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Winter Storm Uri left millions of Americans in Texas and other parts of the South without power in freezing temperatures. Water pipes froze, and potentially caused water damage when pipes burst. As snow and ice piled up outside and even inside of homes, roofs collapsed and melting ice leaked through roofs and windows. But is water damage from a winter storm covered by homeowners insurance? In most cases, yes, but your coverage may be affected by where the water came from and the terms of your specific insurance policy.
Water/freeze damage is the second most common cause of homeowners insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute, which reports the average such claim costs $10,849. State Farm, the largest homeowners insurance company in Texas, reports it has already received thousands of claims due to frozen pipes in Texas in one week, compared to 75 such claims in 2020. If you're considering filing an insurance claim for storm-related water damage to your home or property, here's what you need to know.
What Types of Water Damage Are Covered?
Whether water damage is covered by homeowners insurance depends on your specific policy. As a rule of thumb, however, damage from water that comes from above—such as rain, snow or ice—is covered by most homeowners insurance, while damage from water that comes from below—such as a flooding river or backed-up septic tank—is not.
Most types of water damage caused by winter storms and freezes will be covered by a typical homeowners insurance policy. These include:
- Damage from the weight of snow or ice on a roof
- Damage from items falling on your roof, such a tree branch that falls due to heavy snow or ice
- Damage from snow or freezing rain that gets into your house because of damage caused by wind
- Damage from burst pipes
- Damage from ice dams (ice that blocks your rain gutters, causing water to leak into your house)
In addition to damage to your home and property, most homeowners insurance policies also cover what's called additional living expenses—that is, the cost of living if your home is so badly damaged that it's uninhabitable. In addition, your policy may cover a certain amount of spoiled food (typically $500 worth) resulting from a power outage.
The bad news: If snow on the ground melts and seeps or floods into your home, it usually isn't covered by insurance. (Remember the rule about water from below?) You would need flood insurance, which you can purchase as a separate policy, to cover damage from ground snow melt.
How to Find Out if Your Insurance Provider Offers Water Damage Coverage
If you're not sure whether your homeowners insurance covers water damage from the storm, you can contact your insurance company directly to find out. Here's where to get information or file a claim with the nation's biggest homeowners insurance companies. (None of these companies' standard homeowners insurance covers flood damage.)
- State Farm: File a claim online, use the State Farm mobile app, contact your agent or call 800-SF-CLAIM (800-732-5246).
- Nationwide: File a claim online, contact your agent or call 800-421-3535.
- Allstate: File a claim online, call 800-54-STORM (800-547-8676), contact your agent or find your nearest Allstate Mobile Claims Center.
- USAA: File a claim online, use the USAA Mobile App, or call 210-531-USAA (8722) or 800-531-USAA (8722).
- Liberty Mutual: File a claim online, use the Liberty Mutual mobile app, contact your agent or call 800-225-2467. If using the website or app, choose Weather or natural disaster, then Ice, snow or freezing.
- Farmers Insurance: File a claim online, use the Farmers Mobile App, contact your agent, call 800-435-7764, text REPORTCLAIM to 29141 or find the nearest Mobile Claim Center on Twitter @FarmersResponse.
- Travelers: File a claim online, use the Travelers mobile app, contact your agent, or call 800-252-4633.
- American Family Insurance: File a claim online, use the MyAmFam app, contact your agent, call 800-MYAMFAM (800-692-6326) or text STORM to AMFAM (26326).
- Chubb: File a claim online, contact your agent or call 800-CLAIMS-0 (800-252-4670).
- Erie Insurance Group: File a claim by contacting your agent or calling (800) 367-3743.
Because Texas and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have been declared federal disaster areas, affected homeowners may be eligible for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA aid is intended to meet basic needs, not to replace insurance, but if there is damage that your homeowners insurance doesn't cover, FEMA may be able to provide aid such as temporary housing or funds to repair or replace your home.
File a claim with your insurance company before contacting FEMA; FEMA needs information about your insurance claim to see if you're eligible for federal assistance. Apply for FEMA aid online or call 800-621-3362.
How to File a Water Damage Claim
To file a water damage insurance claim, start by reviewing your policy and deductible. Check to see what types of water damage are covered, whether alternative living expenses are covered, any limitations to your coverage and the amount of your homeowners insurance deductible. You will need to pay the deductible if you make a claim. If the damage to your home isn't much more than the amount of your deductible amount—for example, your home has suffered $1,500 worth of damage and your deductible is $1,000—it may not be worth filing a claim, because doing so could increase your insurance premiums in the future.
If you do decide to make a claim, follow these steps:
Contact your insurance company ASAP. After a widespread natural disaster, thousands of homeowners will file insurance claims, so the sooner you can get your claim underway, the better. Most insurance companies send mobile disaster or catastrophe teams to regions affected by disasters to assist homeowners with insurance claims.
When you file your claim, you'll generally be asked for your policy number; a brief description of the damage; and any documentation, such as photos, receipts or home inventory lists.
You shouldn't start repairs while your claim is in process, but you can contact local contractors and servicepeople to start getting estimates. Unscrupulous contractors and scam artists tend to pop up in the wake of any natural disaster, so before paying any money to a company, thoroughly investigate their reputation and history. Some insurance companies can connect you with or recommend approved contractors, which can give you peace of mind that a contractor is reputable. For example, Chubb provides access to its network of preferred vendors , and USAA will send a water cleanup crew to your house.
Document the damage. Take photos or videos of the damaged areas of your home and any damaged property. If you're planning to make a claim for spoiled food, take photos of the food before you throw it away. Gather any documentation you have to show how much the damaged items cost. That may include receipts, a home inventory, or records of when and where you bought the item.
Don't throw away damaged property (other than spoiled food that you have photographed) or start the repair process until you've talked to your insurance company. They'll tell you whether a claims adjuster needs to visit your home and inspect the damage or whether your claim can be settled without a visit based on the documentation you've provided.
You should, however, make repairs right away if it's necessary to protect your family or prevent further damage to your home. For example, in the case of water damage, you should mop up any water and dry out the area as much as possible to help prevent mold from growing. If you must make emergency repairs, take photos before doing so. Keep receipts for any materials, labor or equipment used to make the repairs.
Track all your costs. If your home is uninhabitable or your kitchen is unusable, document the costs and keep receipts for hotel bills, restaurant orders, payments for pet boarding and any other expenses you incur because you can't live in your home or use your kitchen. You'll need this documentation to get reimbursed for alternative living expenses.
Recovering From Water Damage to Your Home
Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster is never pleasant. However, remaining calm, gathering the information you need to file your claim, and documenting all damages and expenses resulting from the disaster can help ensure you get the compensation you're entitled to from your homeowners insurance company.
After your claim has been settled, take the time to reassess your homeowners insurance coverage based on this experience. You may want to increase your amount of coverage, buy flood insurance, or add guaranteed replacement coverage or extended replacement coverage. If you weren't happy with how the insurance company handled your claim, look for another provider that offers better service. You may be able to get more coverage for less if you shop around.