Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open: Home Insurance, Slow Water Leaks, and Immediate Action

by Diane Barnes

If you've ever had to deal with sudden water damage, such as from a burst pipe, then you proabably know how much of a relief it was to find that your homeowner's insurance would cover at least part of the costs of repair and restoration. But water damage from a slow leak is a different animal, and depending on your actions, you could find yourself footing the whole bill. At issue is the amount of time that you knew about the leak and what you did to stop it.

Complete Surprise

Homeowner's insurance companies know you're not psychic and that you can't see into walls. If you find water damage that has been hidden, such as behind a large piece of furniture that you haven't moved for years, they may actually pay to fix it if you call the agent immediately. You will have to have someone from the insurance agency come out to look at the damage first, though. The insurance company needs to be sure that there was no way you could have reasonably known about the damage.

This can create a bit of a conflict if you claim you never heard any dripping sounds but the agent's adjuster says he or she heard some. However, that is something that you can't predict—you don't want to delay calling your agent because you're worried about the adjuster hearing things you didn't.

Delays and Prior Knowledge

If you don't call about the water issue immediately—maybe you thought you could tackle the leak and wall repair yourself, for example—you might not get help with any of those costs or the costs of restoring carpets or furniture damaged by the leak. The reasoning is that you may have made the damage worse by waiting to do something and continuing to let the water leak. Even stopping the leak and leaving the wet carpet or furniture alone can be a problem because of potential mold formation. Plus, your home repair skills might not be the best, and you could make things worse by cutting into the wall incorrectly or ripping out too much carpet.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to save money on home repairs, but before you decide to do anything yourself (other than calling a plumber to stop a water leak), call your insurance company to file a claim. Most companies have weekend representatives who can fill out the initial claim and talk to you about what to do to halt or reduce mold formation.

If you'd like more information about the steps to take when you find water damage, contact a water cleanup company as soon as you've got the leak stopped and you've contacted your insurance company. There are things you can do to help save items, but there are also steps you shouldn't take, and the water damage cleanup service can help you navigate that tricky path.