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While it isn't technically part of your home's plumbing, the sewer line that runs from your house to your city's sewer main can cause plenty of plumbing problems. Heavy rains, tree roots or cracked sewer lines can force sewage to back up into your sinks, drains or basement and severely damage your home. Standard homeowners insurance policies typically don't cover sewer line issues, but you can purchase coverage from your insurance company or a third party. Here's how to decide whether you need sewer line insurance and where you can get it.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Sewer Lines?
Sewer line insurance is designed for homes that use a sewer system instead of a septic or cesspool system. Also called sewer laterals, sewer lines are owned by the homeowner up until the point where they join the city's sewer main. This typically includes portions of the sewer line that run under the home, yard, sidewalk or street.
If the portion of the sewer line you're responsible for is damaged, your homeowners insurance may or may not cover it. Coverage applicability will ultimately depend on whether the damage was caused by a peril covered in your policy.
Sewer line damage may be covered if caused by:
- Lightning strikes
- Falling objects such as tree branches
- Vehicles or aircraft
In some cases, your sewer line may be considered part of the "other structures" covered by your homeowners insurance. These are detached structures, such as sheds, garages or gazebos. Coverage for other structures is generally limited to a percentage of your home's insured value.
Damage to your sewer line typically isn't covered if caused by:
Should You Get Sewer Line Insurance?
As the nation's sewer systems age, the number of sewer backup incidents is growing, the Insurance Information Institute reports. However, research by nonprofit consumer advocacy group Consumers' Checkbook found that sewer line repairs are still relatively rare. The organization's survey of several major cities found that only 0.03% to 1.4% of all homeowners pull permits for sewer line repairs each year. When considering whether you need sewer line insurance, ask yourself these questions:
- How old is your home? If your home was built relatively recently, the sewer main is newer and sewer backup is less of a risk. As homes age, however, your odds of a sewer line failure increase.
- Do you have a basement? Sewer line problems often cause backups into basements because these rooms are underground.
- Are there trees on your property? Tree roots can grow into cracks or joints in your sewer line and break or block the pipe.
- Does your city's system combine storm water and raw sewage into one pipeline? If so, heavy rainstorms could overload the pipes, causing sewage backups. You can ask your city's water district for more information on this.
- Have others in the neighborhood had sewer line issues? Asking your neighbors if they've had to repair or replace sewer lines can help you gauge whether you should be concerned.
Where to Get Sewer Line Insurance
When shopping for sewer line insurance, start by asking your existing homeowners insurance carrier about your options for sewer line coverage. Many home insurance carriers sell add-on coverage, known as endorsements or riders, for sewer lines. These typically range from $40 to $160 annually.
You may already have a sewage backup rider on your existing insurance, but that typically pays for damage to your home due to a sewer backup, not for damage to the sewer line itself. A sewer line rider, in contrast, pays to replace or repair the sewer line. Depending on the policy, it may also pay for the cost of inspection fees, excavation and replacing or reseeding your lawn.
If your homeowners insurance company doesn't sell add-on sewer line insurance, you may be able to buy a standalone policy from another home insurance provider. There are also companies that sell home service agreements or warranties for sewer lines. Many water utilities contract with these companies to offer coverage to their customers. Warranty coverage can cost anywhere from $2 to $10 a month, which is usually added on to your water bill.
Be aware that a third-party warranty or a standalone sewer line policy from an insurance company other than your own will only cover your sewer line. It won't cover any damage to your home from water backup or pay for you to live elsewhere if your home is uninhabitable due to damage from a sewer line.
Getting sewer line coverage from the same insurer that provides your home insurance can simplify things greatly. Your existing insurer is already familiar with your home, coverage and what you should add to protect yourself. If you ever need to file a claim, you can deal with just one company for both sewer line and home damage.
Whatever type of sewer line protection you purchase, make sure you understand what is covered, when coverage takes effect, any deductibles, and coverage limits and exclusions.
An Ounce of Prevention
Filing an insurance claim can cause your homeowners premiums to rise, because the more claims are filed on your home, the riskier insurers consider it. When filing a claim, you'll also have to pay your insurance deductible. Depending on the cost of the damage, it may make more financial sense to cover the repairs out of pocket instead. Building up a solid emergency fund can ensure you have the resources to handle an unexpected expense such as a sewer line failure.
One way to help keep your insurance premiums down is to maintain good credit. In many states, insurers check your credit-based insurance score before writing a policy. Although insurance-based credit scores differ from the credit scores lenders use, they're based on many of the same elements. Check your credit report and credit score to see if improving your credit might help cut potentially your home insurance costs.