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The basics of sewer backup insurance

When you shop for home insurance, it's good to try to anticipate all of the headaches that can go along with homeownership. One of the nastiest you may face is a sewer backup.

The potential for damage from sewer backups is something everyone should consider, says Stephanie Sheppard, a spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance. When sewage flows into your home, it can cause thousands of dollars in damage. And typical home insurance and flood insurance policies won't cover your expenses, says the Insurance Information Institute (III).

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sewer backup insuranceSewer backups are a growing problem in the United States due to aging waste disposal systems.

Some areas of the country, such as Hartford, Conn., have overloaded waste management systems, says James Whittle, assistant general counsel and chief claims counsel for the American Insurance Association (AIA).

"If you're part of a system that has notorious problems because wastewater treatment facilities are undersized for demand, it could result in backups," says Whittle.

A call to your community's public works department may help you determine just how at risk you are for a sewage backup in your home.

If your sewer system's pipeline combines storm water and sewage, it's more likely to become overloaded during harsh weather. Tree roots can enter your pipes and cause blockages. Sometimes the problem originates in your home. Improperly disposing of cooking grease or flushing inappropriate objects down your toilet – such as diapers, feminine hygiene products or paper towels – can cause a blockage.

Know your insurance needs

Many homeowners may not realize they are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the pipeline between the city sewer main, usually located in the street, and their house.

Sewage backup coverage is available from most insurers as a rider to a home insurance policy. Coverage for $5,000 to $10,000 in damages can run about $75 to $150 a year, according to FEMA, and there's usually a deductible.

Your cost will be tied to your risk. If your home has multiple pipes that carry waste, it may be more expensive to insure than a home with fewer sewage outlets, says Whittle.

Remember, if sewage seeps into your home, not only does the spill itself need to be addressed, but your plumbing may need to be flushed or replaced. Ductwork carpets, drapes and walls may be soiled, possibly beyond repair.

Sewer backup insurance helps pay for incidental damage, such as cleaning rugs, walls and furniture, says Whittle. Some policies may cover work on plumbing.

To get the maximum claims payment to which you're entitled, make sure you have photos on hand of what your home looked like before the damage took place. That way, you can provide your claims adjuster with "before" and "after" pictures. Be sure to itemize property losses and save all receipts for repairs and cleaning.

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