Water is probably the most misunderstood and contentious area of home insurance. Most homeowners don’t understand what water damage is covered and what isn’t. They don’t even know what an insurance company means by a “flood” (don’t worry, we’ll explain).

Water damage is one of the leading causes of insurance claims. Close to a third of all claims are related to water issues. Note, this doesn’t include the uncovered losses, so the incidence of water damage is even higher!

In this article, we’ll help you understand when water damage is covered and when it isn’t, what the insurance company means when they talk about water losses, and what options you might have to buy extra coverage.

Save Me Time!

  1. The normal rules don’t apply when it comes to water damage. There is a consistent set of rules for what types of damage is or isn’t covered, but it doesn’t work the same way as for non-water damage.
  2. As a general rule of thumb, water damage not caused by the weather will be covered while water damage due to adverse weather is often not covered.
  3. Even if you have flood insurance, it may not cover you when you think your house has been flooded. There are very specific rules that determine eligibility for an insured flood.
  4. While none of this may appear to make sense (and it doesn’t), you can learn the rules here so that you better know what to expect if you have a water loss.

The Rest of the Story

We should probably break this discussion into two sections: weather-related water losses and all other water losses. The second category tends to be a lot easier to evaluate, as most of the time the losses are covered so let’s start there.

Non-Weather Water

This is what it sounds like. Water damage that can happen regardless of the weather. These losses are usually due to pipe issues or appliance breakdowns. Think of a bad hose on the dishwasher or washing machine or a faulty pipe in the bathroom.

The good news for you is these claims are typically covered by insurance. The only scenario where you may have a coverage issue is if the loss was due to neglect. If you were aware of a leak and didn’t address it until it became a bigger issue, the insurance company may deny your claim.

Weather Related Water

Water damage due to weather events gets more complicated as it doesn’t follow the normal rules insurers use to determine a covered loss. The key takeaway is that, in many situations, water damage caused by a weather event will not be covered.


Typically, a loss is covered if it is “sudden and accidental” which is another way of saying it was unexpected and unavoidable. This definition is usually focused on preventing insurers from paying for normal wear and tear of your home like your roof aging or your furnace failing.

However, weather damage to your home isn’t typically something you could have prevented and it is certainly “sudden and accidental”.

So why is it covered if the wind from a tornado tears off your roof, but it’s not covered if the thunderstorm before the tornado flooded your basement? Aren’t these both extreme “sudden” weather events?

Yes, indeed, they are. The truth is the reason some types of weather related water damage aren’t covered by insurance is because the insurance industry thinks it’s too hard to price correctly and too risky, so they decided not to cover it.

So much for standing on principle, huh? “Sudden and accidental” when it’s good for the insurance company, ”suddenly, we don’t cover accidents” when it’s good for you!

There is a reasonable basis for insurers being reluctant to cover weather based water. Because many losses happen at the same time, there is greater financial risk to the insurer than paying for your washer/dryer flood. That means they need to charge more for weather related water and consumers are often unwilling to pay a fair price for this coverage.

However, this does not mean that the damage isn’t sudden and accidental.

Anyway, let’s get back on topic. When is weather related water covered and when isn’t it?

What’s Covered and What’s Not

Most water that enters your house from outside is not covered. If it comes in through your basement or under a door or through a gap in the window, it’s not going to be covered. The main exception is if it comes through as a result from damage to something that IS covered.

So, if wind damages your roof, then rain coming in through the hole is covered. If snow or ice damages your roof, melting water that leaks into your home is covered. If wind blows out a window, then water coming through that window is covered. If cold weather freezes your pipe, then the water damage is a result of the pipe damage, so it’s covered. Otherwise, you’re probably out of luck.

When A Flood Is Not A Flood

We will talk about NFIP, the government flood insurance, separately. But the one key thing to understand if you bought NFIP coverage is that what you might call a flood isn’t what an insurer would call a flood.

For example, you might see rising water in your basement and say “my basement is flooded”. The insurer will likely say that it is most definitely not a flood.

You might see a local river overflow and water enter your living room from under the exterior doors and say “my living room is flooded”. The insurer may or may not agree that it is flooded.

There may be a flash flood in your neighborhood that causes the sewers to back up and pump sewage into your home. You would say “the flood flooded my home”. The insurer would say no, it’s sewer backup which you probably don’t have coverage for.

Insurers have very strict definitions of flood. Among other things, a flood has to cover at least two properties or at least two acres, so if only you suffer “flood damage”, the insurer will say it wasn’t a flood and your flood policy doesn’t apply.

If half the homes on your street are inundated, but it alternates every other home (perhaps due to different slopes), it is not an insured flood. No, I am not kidding.

The last thing you want to hear when any layman would say your home is flooded is for the insurance company to say “well, technically, we don’t call that a flood”. It’s infuriating and insulting and insurers really need to rethink how they communicate with customers.

More Water Issues

Given the importance of this topic, we will have other articles about understanding and preventing water damage. You can start with how to help prevent water losses and you can also ask us about water coverage issues on the Policy Questions page.