Homeowners face plenty of risks when owning a home, but often overlook potential issues with plumbing. A household’s plumbing system is one of those things that is largely forgotten about until a problem arises — and then it is at the very top of your mind.
What's more, some homeowners usually consider risks caused by faulty and failed plumbing systems, but they're not aware of sewage and water lines issues that are outside their homes. Plumbing issues can be complex, disruptive and expensive to repair.
This is particularly true for sewer lines, which are underground so it’s not always easy to identify the source or location of a problem, and a broken sewer line can cause considerable property damage.
Damaged sewage systems can cause major loss that destroys floors, walls and personal belongings. On top of that, sewage disasters often leave homeowners with bills for sewage cleanup, structural repair and pipe replacement.
Once a homeowner sees a repair estimate, many ask “is sewer line repair covered by my homeowners insurance?”
Sewer lines: What are the basics?
Your home’s plumbing is a system designed to bring fresh water into the house for a variety of uses and then the used/dirty water is removed from the home through the main waste line, which leads to the sewer line and from there is sent to a wastewater treatment facility.
There are a number of ways that a sewer line can break or fail, and the cause of the damage is what determines whether or not the sewer line repair will be covered by insurance.
What are the cons of sewer line repair coverage?
The bad news is that most of the typical reasons that a sewer line breaks won’t be covered by your homeowners insurance — depending on what your policy covers, of course. That’s because most sewer line failures arise from poor maintenance, age of the pipes, and neglect. Any of these causes mean your sewer line repair won’t be covered by insurance.
Anything from toilets backing up because you’ve been using wet wipes that claim to be safe to flush (sewer backup is never covered under standard homeowner policies), to a tree root intrusion that breaks through the sewer line are considered maintenance issues or “preventable errors,” and will not be covered.
Tree root intrusion clogs are a major source of sewer lines failing, and are considered a maintenance issue not covered by insurance. Tree roots are underground and not visible, and it can be hard to estimate just how far they can spread. They will also seek out water sources, so if your sewer line has any leaks, any trees nearby will find that an attractive source of water and will grow towards the leaks — increasing the possibility that a root will eventually break through the pipe.
Some tree species are particularly prone to aggressively growing toward water leaks. If you have any of the listed tree species in your yard — especially anywhere near your sewer line — watch them carefully, and perhaps call a licensed sewer specialist to check your sewer line to see if there are any leaks that could cause a problem down the road.
Older sewer lines failing just due to age and use is another frequently cited reason of pipes breaking. Such “wear and tear” damage isn’t typically covered by insurance either. And then, there are the standard policy exclusions — damage due to earthquakes or flooding won’t be covered by basic homeowner policies. For earthquake and flood damage, you’ll need a separate earthquake or flood insurance.
Is some sewer line damage covered by insurance?
In rare cases, the damage caused to a sewer line might be covered by insurance.
The portion of the sewer line that is on your property is considered an “other structure,” and would be covered under that part of your basic policy, depending on what caused the damage.
Damage caused by something out of your control or an “Act of God,” also known as a force majeure event, would be covered as long as it’s not specifically excluded from your policy (such as earthquakes and floods). So, if lightning strikes your yard and causes damage to your sewer line, that damage would likely be covered by your homeowners insurance.
Because force majeure events are out of human control, they are often covered by insurance, but it’s important to read your policy and understand exactly what it covers. An “Act of God” doesn’t excuse a homeowner from maintaining their property. So if a storm causes a dead or diseased tree on your property to fall and that damages the sewer line, an insurer might find that the cause of the damage wasn’t the storm — it’s the tree that should have been removed as part of maintaining the property.
It’s very important for homeowners to review what is covered under “other structures,” and to take note of the coverage limits as well. Most typical homeowners insurance policies limit other covered structures to 10 percent of the total coverage value. So if your home is insured for $250,000, 10 percent of that would be $25,000. If the same lightning strike that cracked your sewer line also damaged your detached garage, $25,000 might not cover all of your loses.
What are some warning signs?
Since most sewer line damage won’t be covered by insurance, the best thing you can do is to make sure your system is working properly. That can be hard to do for a line that is buried underground, but there are some warning signs that might mean your system has a leak or is in the process of failing.
- High water bills – If your water bill is more expensive than usual, it might be a sign that your system has a leak.
- Damp, wet, or squishy areas – These can appear in your yard along the sewer line, or closer to your house. If it’s been a particularly dry year, but one patch in your yard is staying stubbornly green and it’s along the sewer line, take note.
- Bad odors – Musty, mildew-smelling odors are signs that water is leaking and supporting mold growth; sewer gas smells are a sign of a potential clog or back up.
- Frequent clogs – Clogs can be caused by excessive toilet paper use, flushing of improper materials, hair, grease, and more — and they can also be caused by the water system in your home not working properly. As there are many causes of clogs, if you find they are happening with increased frequency, it’s important to determine the source.
- Low water pressure – Both low water pressure and low water flow are potential signs of a leak somewhere along your home’s water system.
A number of these warning signs could be caused by several factors, so you might not have an expensive sewer repair on your hands if you observe one or more of them. But, if you’ve investigated several potential factors and still haven’t found the culprit, consider contacting a licensed sewer specialist or plumber to take a look.
Some Additional Notes
Again, it’s important to know what is in your homeowners policy, especially what the limits are for additional covered structures. If you own or are considering purchasing an older home, you might want to consider add-on coverage such as sewer line insurance if it’s offered by your home insurance carrier. Angi notes that some utility companies offer sewer line coverage through protection plans, but these are typically sold by third parties and any consumer should read these types of policies very closely to understand what is and what is not covered by the utility company.
Make sure you know approximately where your sewer line is located on your property. This is important not only so you can pay attention to potential leaks, but it’s also important to know if you’re doing any landscaping —as this article has already covered, the placement of trees and other plants could impact your sewer line in an unpleasant and expensive way.
There are a lot of home insurance providers out there; if you’re considering finding a new carrier, take a look at which insurers other homeowners have ranked the best.
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