Nearly 10 months after the flood destroyed her basement, Detroit resident Victoria Thomas says she is still dealing with mold and water damage in her home in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. .
“I had just bought a washer and dryer. I had a full kitchen. It looked like an apartment,” Thomas says. “We lost everything.”
Thomas is one of many Detroit residents who experienced severe flooding last June following heavy rains. It was so bad that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has declared a state of emergency after the June rains, which were only the beginning of an exceptionally wet summer in the Detroit metro.
According to FloodFactor.com, more than 360,000 Michigan properties have at least a 26% chance of being severely affected by flooding within the next 30 years. Homeowners can prepare for the worst by purchasing flood insurance, says Kris Hall, a Southfield Certified Insurance Advisor. Meadowbrook Insurance Agency. But while coverage is available for nearly all types of wet situations, Hall says homeowners should be aware that not all policies are created equal.
“A lot of people find out after it’s too late that flooding (is) never covered by a home insurance policy,” he says. “It must be purchased on a separate policy.”
“Flood” in the insurance world is a specific term, Hall says — that refers exclusively to water that comes from outside the home, rather than inside.
“(Floods) are surface water that encroaches on your home from an outside source,” he says. “It could be a stream, it could be a body of water or just torrential downpours, but if it’s coming from outside it’s safe to say the insurance company is going to categorize it as a flood.”
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To decide if flood insurance is right for them, Hall says, homeowners need to assess their risk using the flood mapping tool available at FloodSmart.gov.
“There are four or five different categories of floodplains depending on your proximity to the nearest body of water, which will impact your rate,” says Hall. “Your (insurance) agent is going to offer you several options in $5,000 increments, depending on your own risk tolerance…and depending on your budget.”
Where things get a little trickier, Hall says, is when the water comes from a source. in home, such as a sump pump or drain.
“Let’s say you have a similar incident (surface flooding), but the water doesn’t come near your house, but overwhelms the city sewer line,” Hall postulates. “It (can) cause water to reverse and flow back into your home, either through a sewer line, a septic tank, or even a sump pump that overflows groundwater into your home.”
Like flooding, water backup isn’t covered by a standard home insurance policy, Hall says. However, rather than having to purchase an entirely separate policy (as they would for flood insurance), homeowners can add emergency water coverage to an existing homeowners insurance policy by making a special endorsement.
“Check the little box that says ‘reserve water’ and then usually your agent will give you several options,” he says.
Another risk homeowners should be aware of is water infiltration, which Hall says occurs when outside pressure gradually pushes moisture through small cracks in a home’s basement wall.
“It’s not as common as flooding, and it’s not as common as water backup,” Hall says of seepage, “but when it happens it tends to stretch with time, and that’s what makes these claims more serious.”
Determining whether an existing insurance policy covers water ingress can be so tricky, Hall says, that it’s best for homeowners to consult with a reputable agent who can review their coverage paperwork and make a personalized recommendation. Some policies inherently cover infiltration, while others may require an additional endorsement, but some policies completely exclude infiltration.
“This is where you really need to do your homework or work with a good agent who can identify where these coverages are in your policy,” Hall says.
Risk Mitigation Tips
The only type of water damage that is covered by the vast majority of standard home insurance policies is damage from burst pipes, which can occur when water freezes inside the plumbing system. ‘a house.
“An HO3 home insurance policy, which accounts for 99% of them, (will cover) burst pipes by default,” Hall said.
Whether coverage is obtained through a stand-alone policy or through an endorsement on an existing policy, Hall says it’s important to know that coverage won’t kick in until 30 days after the policy is purchased. This means homeowners need to act ahead to ensure they are covered when seasonal flooding hits.
He also recommends that homeowners who depend on an electric sump pump install a battery-powered backup pump to take over in the event of a power outage. “That way,” he says, “if you have a thunderstorm that knocks out the power, you have a battery backup to keep your basement from flooding.”
Homeowners who plan to leave their homes for an extended period should turn off the water supply to the home’s washing machine before leaving, Hall says, because that water is “always under pressure.” He also recommends making sure everyone in the house knows where the water shutoff valve is, so the water can be turned off in the event of a burst pipe or other emergency.
Above all else, Hall says homeowners should turn to an insurance professional if they have questions.
“Water accounts for 20-25% of the losses we see in the (insurance) industry,” he explains. “Research your policy. Don’t be afraid to talk to your agent – we’re not here to just hike up the price on you. We really like to share that information and then help you make an informed decision.”
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email him at LGilpin@freepress.com or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.