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Water damage: Seven home insurance scenarios

Water damage is one of the most common reasons people make claims on their home insurance. Burst pipes, leaky appliances and flooded basements often lead people to discover the details of their home insurance policies.

Although insurance companies may pay to replace a carpet damaged by your dishwasher leak, you'll probably have to replace or repair the damaged hose at your own cost. If a sudden, unforeseen problem, such as a frozen pipe, leads to water damage, your home insurance covers repairs to both the broken pipe and your home and furnishings.

Here are common water-damage scenarios and their insurance consequences.

Scenario No. 1: The temperature drops to 10 below zero, causing your water pipes to freeze and burst. Your floor is now covered in 6 inches of water.

Are you covered? Yes, you're covered for water damage from burst pipes. However, most policies won't cover you if you've left the house unoccupied and without heat. If that's the case, your claim could be denied because you've failed to perform the necessary upkeep that would prevent the accident.

Scenario No. 2: Water leaks from your backyard pool, ruining your manicured lawn and flooding your basement.

Are you covered? The damage to your basement and your personal property are covered, but not the damage to your lawn. According to a sample policy, "We do not cover land, including land on which the dwelling is located." However, your lawn is covered if it's damaged by certain "named perils." These include fire, explosion, riot, aircraft, vehicles not owned by you and vandalism. The amount of coverage for lawns and plants is small — usually only up to $500. Swimming-pool leaks aren't a named peril. But insurance would cover you if a tree falling on the pool caused your leak.

Scenario No. 3: Your washing machine overflows, flooding the basement.

Are you covered? Yes. But it depends on your home insurance company's view of the problem: Did you fail to maintain the washer properly? Did sudden, accidental damage cause the flood? Usually, insurance covers water damage caused by a broken appliance.

Scenario No. 4: A sewer backs up, flooding your basement.

Are you covered? No. Standard home insurance policies don't cover sewer backups. Many specifically exclude damage from sewer back-ups. Special endorsements are available, at added cost, for sewers and drains.

Scenario No. 5: Water seeps from the ground into your basement, damaging your foundation and interior.

Are you covered? No. Seepage is considered a maintenance problem, not "sudden and accidental" damage. It's excluded from home insurance coverage.

Scenario No. 6: During a heavy rainstorm, water leaks through your roof. The roof is damaged, as is furniture.

Are you covered? Somewhat. Your policy will likely not reimburse you for roof repairs. That's a house-maintenance issue. But the water damage to your home is covered. Damage to your furniture is also likely covered if you have a standard HO-3 home insurance policy, but not if you have a generic HO-1 policy (which many insurers don't even sell anymore).

If your neighbor's tree falls on your roof, the damage to your roof, home and belongings is covered. Your policy also reimburses you up to a certain amount, usually around $500, for the cost of removing the tree.

Scenario No. 7: A nearby lake or river overflows its banks, causing a flash flood in your living room.

Are you covered? No. Home insurance doesn't cover flood damage. You must purchase flood insurance for that. You can purchase flood insurance as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.

It's a good idea to talk with your home insurance agent to fully understand what your home insurance covers. If you're in the market for a new home owners policy or it's time to comparison shop, check out Insure.com's Best Home Insurance Companies

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