage D – Loss of Use, called “Additional Living Expense,” your policy will provide a flat percentage toward living costs, usually 30% of the Coverage A amount. Some states have time limits (e.g. 12 months) on when you can use that coverage. Plan to cover those additional expenses out-of-pocket.
How to Know if You Have a Leak
Taking the time to inspect your pipes and plumbing periodically can give you a heads-up that there could be a problem. The earlier you address it, the less costly it will be. Look for these signs that you may have a leak.
- Stains or discolorations on walls or ceilings
- Bulging or sagging spots on walls or ceilings
- A trickling sound when it is quiet, such as at night
- A musty smell, which can be a sign of moisture and mold growth
- Poor water pressure
- Rusted metal
- Peeling paint
- Steady increases in water bills
Finally, make sure your homeowner’s policy is up to date, and that it provides the coverage that you need. That will go a long way toward having peace of mind should you have a plumbing problem.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.