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Water is a necessary element for life. In the wrong place or the wrong amount, however, it can cause serious damage to homes and buildings. Water damage can weaken structures, shift foundations and do serious harm to furniture, flooring and other items of value. Depending on the cause, insurance policies may cover some or all of the costs of repair and remediation. After any water damage event, homeowners should carefully check all affected areas to determine the true extent of the damage and to prevent further harm to the structure or the items stored within it.
The Insurance Information Institute has compiled statistics on the most common causes for home insurance claims from 2006 to 2010. These figures reveal some interesting information about water damage claims.
• The average cost of a water damage claim during the period was $6,965.
• Water damage claims ranked fourth in average costs per claim. Fire, bodily injury and property damage and unauthorized use of credit cards held the top three rankings.
• Water damage and freezing were ranked second in terms of frequency, coming in just below wind and hail damage as the most commonly reported homeowner’s insurance claim.
Both fire and water damage claims typically include added costs for debris removal and clean-up efforts. Water damage can also cause mold growth inside walls and in other hidden areas of the structure. This mold must be removed to maintain a healthy, livable environment inside the home after a water damage event.
While some types of water damage are covered under home insurance policies, others may be excluded or may only receive partial coverage for the claim. Here are some typical claim scenarios and the probable coverage status for each:
• Frozen pipes can burst, causing serious damage inside the home. If the house was occupied at the time, this damage is usually covered by most home insurance policies.
• Sewer or septic tank backups are usually not covered by home policies unless a rider has been attached to the policy specifically including these events.
• An overflowing dishwasher or washing machine can wreak havoc on flooring and other materials in the kitchen or laundry room. Unless there is evidence of poor maintenance on these appliances, most insurance policies will cover the damage caused by these incidents.
• Water damage from a leaking roof may not be covered unless the homeowner can establish that the leak was caused by hail, wind or other covered events under the terms of the insurance policy. Leaks due to an aging or poorly maintained roof are not covered by most companies.
• Damage caused by floods is not covered under the regular home insurance policy. Flood insurance is usually sold separately or as a rider to the existing policy.
These unexpected events can cause serious damage to the contents and structural integrity of the home. Remediating and repairing the damage quickly can often prevent additional damage from occurring due to standing water and mold growth in the affected areas.
One of the most catastrophic causes of water damage, floods can occur during periods of heavy or consistent rainfall or as the result of hurricanes near the coast. In most cases, homeowners should opt for flood insurance if the home is located within a 100-year flood plain; most mortgage lenders require flood insurance in these cases in order to finance the initial purchase of the home. Homes located near the coast may be vulnerable to floods caused by the storm surge that accompanies hurricane and tropical storm activity. Because over 20 percent of all flood insurance claims occur outside designated high-risk zones, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends purchasing home flood insurance policies in areas near the coast.
In some cases, homeowners can avoid the expense and stress of water damage by taking a few simple steps to maintain their home properly. These include the following simple maintenance tasks:
• Insulating plumbing fixtures and pipes to prevent freezing
• Maintaining appliances and water heaters to ensure proper function
• Repairing minor plumbing leaks immediately
• Cleaning gutters and downspouts regularly to prevent damage from heavy rainfall
• Replacing or repairing older or leaking roofs
• Performing regular maintenance on septic tanks and sewer pipes that serve the home
• Examining ice maker connections and hoses and replacing these parts when necessary
• Repairing windows and doors to prevent water from seeping or leaking around them
By taking steps to prevent water damage, homeowners can preserve the value and livability of the family home.
Depending on the area of the home affected by water damage, homeowners may be able to deal with minor incidents without professional help. When serious flooding or water damage has occurred, however, it is usually best to consult with a professional water remediation service to determine the best course of action. Depending on the extent of the damage, these companies may perform some or all of the following services:
• Pumping water from the flooded area
• Removing damaged and destroyed items
• Pulling up wet carpeting and flooring
• Checking appliances for electrical damage
• Cleaning salvageable items for reuse
• Thoroughly cleaning and drying the entire damaged area
Mold remediation will also be performed in most cases to remove this dangerous substance from the damaged areas of the home. Left untreated, mold can cause a wide range of respiratory disorders and other medical problems for homeowners. It is essential to address this problem immediately in order to preserve the livability of the home and to create a wholesome environment for the family.
Although not all water damage incidents can be avoided, homeowners can protect themselves against some of the serious consequences of these events by performing regular home maintenance tasks and ensuring adequate insurance coverage if the worst should occur.
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