How to file a home insurance claim for water damage

Filing a home insurance claim for water damage is similar to other types of claims. Follow these steps to make sure the claims process goes smoothly:

  • Stop the leak or flow of water to prevent further damage.
  • Enlist the help of a professional if necessary to prevent mold.
  • Take photos or videos to document the damage.
  • Call your insurance carrier’s claims number immediately. Most have a 24-hour claims hotline.
  • Cooperate with the insurance adjuster to meet deadlines.
  • Get repair estimates for work.
  • You’ll be responsible for the deductible, the insurance company will pay for the remainder of the repairs.

Should I file a home insurance claim for water damage?

Before you file a claim, determine the cause of the damage and whether it’s covered by home insurance or flood insurance.

“The general rule is that water from the ground is not covered,” says Marc Ragin, Associate Professor of Risk Management and Insurance at University of Georgia.  “If there is any flooding or storm surge, you’re not covered by a standard homeowners’ policy – you need a separate flood insurance policy. If a storm blows your roof off or breaks your windows and rain damages the inside of your home, a standard homeowners’ policy should cover the damage.”

There are other common exclusions, including:

  • Sewer backups
  • Seepage from cracks in the foundation
  • Swimming pool overflows
  • Flooding caused by earth movement/earthquakes
  • Any gradual  leaks cause by lack of maintenance

You can get coverage for some exclusions, like water and sewer backup, via an endorsement on your policy.

Here’s what’s generally covered by a standard home insurance policy:

  • Sudden leaks from broken appliances or plumbing
  • Ice dams that cause water issues
  • Burst pipes
  • Roof leaks caused by fallen trees or storms

Keep in mind there are even exceptions to these. If the water damage is caused by your negligence or lack of maintenance, your claim could be denied. For instance, falling trees are usually covered, but not if the tree was not healthy and you were aware of it. The insurance company could deny the claim. You are responsible for protecting your home from potential risks, including dead or dying trees that are likely to fall.

If you have water damage that you believe is a covered loss, then file a claim immediately. You will be responsible for your deductible and the insurance company will pay the remainder of the repairs. For example, say you sustained $4,500 in damage to your drywall when water came in through the roof. If you have a $2,000 deductible then you pay $2,000 for the repairs and the insurance company pays $2,000. If the damage had only been $1,500, you would be paying for all the repairs yourself as it doesn’t exceed the deductible. 

How to get insurance to pay for water damage

To file a claim for water damage and ensure that it goes smoothly, make sure you understand your policy, document everything and be prepared to prove that the source of the damage is covered.

“Understanding your insurance policy and what is covered, the deductible amount and any other requirements to filing a claim is important,” says Matt Banaszynski, CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Wisconsin. 

“Contact your insurance agent and they can provide assistance with filing a claim with the insurance company. Once a claim has been filed it is in the best interest of the policy holder to work closely with their insurance company during the claims process. Provide necessary documentation and be honest and thorough in your description and cooperate with the adjuster,” he says.

Report your claim as soon as possible to get things in progress. The sooner you start the claim, the sooner an adjuster can come out and evaluate the damage.

“Timing is important to make the claims process as smooth as possible,” Banaszynski says. 

Documentation will help prove that your damage is a covered loss and not excluded from your policy. This includes photos and videos of the source of the water, the actual damaged structures and/or receipts and serial numbers of any items that were ruined. 

“Take photos yourself as it’s helpful, you can never have too much documentation,” Banaszynski says.

If you hired a water remediation company, you’ll need their invoices. If you rented a wet vac or any other equipment from the hardware store, save all those receipts as well.

Dealing with an insurance adjuster after water damage

Your insurance carrier will assign an adjuster to work on your case. The adjuster visits your home to assess the damage and collects your proof of loss.

“Keep detailed records of all communications, including emails, letters, and agreements with the adjuster,” Banaszynski says. “Documentation is essential for transparency and accountability.” The more pictures, videos, receipts the better.

The company will inform you of each step you need to take to meet any deadlines. Follow all instructions in a timely manner. “It's important to have a clear understanding of their process,” Banaszynski says. 

You can sometimes negotiate when it comes to the settlement. If the settlement amount that comes back from the insurance company seems low, don't feel you have to accept it. Speak to someone else or escalate to a manager. “Remember that most of the time the decision regarding settlement offers ultimately rests with you. Stay informed and retain control,” Banaszynski says.

Bear in mind that replacement cost coverage usually pays out in two stages. First, you will receive a check for the depreciated value (actual cash value), and the remainder will be paid when the work is done and a final total is available. So don’t panic if the first check is lower than expected.

How much does insurance pay for water damage?

There are two parts of your homeowners insurance that kick in when you put in a water damage claim. One has to do with damage to your home’s structure, called dwelling coverage. The other has to do with your personal belongings, called personal property coverage.

You have coverage limits for each of these, and that will determine how much the insurance company will pay, minus your deductible. It’s a good idea to review your coverage limits every year with your agent to make sure you have enough protection. This is an especially good idea if you’ve done work on your home, for example an addition or renovations.

How to maximize your water damage claim

To maximize your water damage claim, make it as easy as possible for the insurance company to do its job. Make sure the leak is stopped and no further damage occurs, including mold growth. Take detailed pictures to show the source of the water and the damage. Meet every deadline the insurance company sets. Then document the damaged structures and items.

“Claimants need to provide a “proof of loss” to the insurance company, including an inventory of all the things that were damaged and need to be repaired/replaced,” Ragin says. “Usually this is required within 60 days of the claim. Receipts and repair estimates are the best documentation to provide. If you don’t have the original receipt for an item that needs replacing, provide as detailed a description as possible.”

For the structure of your home, dwelling coverage pays out based on replacement cost. For your belongings, however, most standard homeowners policies pay claims based on actual cash value, which includes depreciation. You must add replacement cost coverage for personal property to your policy to have contents covered for the cost to buy them new.

If you do have replacement cost coverage for personal property, providing as much information as possible will get you the best settlement.

“For example, let’s say you had a top-of-the-line 65-inch Samsung TV that was damaged. If you file a claim for a “65-inch TV,” you’ll be reimbursed for the cheapest 65” TV on the market. If you file a claim for a “65-inch Samsung 4K OLED TV” (ideally providing a model number), you’ll be able to replace exactly what was lost,” Ragin says.