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How Plumbing Affects Your Homeowners Insurance

Jason Metz

Whether you’re buying a new home or you already own a home, plumbing will have an affect on your homeowners insurance. Water damage is one of the most common homeowners claims, and faulty plumbing is often the culprit. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety states, “there are two common types of plumbing failure. The first involves frozen pipes, which can burst due to a buildup in water pressure caused by freezing water in an adjacent section of pipe. These accounted for 18% of all plumbing supply system claims in the study. The second and most common type of failure occurs when the supply system material fails and results in a leaking or bursting pipe. This type of failure represents two of every three plumbing supply system claims in this study.”

The American Red Cross has helpful tips to prevent frozen pipes, and how to thaw them if they freeze. For this article, we’re going to focus on the second cause of plumbing failure. Understanding the age and condition of your plumbing is important. We recommend taking it a step further by reviewing your homeowners insurance policy, and if necessary, speak with your insurance agent as to what will be covered. Typically, if you need to file a claim for water damage, your homeowners insurance will cover sudden and accidental damage, such as a burst pipe. If it’s a lack of maintenance, then you could be footing the bill on your own. When it comes to plumbing, water damage, and homeowners insurance, it’s best to take a proactive approach that could prevent future expenses and headaches.

Older homes with older plumbing may require regular inspection and maintenance. American Water Resources states, “the vast majority of the nation’s water pipes were installed after World War II and are in serious need of replacement or repair. In fact, a 2010 report from the National Association of Water Companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that nearly half of all pipes in the U.S. were in poor shape. And, according to a 2012 Water Infrastructure and Sustainability fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average age of a broken water main in the U.S. is 47 years. Knowing the age of your pipes will help you assess their need for repair.”

While age certainly plays a factor in your plumbing system, the quality of the craftsmanship is also an important factor. Forbes states, “when a home has high-quality plumbing, the entire system is virtually invisible; turn the faucet on and water comes out, it’s that simple. However, when faulty plumbing is present, the problems can be substantial. Because plumbing is hidden behind the walls, it can be difficult to spot a problem. However, the most commonly found issues are pipe leaks or outdated systems. Even the smallest of leaks can lead to big water damage over time. A second story bathroom with a tiny leak in the shower floor drain can lead to plenty of damage below. If the whole system is outdated, certain repairs can be made to replace portions of old building materials, but sometimes the entire system needs to be replaced.”

According to This Old House, “Once, state-of-the-art in plumbing was cast-iron drains and brass supply pipes. Now, those materials have been supplanted (for the most part) by PVC plastic, copper, and flexible cross-linked polyethylene, known as PEX. But whether the pipes are plastic, metal, or a combination of the two, it's the plumber's skill that determines how well the system works. A lot is at stake: One leaky joint can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage. An undersize, improperly sloped drain will continually clog. And supply pipes that aren't anchored every 6 feet or so will rattle and thump every time a faucet is turned off.”

In addition to the age and integrity of your home’s plumbing, an additional consideration is the sewer line. You’re most likely responsible for the plumbing from the house to the street, so it’s helpful to have an idea of its age and condition. If the damage from the sewer line is sudden and unexpected, it may be covered by your homeowners insurance. But if it’s the result of a backup or a chronic issue, you may have to pay to repair or replace the line out of pocket. It’s going to take some research to determine the age and condition of a sewer line, but knowing when a home was built is a good start to determine what type of sewer may have been installed.

Signs of a sewer line in need of repair are: unpleasant scents from the basement, bathtub, or tub; bubbling or gurgling noises when you flush the toilet or use the sink; and standing water on the ground around where the sewer pipe runs.

In addition to understanding the age and integrity of your home’s plumbing, understand that not all homeowners insurance policies are the same. Coverages vary from carrier to carrier and region to region, so it’s a good idea to shop around and speak with different agents in terms of what coverages are available. Some carriers, such as esurance offers “water backup coverage” also known as “sewer backup coverage.” A proactive approach in understanding your home’s plumbing and maintenance needs will help to inform your homeowners insurance needs and can potentially save you thousands of dollars of expensive repair.