I have been in the commercial insurance industry working as a risk management & safety professional now for 27 years, and have owned a homeowners insurance policy now for a total of 29 years and have been lucky enough to have never turned in an insurance claim.
Working for an insurance agency that also provides personal lines and writes thousands of homeowner policies, I have overheard my fair of share of nightmare stories of sewer and back-up claims over the years and have never really had a family member, co-worker or neighbor experience a claim -— until now.
After returning home from work after receiving several inches of rain last month, my daughter discovered that her furnace wasn’t working and thought that it had something to do with the fact that it was on its last leg after 30-plus years of service.
But after attempting to go down into the crawl space to inspect the furnace, we discovered an 18-20 inch deep swimming pool had formed in her crawl space after debris had lodged into her sump pump well, causing it to stay in the off position.
Most personal-lines agents will not recommend sewer and backup coverage on most homes with a crawl space and instead will suggest it for most homes with a basement. Luckily for my risk-averse daughter who also works in the insurance industry, she had picked up coverage and was able to get her antique furnace replaced and moved up and out of the crawl space after paying her deductible, saving her a total of $4500.
They even offered my daughter and son-in-law “loss of use coverage” for their home to put her up at the local Marriot since her furnace was not operational, but luckily the weather was pretty mild the following week and she opted to not use it.
Typically, when a sump pump fails it causes water to back up into your home, sometimes bringing all kinds of water-borne materials with it. Water backup can create costly damage in cleanup and repairs to avoid further damage.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that it is sometimes good to revisit the coverages offered from your homeowner’s policy and what additional endorsement you may want to consider picking up.
While my daughter’s situation may be a good enough reason to take a second look at water backup coverage, here are four more:
There are a lot of erroneous beliefs out there about who is more or less likely to experience a water backup situation. Every homeowner has the potential to experience this type of loss. The fact is it doesn’t matter if you live on top of a hill, if you don’t have a basement, if you already have flood insurance (which is a different type of insurance coverage) or if your home has never had a water backup issue before, it can happen to you.
The average cost of water backup and sewer coverage is $50 to $250 annually depending on the size and value of your home, your risk exposure and the limits you select. Different limits are available to accommodate your needs. For instance, think about what’s in your crawl space or basement—these are areas that are more likely to flood during a water backup and you don’t need a creek or waterway in your back yard for it to happen. Is it partially or fully finished? Are you storing expensive or hard-to-replace items? You should work with your insurance agent to choose a limit that matches your unique coverage needs.
Water backup coverage is an optional endorsement that must be added onto a standard homeowners, condo or renters insurance policy. If you have a basement, most agents will suggest adding the coverage, but if they don’t and you don’t ask for it, you out of luck when the water tables from torrential rain start to seep up from the ground. Without the endorsement, you will be stuck paying for the cost of cleanup or damages caused by a sump, sump pump or similar equipment that’s not considered a plumbing system or household Appliance.
n most situations, a sump pump failure doesn’t make your home unlivable— in other words, you would still be able to live in your home while it was being cleaned and repaired. But in the rare case that it occurs and can damage your furnace and you will be unable to heat your home in the winter. Loss of Use coverage covers additional living expenses, above and beyond a person’s normal living expenses, as well as the loss of rent, if that’s the situation. Therefore if water backup makes your home unlivable, most insurance carriers will put you and your family in a hotel until your claim adjuster approves you for Loss of Use coverage, when the repairs are made.
Don’t pour cooking oil or grease into the drain. When it cools off, it will solidify either in the drain or in the main sewer causing a clog.
Don’t flush paper towels, disposable (and cloth) diapers, hygienic wipes and feminine products do not deteriorate quickly and can cause a great deal of trouble in the property owner’s lateral as well as in the city main.
Most homeowners don’t realize it’s your responsibility to maintain the pipeline between your house and the city’s sewer main. A lateral that’s cracked, deteriorated or filled with tree roots will allow groundwater to seep in.
Do not connect French drains, sump pumps, and other flood control systems to your sanitary sewer. It is illegal to do so, and debris and silt will clog your line. Consult a plumber to correct any pre-existing illegal connections.
Installed onto the sewer line in your basement, a backwater valve allows sewage to go out but not back in. When installed and maintained correctly, it can serve as a final line of defense in sewer backup prevention.
Have a plumber check your sump pump regularly and look for any pre-existing drainage system issues.
Periodically go down and inspect your pump to make sure that is operational and free of debris.
If you have any repairs in the area by an outside contractor, make sure that the sump pump is plugged up after they leave. Sometimes they will unplug the sump pump to access the electrical outlet and will forget to plug the sump pump back up.
in fact, most new homes are built with this already installed.
Buy a battery backup to keep your sump pump running when the power goes out, or buy a water-powered backup sump pump.
This article was written by Keven Moore.
Keven has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky.