Water Woes: 3 Common Home Insurance Claims You Can Avoid

Most household floods and water damage are caused by plumbing or appliance failure, according to a study by Roto-Rooter, a U.S. plumbing and drain service company.

The bill for these disasters can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The Roto-Rooter study shows that only about 8 percent of residential flooding claims are the result of weather. Thirty percent are caused by appliance failure like a dishwasher leak and 62 percent by plumbing failure a hose or pipe bursting.

So, in short, the majority of claims are preventable.

Paul Berger, an insurance adjuster at Claim Solvers in Florida and an insurance attorney, says the general rule is that only breaks and sudden damage are covered by standard home insurance coverage.

Most policies feature a maintenance clause that excludes damage by problems that could have been fixed by the policyholder. "The purpose of the maintenance clause is to encourage homeowners to repair items such as leaky sinks and toilets before they cause significant damage and require filing a claim," Berger says.

Even if your home insurance policy does cover a watery claim, soaking up the damages could jeopardize your rates.

"Any claim can affect future rates or renewals because you could lose your 'claim-free credit' or other discounts," says Janet Scott-Buckley, manager of Harrington Insurance Agency in North Andover, Mass. Multiple claims over a few years can also affect your premium.

Fortunately, there are some easy steps homeowners can take to protect their homes - and wallets -- from water damage.

1. Dishwasher

Dishwasher lines and hoses can spring a leak or blow out, often in the middle of the wash cycle, and flood your kitchen with gallons and gallons of water.

Is it covered? Fernando Pagés Ruiz, a public insurance adjuster in Colorado, says the damage caused by a hose that bursts behind a dishwasher generally is covered; any deductible would apply.

"The cost to repair the hose or dishwasher would not be covered by the homeowner's insurance policy, though," Ruiz says. Hiring a plumber easily could cost $200 or more.

If the dishwasher had a slow leak for several years and you didn't repair it, or filed a claim when the cabinets had thoroughly rotted, then your insurer could deny your claim. "The policy language refers to 'sudden' and 'accidental' damage," Ruiz says.

Prevent the problem: Never run the appliance if you're not going to be home, says Sam Lazarus, owner of ServiceMaster by Best Corp. in Kansas. If a pipe bursts, you can minimize the damage by shutting off the water at the water supply line under the sink.

Prevention is key.

Rubber hoses commonly are used to supply water to a dishwasher, and they deteriorate over time. Replace the rubber hose with a much sturdier steel-braided hose found at most home improvement centers and hardware stores). Buying the hose and installing it yourself costs about $20, Lazarus says.

2. Washing machine

Malfunctioning dishwasher drains or water hoses result in some of the most common claims filed by homeowners, says Douglas Nadeau, a spokesman for State Farm. "Most homeowners leave washing machine water supply lines turned on so when a hose busts, water can discharge at up to 500 gallons per hour, causing major damage in a short period of time." Nadeau says.

Lazarus says the cost of this damage easily could exceed $2,500.

Is it covered? If a homeowner's washing machine hose bursts and causes water damage, the damage generally would be covered, minus your deductible.

"The repair to the hose or machine would not be covered. An insurer would only cover any resulting damage caused by the hose or machine," Scott-Buckley says.

Prevent the problem: Joseph King, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, suggests inspecting washing machine hoses often. "If they're original equipment and more than 5 years old, replace them with stronger steel-braided hoses," King says. These can be installed by a homeowner with a little guidance from a plumbing specialist at a home improvement or hardware store.

For added peace of mind, King suggests installing an automatic shut-off valve equipped with an alarm to alert you of any hose problems. This kind of valve costs about $100 but can save thousands of dollars if it detects a leak and prevents flooding.

3. Leaky toilet

Any kinds of toilet leaks are signs of trouble. Cracks to the tank or toilet aren't common unless something hits the tank, such as a picture falling off the wall and hitting the "throne."

"More often than not, the supply line to the water tank develops a hole," Lazarus says.

Is it covered? Page says the damage caused by the water is covered by your home insurance policy, but repairing or replacing the toilet is not. "You'd have to pay your deductible, too," he says.

Prevent the problem: Lazarus says it's better to replace a leaky toilet than to repair it. A new tank and bowl can run anywhere from $89 to $250 at a home improvement or hardware retailer. "If you hire a plumber to install the new tank or toilet, it may cost about $150 or more," Lazarus says.

If the water supply line is the problem, Lazarus says, that's easy to repair. "Replace it with a metal-braided supply line because they tend to hold up better in the long run," he says.

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