Water Damage: The Second Most Common Insurance Claim


WRITTEN BY: Mark Romero

UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 21, 2022 | 2 MIN READ

After wind damage, non-weather-related water damage is the second most common insurance claim. If you come home to flooding not otherwise caused by weather, it can be an overwhelming situation.

This article discusses common sources of accidental flooding inside your home, steps to repair the damage, and insurance coverage issues. 

Non-weather-related water damage can be caused by a burst pipe or a failed appliance such as a water heater, air conditioning unit, dishwasher, or washing machine. Sewage backups can also cause it. In the case of condominium living, water damage can even be caused by your upstairs neighbor. 

Next Steps: Identify the Source of the Water

Interior flooding could have any number of sources, as mentioned above. To effectively manage the catastrophe, you will need to figure out the source of the water. 

Accidental Kitchen Flooding

Common kitchen sources could be the dishwasher, the sink, or even your refrigerator if you have an ice maker with a water line. If you have a dishwasher leak, the shut-off valve is usually located under the kitchen sink on the same side as the dishwasher.

For the refrigerator, the shut-off valve is usually behind the refrigerator, where the water line connects to the wall. If unsure, you can always turn off the main water line to your home. 

Accidental Bathroom Flooding

If the flooding is coming from the bathroom, there are multiple sources of potential problems. Bathroom flooding could be from under the sink, the toilet, the shower, or any combination of sources. Again, turn off the main water line to the house to stop the water flow. 

If you identify the toilet as the problem, refrain from prolonged contact with the water, as it could be contaminated sewer water. 

Other Causes of Accidental Flooding

Washing Machine Leaks

Whether it’s a user error such as too much soap or a manufacturer’s defect, a flooding washing machine can quickly deposit a lot of water on your floors. 

If the washing machine is running, try to turn it off. Your next step is to stop more water from emptying onto your floor. Shut off the flow and shut off the water at the source. The valve is usually located behind the washing machine. 

If you can do so safely, unplug the washing machine from the wall. Standing water and electricity don’t mix, so don’t attempt to unplug the machine until you’re sure it’s safe.

Air Conditioner Leaks

The two most common causes of air conditioner leads are a clogged condensation drain or frozen coils. Both you can fix yourself. 

  • Flush out the pipe with clean water or a diluted bleach solution for a clogged drainpipe. You can use a wet vac to blow the clog out if that doesn’t work. Run your air conditioner for a few days, and if the condensation stays in the pan, your problem is fixed.
  • Turn the air conditioner off for frozen coils, let the coils defrost, and then try again.

If neither of these is the source of your leak, you’ll need to bring in a professional. 

Leave your air conditioner off or run it on the fan instead of cooling and keep the water contained until the professionals arrive.

Water Heater Leaks

Another source of accidental flooding could be your water heater. A water heater can hold 23 to 56 gallons of water which can cause the whole home to flood if it fails. 

You will need to shut off the main water line to the house or the cold-water line to the water heater. If the water heater continues to leak, you may then have to drain the water heater. 

This can be done by a plumber, and will take about an hour to drain all the water. If you want to try it yourself, you can check out the step-by-step guide on our water heater leaks article. 

Prevent Further Damage

Once you have determined the source of your accidental flooding and stopped any active leaks, you will need to take swift action to prevent further damage.

Once the water comes into contact with surfaces, such as walls, floors, and cabinets, it can create an environment where mold can grow. 

While you may have your shop vac for small spills, accidental flooding inside your home is generally not something you want to tackle, especially if it’s severe enough to require filing an insurance claim. 

Professional Water Mitigation

If your leak is big enough that you’ll need to file an insurance claim, then it’s important to contact a professional water mitigation company to remove the water from your home and dry it out. 

TIP

Contact your insurance carrier to see if there’s a water mitigation company they prefer to work with. This can save you from disputes and other headaches down the line and make sure your claim is processed quickly. 

A water mitigation company will have the equipment to remove any standing water and dry the walls, floors, and cabinets. These companies are also equipped to detect hidden water damage behind walls and under floors.

If there is any hidden damage, you’ll want to include it upfront when you file your leak claim. Finding the damage later makes it more costly and difficult to get your insurance company to cover.

Depending on the extent of the accidental flooding, walls, floors, or cabinets may need to be removed. This can significantly increase the cost of repairs.

However, a properly dried-out home will prevent or stop any mold growth. As part of this process, a water mitigation company may treat the surfaces with industrial-strength disinfectants to address any mold issues

Insurance Issues

In addition to taking steps to prevent further damage, you may want to call your insurance company to report the problem.

Calling sooner rather than later can make a difference in a coverage determination since most insurance policies require homeowners to notify the insurer promptly. Failure to do so can jeopardize your insurance claim. 

Your insurance policy will also require you to prevent further damage to the home. Do not wait for the insurance company to advise you of this.

Delaying necessary steps to prevent further damage can negatively affect your insurance claim. To maximize your chances of recovery, document the damages and any repairs made with photos. Also, keep all receipts and invoices for all services provided.

Several factors determine if your insurance covers accidental flooding. 

The first one is the language of your policy. Insurance policies contain information about what is covered and excluded from coverage. One of the key pieces of information is that the flooding is accidental. This usually means it was unexpected and not the result of your actions or inactions. 

Exclusions:

Corroded Pipes

An example of a potentially excluded cause of in-home flooding is if the cause is due to failure to maintain your home. Pipes last a long time but will eventually need to be replaced. If the flooding were due to corrosion, this would not likely be a covered loss. 

Appliance Replacement

Similarly, this will not likely be covered if the accidental flooding resulted from a faulty appliance. An insurance policy may pay for cleaning the water but not the faulty appliance. 

Sewer Backup

Lastly, some insurance policies will limit recovery for accidental flooding due to a sewer backup, particularly if it was caused by a city sewer line outside your property limits. 

Accidental flooding is catastrophic and complicated. Take it one step at a time, make smart decisions, and you can get your home back to normal. Knowing what your policy says will help prevent unpleasant surprises.