3 Types of Water Damage: Water Backup, Overflow, Discharge and Flood

Are You Insured for Water Damage to Your Home?

Water is one of the most common causes of damage in homes, and it represents a large number of insurance claims. Water damage to your property can happen from any number of sources, such as plumbing, appliances, storms, accidents and infiltration. 

Causes of Water Damage in Insurance: What's Covered?

If water damage is sudden and accidental, there's a good chance you are covered by most standard home insurance policies. Depending on your policy, you might have coverage for damage caused by water. Some coverage is included in a standard home policy like an HO-3, and other sources of damage might not be covered unless you add an endorsement to your policy. It really depends on the type of home, condo insurance or renters insurance you have.

If you opted for the least expensive type of policy, or if you're restricted to a policy like an HO-1 or HO-8, you might have very limited coverage. Unlike the other standard policies, these cover a very limited set of perils and will not normally include: 

  • Damages caused by the weight of ice, snow or sleet. This can cause roof collapse or water damage, among other problems.
  • Discharge and overflow of water, even if it is an accident.
  • Tearing apart, cracking, burning or bulging of a steam or hot water heating system. 
  • Freezing of plumbing and pipes.

However, your standard homeowner policy will include the above.

Understanding the Differences in Insurance Water Damage Coverages

If you're frustrated or confused by water damage coverages and insurance, you aren't alone. Here are some explanations and definitions of the most often confused water damage terms and what you need to know about your coverage if you have to make a claim. You won't want to have your water damage claim denied

Types of Water Damage in Insurance

Some types of water damage are pretty straightforward. It's helpful to be familiar with three of them. When you call to make a claim and to find out if you're covered, the insurance company may use terms like:

  • Sewer backup or water backup 
  • Overflow and discharge
  • Flood

The source of water damage is not always obvious, so the insurance company might throw some of these terms around when you call to ask if you're covered. For example, many people use the term "flood" to explain any kind of water in their house, but ​a flood is very specifically defined when it comes to insurance. It helps to understand insurance jargon for different types of damage so you can understand if something might be covered or not.

The insurance company will send an adjuster to manage the claim and will investigate the source of the damage to see if it is covered.

Water Damage May Be Limited on Your Insurance

In some cases, water damage coverage may be added onto your policy. You can check to see if you have special water damage coverages like sewer backup added as an endorsement by looking at your policy's declaration page.

1
Sewer or Water BackUp Coverage — Home Insurance Claims

Woman calling insurance about water damage coverage
How to know when water damage is covered by insurance or not. RuslanDashinsky / GettyImages

Sewer backup describes what happens when water comes up or is pushed into your home through the pipes from sewer or drainage systems. It is a very unpleasant type of water damage because it often involves dirty water from the sewers that will not only destroy your personal property but can also impact your health because it's so unsanitary. 

Most people don't know a lot about sewer backup coverage if they've never had to make a claim. Sewer backup can cause thousands of dollars in damage. The Civil Engineering Research ​Foundation, indicates that the rate of sewer backup incidents is increasing at a rate of 3 percent a year, so this is one coverage you don't want to do without.

There are several potential sources of sewer backup:

  • Blockage of a city sanitary main: If the city main gets blocked, it may cause water to back up into your home through your pipes. 
  • Aging sewer systems that require updates or repair. 
  • Tree roots: When you have older pipes, sewer ​lines and water entry pipes, tree roots can find their way into the pipes and cause blockages. You can check for this problem on your own lines by having a plumber check your pipelines with a camera and do some basic preventative maintenance on your home. 
  • City-related pipeline issues like combined pipelines or problems in the sanitary main: When the system you are using combines the sewage and storm water into one pipeline instead of having a separate pipeline for each, these are combined pipelines. The system can get overwhelmed in a storm and the water can back up into your home. 
  • Overflow or back-up of the drainage systems in your home. If your gutter systems or rainwater pipes are blocked or overwhelmed by debris or sudden water flow it may cause a back-up into your home. 

Sewer backup is not automatically included in most standard homeowner policies. You must add it to your policy by endorsement to make sure you're adequately protected. 

Sewer backup coverage can be added to a policy for as little as $40 to $50 a year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Contact your insurance company to find out the specific cost, but considering the aging sewer systems in many areas and the increased incidence of severe weather and storms causing claims, it's worth finding out. 

2
Overflow Water Damage and Discharge Water Damage

Water damage in home due to dishwasher flood
Appliances breaking down may cause water damage find out what's covered. Sturti/ Getty Images

Overflow and discharge water damage is the type of water damage most people think about when they imagine a water damage claim in their home.

Overflow involves water escaping or overflowing from appliances, pipes or water outlets in your home. Some examples include your bathtub or washing machine overflowing.  

Discharge is what happens when water is released from plumbing or appliances and then floods your home. For example, if your water heater gives out or a pipe bursts, there is a sudden discharge of water. 

The key to coverage in these cases is it must be sudden and accidental, not a maintenance or wear-and-tear issue.

Another type of damage that people often have a hard time understanding is seepage. Seepage is not sudden, therefore it is not usually covered. Overflow and discharge are often sudden and accidental and they usually cause large amounts of water to enter your home.  More

3
Flood Insurance Water Damage

Flood water coming in through door
Understanding Flood vs Other Water Damage. PICIMPACT / GettyImages

You would generally use the term "flood" to define that you have water in your home. You might say, "My basement got flooded." It can be confusing when you're told that insurance doesn't cover flood damage, yet people get paid for "water damage floods." Insurance doesn't cover flood damage because there is a difference between water damage and flood damage. 

Insurance would view a flood claim as a body of water overflowing so the level of water outside your home rises to a point where it enters your home. The official definition of a flood states that it's "a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres and two or more properties of normally dry land."

A good way to understand whether you have a real flood claim or a water damage claim is to determine if more than one home is affected. If so, you may be looking at a flooding situation or a flood claim. If only your home is affected, you probably don't have a flood claim even though you feel that you are "flooded." The source of water and cause of damage is likely one of the scenarios described above. If it is sudden and accidental and not due to maintenance, it could be a covered water damage claim. 

A flood is generally not covered by home insurance policies. If you have concerns specific to your area, contact your local state commissioner's office for details about what insurance is available in your area. It can vary from state to state.  More

Understanding What Water Damage Coverage You Need

The most difficult thing to deal with when you have water damage can be figuring out if you're covered. Now that you understand the different kinds of water damage commonly covered in insurance terms, you can discuss your coverage with your personal insurance representative to find out what is covered on your policy type. You can also use this information as a tool to help you figure out if you need to add additional endorsements to add water damage to your policy. Every insurance company is different. This information is a guide to help you understand your options. Your insurance representative is not only in the best position to give you the specifics of what's covered on your policy, but is also an excellent source of information when it comes to the risks in your area. He may have access to information about local claims and water damage trends that could affect you. If you want more information from another source, you can always contact your state insurance commissioner's office to find out more about what is available in your state and city.