January 31, 2020
Does your homeowner’s insurance cover damage from a sewer backup? Most policies do not, and while you probably wouldn’t think about this hazard, it happens more frequently than people think. Infrastructures are aging across the nation, and older homes may not have sufficient plumbing protections to prevent a system-wide backup from entering your home.
An even more likely culprit is the sewer pipe on your property, prior to connecting to the city system. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining the portion of the sewer pipeline that runs through your property.
Tree and shrub roots can grow and slowly displace or even break pipelines, with no evidence to you (except perhaps a suspiciously greener area of your lawn). Eventually a clog will form as the roots or dirt allowed into a cracked pipe obstruct flow. If you are lucky, the problem will be slow enough to notice the flow difference, seek help, and have the problem repaired. If not, the backup could be swift and unpleasant.
How to Prevent Paying Out of Pocket
The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that the costs of cleanup from a sewage backup can run into the tens of thousands of dollars — and believe us, you will pay it. Money is no object in the short-term aftermath of a sewage backup.
To prevent being stuck with the bill, double-check your homeowner’s insurance policy and if it does not contain sufficient coverage, ask for a rider to cover sewage backup. The policy should cost anywhere from $50-$200 per year depending on where you live and the associated risks. Make sure that the coverage is adequate for the potential damage, which for anything that is not contained to a fixture will almost certainly require tearing out water-damaged floors and wall segments, as well as disinfection.
Meanwhile, you can assess your own risks for sewage backup — and if you are going to purchase a rider, you should do so to see if the rider is reasonably priced for the protection it offers.
Check with your local planning and zoning office to find out the degree of flood risk for your property. Ask the local utility to mark all your service lines — water, gas, electricity, and cable along with your sewer lines. (Make yourself a scale map for reference, because this document is handy to have for other reasons.) Assess the nearby plants and any other excavations that have taken place near the sewer line. What are the odds that plant growth or previous digs have caused harm to your pipes?
If possible, find out what type of sewer pipe you have, metal or plastic, and when it was installed. This may or may not be possible depending on your public utility and the records available on your home, but rest assured that an insurance underwriter would be looking for that information, too.
Should you spot any evidence of damage, have a qualified plumber take a look at the situation to assess your sewage system and see if repairs are necessary. For everybody concerned, pre-emptive repairs are preferable to an insurance claim.
Whether you have insurance or not, you must deal with a sewer backup quickly. Remove the contaminated water with a suitable wet-vac, disinfect affected floors/walls, and remove surfaces if they are too far gone to clean. It goes without saying you need to air out the house.
If the risks of a sewer backup are significant where you live, consider adding sewer backup insurance. Cleaning up the mess is bad enough without being stuck with the bill as well.