Dealing with water

Q – 70% of the world is covered in water – and most of it is in my basement! What should I do? – L.B.

A – Peering into your basement and seeing water lapping at the bottom steps is a disquieting sight. Doubtless your first impulse will be to cry, “Abandon ship”. A close second will be “Is my insurance company going to cover this?” The answer is, “That depends.” Unless you have specifically addressed this situation in the selection of the features for your policy, the answer may well be “No”.

Generally speaking, accidental discharges or overflows of water will be covered. Your insurance will cover the damage if the water came up through the main drain and you have sewer backup coverage, which is an optional endorsement. Most homeowner’s policies do offer this option, but you should ask for it specifically. Even if you do select this coverage, there may be a dollar limit on the coverage, especially if you live in an area prone to flooding. On the other hand, occurrences such as floods, or water seepage that is repeated or continuous (such as results from a crack in the basement wall) will not be.

Property insance won’t really protect you against an inevitability. So if your basement floods as a result of a river overflowing, you will not be covered. The insurer will take the attitude that if you live in an area that may be flooded, it will eventually be flooded. And insurance is intended to protect against accidents, not inevitabilities. Flood insurance does exist, but it is prohibitively expensive, and may not even be available in flood-prone areas. The homeowner is better to put the money into means to deal with the inevitable (or moving).

Lack of proper maintenance on the part of the homeowner will also result in the loss not being covered. In an earlier article, we dealt with collateral damage to walls and ceilings not being covered when it results from an unrepaired roof. The same applies here. If you failed to clean leaves out of your gutters, water could seep into the foundation rather than running off in a controlled fashion. As the problem is caused by a lack of maintenance, it is not covered. Say you left a window open and rain came in and damaged the hardwood floor, are covered? That depends on the type of policy you have. Damage could also result from frozen water pipes bursting.

If this occurred, you would be covered if the house were occupied at the time of the accident. If you were away for more than four consecutive days when this happened, however, you would only be covered if you had a competent person checking your house every day. No checks, no coverage.

It’s not all bad news. There are situations where you will have the insurer ‘s support. Let’s say you left your kitchen faucet running while you wentto answer the front door and your sink overflowed, the resulting damage would be covered, since it is considered to be “sudden and accidental”.

Let’s return to our leaky roof scenario. If high wind resulted in a leak in your roof and water damage resulted, you’d be covered. Water damage is clearly a complex issue. As coverage can vary from policy to policy, it is wise to check with your insurance provider to see which risks are covered and, almost more importantly, which are not. You don’t want to get soaked when an accident occurs.