When water gets into walls, floors, furniture and other valuables, it can cause permanent damage, and lead to other problems like mold and mildew. Insurance coverage depends on where the water comes from. Regardless, if you discover water damage in your home, you’ll want to minimize the damage as much as you can, prevent further damage, and start drying things out as soon as possible.
What to do right away:
As soon as you discover that water is where it shouldn’t be (usually in your basement, but sometimes elsewhere), try to determine where the water is coming from.
If it’s coming from a plumbing source inside the house,
Turn off the water. There is a main shut-off in your basement, and most faucets and appliances have their own shut-offs. Shutting the water off closer to the leak will minimize inconvenience, but sometimes shutting all the water off for the whole house is the only option.
Call a plumber to fix the leak. Keep receipts from the plumber.
Call your insurance company. They should arrange to send a restoration specialist over to start the cleanup process. It could take a few hours or days.
Take a few pictures of the area with water damage before you start cleaning up.
Don’t throw anything away yet, even if it’s damaged beyond repair.
Move wood and fabric items off the floor, damaged or not. Regardless of where the water is coming from, it could continue to rise. Keep the damaged items separate.
Take pictures of all the damaged items.
If there’s just a bit of standing water, mop up what you can.
If you have to wait more than a few hours for the restoration specialist and there’s a lot of standing water, rent a wet-dry vacuum to start removing the water (Keep the receipt).
Rent a heavy-duty dehumidifier to start drying out the area (Keep the receipt). Use fans to air out the area. Keep the heat down (room temperature). High heat promotes mold growth. You don’t want that.
Wait for the restoration team and the claims adjuster.
Making a claim:
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Water damage is not always covered. Every insurer offers slightly different coverages for water, but here are the basics:
If the water came from a burst pipe, leaky fixture or sink that overflowed, it should be covered under most home insurance policies. (The exception is a slow leak that caused damage over weeks or months)
If the damage is caused by sewer backup, it is only covered if you have sewer backup coverage. In some cases you can add sewer backup coverage for as little as $20 a year.
If the water came from outside, it gets a little tricky:
If water got in because a severe weather event caused damage to the roof or windows, that water damage should be covered.
If water got in through doorways or window wells during a spring melt or heavy rain that caused a flood, it is only covered if you have overland flood coverage. Some insurers include this with sewer backup, but if not, you can usually get this coverage for $10-30 a year.
If water seeped into your basement through cracks in the foundation, this is usually not covered, although some insurers include groundwater coverage as part of a water damage package, and others offer a groundwater endorsement for under $100 per year.
Some important things to remember:
Even if you buy the maximum coverage available, insurance won’t pay if water repeatedly gets into your home from outside. If you have cracks in your foundation or some other problem that is leading to repeated water damage, you are responsible for getting the problem fixed.
Regardless of whether or not your water damage is covered, getting your home and possessions dried out as soon as possible is critical. If you don’t and your home develops mold, that is a serious health hazard, it’s expensive to clean, and is almost never covered.
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