Tips for Filing Your Water Damage Insurance Claim

When filing a water damage claim—the leading home insurance claim in the country—you’ll want to file quickly and document damages to avoid having your claim denied.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Water damage is the most common homeowners insurance claim in the U.S. File quickly to avoid having your claim denied. Keep in mind that insurance will only cover incidents that are sudden or accidental water damage and insurance companies often create exceptions—which could leave you fronting the price of repairs on your own. 
You come home to a burst pipe and a flooded basement. Or maybe it’s a water spot on your ceiling—a sign that something’s wrong with a pipe underneath the plaster. The bad news—it’s probably water damage.
The good news is you’re not alone. According to the
Insurance Information Institute
, water damage claims outnumber all the rest: over 5 million homeowners file claims every year, costing a collective $20 billion in annual expenditures.  
Here to help you avoid unnecessary expenses and get the most out of making a water damage insurance claim is
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Common types of water damage

So, there’s water damage in your home—but how did it get there? There are several common causes of water damage, including:
  • Storm or weather-related events
  • Flooding
  • Sewer backup or overflow
  • Sudden or accidental leaks caused by pipes, water supply drain leaks, etc. 
Some of these issues are covered under most standard homeowners insurance policies as named peril—and others aren’t. The difference lies in what caused the damage and what your policy covers

Gradual water damage 

As a homeowner, you’re expected to regularly maintain your home’s systems, whether it be changing a leaky kitchen faucet or addressing a more complex plumbing problem.
If there’s an issue with one of these systems, and you fail to make repairs (or notice there’s even a problem in the first place) before water damage occurs, your insurance claim may be denied. Why? 
Known as gradual damage, problems that result from or worsen over a longer span are viewed by many insurance companies as the responsibility of the homeowner. For this reason, many policies do not cover water damage that has occurred gradually.
Common examples of gradual damage include:
  • Damage caused by water seeping into cracks in your home’s foundation or basement
  • Damage caused by slow pipe or faucet leaks
  • Damage caused by old roofs or shingles 
  • Rot, rust, or mold
  • Neglect of systems or inadequate repairs 

What’s covered by insurance? 

Generally speaking, most insurance policies will cover sudden or accidental water damage caused by events like storms or sudden pipe bursts. 
But if the source of your water damage is old age, wear-and-tear, or neglect, your insurance is less likely to cover the costs of repairs.
MORE: Does homeowners insurance cover flooded basements?

Filing a water damage claim

Once you’ve determined if your insurance policy covers the type of water damage you’re experiencing, you’ll want to file a home insurance claim. Here are some tips and tricks to help the filing process go smoothly. 

File quickly

There is more than one reason why it’s important to file your water damage claim quickly—not only do insurance claims take time to process, but they’re also generally handled on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means that the longer you wait to file, the longer it will take for your insurance adjuster to assess the damage and validate the claim. 
Waiting on water damage claims can also open the door to other problems, like the development of mold or mildew in the area where the damage has occurred. Furthermore, the claim could be rejected just because you wait too long to file. 
For all of these reasons, you’ll want to make sure you take immediate action to rectify the problem. 
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Talk to your agent

Most insurance companies have 24-hour hotlines available to use for making claims. But when you’re discussing the details, make sure you’re speaking directly with your insurance agent (if possible). It’s always in your best interest to use an independent agent as opposed to a “captive” agent or company vendor to assure your needs are being fairly represented. 
After all, your agent is essentially your representative to your insurance company—from validating your claim to negotiating a settlement, your agent will mediate between you and your carrier to ensure you’re getting your desired outcome. 

Document damages

An important part of the claims process is documenting the damages to your home and personal possessions. This includes taking pictures and videos of the water damage that has occurred, along with any belongings you own that were also damaged/ruined.  
Proof of damages not only helps your adjuster determine how much money you’ll need to cover the costs of repairs, but it also helps ensure there are no unaccounted damages when your insurance company pays out. 
Make sure to hang on to any damaged possessions throughout the claims process—don’t just throw them away! 

Clean up what you can

Depending on the severity of the damage, you may not be able to clean up all the water—but do what you can to help prevent further damage to your home and personal items. 
This can include moving your belongings to a different area, using towels or a shot-vac to dry up excess water, or even just putting out a fan. If water has soaked into a carpeted area of your home, you may want to pull up the corners to help it dry out and avoid the development of mold. 
MORE: Does homeowners insurance cover bellied pipes?

What to do if your water damage claim is denied

Insurance companies may deny your claim for several reasons, such as:
  • If the damage was gradual or caused by leakage or seepage 
  • If you filed incorrectly or with missing information
  • If you waited too long to file a claim
If you’ve received notice your claim was denied, don’t panic. There are still steps you can take, starting with contacting your insurance agent. When discussing the reasoning your claim was denied, these are the questions you’ll want to ask: 
  • Why was my claim denied? 
  • What wording in my policy excludes my claim from being validated?
  • Where or who did the decision come from? Was it your agent, the adjuster, or someone else?
Don’t be discouraged or intimidated when talking with your agent—as the policyholder, you have the right to know exactly why your claim is being denied, and what can be done to gain coverage in the event of a future water damage claim. 

Tips to avoid having your claim denied

In addition to following the above steps when filing your water damage claim, here are some extra steps you can take to help prevent your claim from being denied:
  • Look for a second opinion on your claim from a licensed public adjuster or your local consumer advocacy group. 
  • Ask your insurance company if they can make a review of your claim.
In more serious cases, you can always seek guidance from or file a complaint with your state insurance commissioner.
MORE: The best home emergency insurance

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Water damage generally refers to losses or damages caused by water entering your home. Most commonly, this happens in the form of storm damage to your home’s exterior, plumbing issues (like a backed-up toilet or burst pipe), or problems with your home’s water supply lines.
To get the most out of your water damage claim, make sure you file quickly, document the damages to your home and belongings, and discuss the details of your claim with an independent insurance agent.
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