What questions do I ask when filing a water damage insurance claim?

Are you filing an insurance claim with your home for the first time? These are ​three key questions when filing an water damage claim for your home that will help you understand the core principles and navigate the process. These are written from the experience of an restoration professional with nearly 20 years assisting property owner’s recover from water and fire related damages.

As a homeowner, you want to make sound decisions based upon information gathered from trusted professionals combined with your own experiences. Having the knowledge base to make a smart choices is key when you are attempting to:

  • Maintain the value of your property

  • Address current issues impacting your home

  • Keeping a long term perspective as you address your immediate needs

Our three key questions when considering an insurance claim will assist you to make decisions on how to proceed with the property damage loss process. We will primarily discuss water damages in the following scenarios as these make up some of the most common homeowner related insurance claims. Eight years of data from Travelers Insurance revealed that water related events accounted for 31 percent of its claims.

  • Is this source/peril covered under my policy?

  • If the answer is yes, proceed to Question 2.

Water Damage Insurance Claim Question #1 — Is this a covered loss or peril?

The number one question with a property insurance claim is whether or not it is a "covered peril." Another way to think of this is whether the source of the loss/peril is specifically excluded in your insurance policy. Most plumbing related water sources are included by standard policies which often cover "sudden and accidental" plumbing leaks, pipe breaks, overflows, and the like.

According to the website Policy Genius, "In homeowners insurance, a “covered peril” is an event the insurance company agrees to reimburse you for should you file a claim. Covered perils include fire, lightning strikes, windstorms and hail, weight of snow and ice, theft, and vandalism."

  • A scenario where a water heater has rusted out at it's base because of age or lack of maintenance could be a source for coverage concern.

  • Seepage from ground water or flooding from a catastrophic event could be a source for rejection and/or concern if you do not have additional coverage for these items.

Talk to your insurance agent and make sure you understand the fine print of what is and what is not covered in your homeowners insurance policy.

Water Damage Insurance Claim Question #2 — Was this sudden and accidental?

A common loss that is typically covered would be a scenario where the homeowner, or a tenant, returns home and finds that a plumbing line has burst and water is streaming through the structure right out the front door. Interior plumbing breaks are most often covered and the loss classifies as sudden and accidental, most likely this would be a covered loss.

Water damage from a likely covered peril can become a bit of a grey area when there is a small leak that has caused damage over an extended period of time. Indicators such as extensive discoloration, microbial growth (the four letter word that you should never use — mold), and/or dry rot could be a source for concern.

A refrigerator supply line leaking behind the appliance may not be noticed by a homeowner or a tenant until there is significant damage to the structure and flooring. While the extent of the damages were not exacerbated by the tenant or homeowner being negligent (they did not know about the loss), the evidence will show that the damages have been occurring outside of what would be considered “sudden and accidental.”

During the claims process the stakeholders will need to work to determine the source of the damage as well as the estimated duration of the loss.

  • Is the loss sudden and accidental?

  • If the answer is yes, proceed to Question 3.

Water Damage Insurance Claim Question #3 — What is my deductible?

Most homeowner deductibles are $500 — $1,000 with many carriers transitioning to a 1% of value related policy (which can be much more than $1,000 on modern homes). An insurance deductible is the amount you as a policy holder have agreed to pay out of pocket in the instance that you file a claim.

A water damage loss that is approved by the carrier as a covered claim (peril) will encompass two parts:

  • First, the mitigation portion which will include the assessment of the extent of damages, removal of affected materials, and utilization of drying equipment.

  • Second, the repairs portion which will include restoring the affected areas to their pre-loss conditions with materials of like kind and quality.

Even if the loss is from a covered peril, and was confirmed as sudden and accidental, understanding the extent of the damages and the estimated cost are factors in determining whether it is in the insured’s best interest to file a claim. Identifying the extent of damages and the estimated cost for mitigation (drying out the structure) and repairs are important considerations in making decision whether or not to move forward with the property insurance claims process.

Restoration Contractors will often provide a free evaluation of your home. By using non-penetrating and/or penetrating moisture meters, thermal cameras, and their experiences, a good water damage specialist can assist you to identify the extent of a water damage in your home and provide you with a rough order of magnitude (ROM) for the scope of work. While All American Restoration Services (AARES) does not perform drying services, we can assist you in locating a quality local company to assist you in addressing your mitigation needs. We are ready to be of service to assist you in restoring your home to pre-loss conditions once the drying of the structure has been completed.

Many of the same principles the author of this article wrote about hiring the right abatement contractor apply when interviewing restoration contractors; these include:

  • Confirm the contractor is licensed

  • Check their license history

  • View the feedback of other consumers

In life we don’t always need to know the answer to every question, but knowing what questions to ask and who can help us find answers are critical tools for survival. Your home is a source of pride for you as an owner. You want to protect your asset by surrounding yourself with the information you need to make smart decisions.

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