Tag Archives: Water Damage

Homeowners Claims: Water Back Up, Overflow, or Discharge?



Water back-up is one of the more confusing coverages in homeowners’ policy. It involves more than back-up, as overflow is mentioned in some of the coverages. But what is a back-up, and how is it different from an overflow or a discharge? All these things come in to play when there is a water loss, and what causes the back-up or overflow may make a difference in whether or not there is coverage.


First let’s look at definitions.

Back-up: An accumulation caused by a stoppage in the flow; something prevents the water from continuing down its path, so it is forced to reverse direction and go back the other way. A collapsed drain pipe can cause a back-up; water can no longer proceed down its normal course and is forced to change direction. A blockage can cause a back-up; the blockage prevents the water from going forward, and the water has to reverse itself.


Overflow: When the water exceeds its boundaries; the space is filled to capacity and water then spreads beyond its limits. A tub left running creates an overflow. The tub can no longer hold the water running into it, so the water overflows onto the floor and surrounding area.


Discharge: A flowing or issuing out; water coming from a pipe. A leaking pipe discharges water from the hole in the pipe; it is not a back-up or an overflow, it is simply water issuing from a pipe at the wrong spot.


Discharge or Overflow?

The standard Homeowners policy provides coverage for water damage that is the result of a discharge or overflow of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or household appliance if it is on the residence premises. This covers pipes that leak behind walls, floors, or ceilings; washing machines and dishwashers that overflow, toilets that overflow, or storm drains off premises that overflow due to high rains or floods. It is important to note that a sump, sump pump or related equipment, or a roof drain, gutter or downspout or similar equipment is not considered a plumbing system or household appliance. A discharge or overflow caused by a storm drain, water, steam, or sewer pipe is covered as well if it is off the premises.


The coverage is for repair of the damaged property–the walls, floors, tiling, and carpet, areas that got saturated and need to be repaired or replaced. Even the tear out of a wall, for example, to get to a leaking pipe is covered. What is not covered is the leaking pipe itself; a pipe leak is often caused by simple wear and tear or age of the system, and that is a maintenance item. However, even if the insured is hanging a picture and pokes a hole in a brand new home and new pipes, the damage to the pipe is not covered. The exclusion for damage to the item causing the loss is all encompassing, and has no exceptions.


The policy specifically excludes water that overflows from sumps, sump pumps, or related equipment or water that backs-up through sewers or drains. However, this is where a lot of losses occur; sump pumps may fail or be unable to handle the flow of water during a severe storm or flood, and sewers or drains may back-up due to a stoppage in the flow. Overflows are excluded for sumps because that is a common cause of loss; the sump cannot handle the volume of water it receives. For example, if the drain backs up and overflows because of heavy rainstorms, that is not covered under the policy.


To provide coverage for this occurrence there is the Water Back-up and Sump Discharge or Overflow endorsement. This provides a certain dollar amount of coverage (varies by company) for back up through a sewer or drain or overflow or discharge of a sump, sump pump or related equipment, even if the equipment suffers a mechanical breakdown. For example, the sump pump motor burns out and the basement floods; there is coverage for that damage. The coverage is for water or waterborne material, so coverage is provided for damage caused by items floating in the water. This coverage does not, however, increase the limits of liability for coverages A, B, C, or D in the homeowners policy. This takes the problem of defining back-up or overflow out of the equation of certain losses, since the endorsement provides the coverage that is excluded in the main policy itself.


Water, whether it be from pipes, sewers, sumps, or floods, is one of the bigger issues in homeowners policies. There is a lot of confusion surrounding what is and is not covered. Once you consider the definition of the terms, you are on your way to understanding the coverage. As always, policy language rules the day. If you have any questions or concerns about whether your homeowners policy includes the Water Back-up and Sump Discharge or Overflow endorsement, and how much coverage that provides, contact your agent for details.


This article was brought to you by Property Casualty 360. Click here to find the original article.


Protect Your Home Against Freezing Pipes and Ice Dams

While West Michigan and other parts of the country are warming up from the recent sub-zero temperatures, it’s only January 8th, and there’s plenty of winter weather yet to come. If your house fared well from this blast of arctic chill, don’t think you’re in the clear. It only takes freezing temperatures 12 – 24 hours to do damage to your pipes.
The video below is an example of a house in which their pipes burst due to frigid temperatures. If this ever happens to you, rest assured that it is covered on your homeowners insurance policy, subject to your deductible and that you aren’t found negligent in properly maintaining your home.

Water can be a destructive force to your home that can lead to wood rot, peeling paint, insect infestation, shorter life span of the roofing and siding, and result in higher maintenance costs. The best way to avoid high maintenance costs is to prevent water damage in the first place.

What are frozen pipes and where do they occur?

Frozen water in pipes can cause water pressure buildup between the ice blockage and the closed faucet at the end of the pipe, which leads to pipes bursting at their weakest point. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are particularly vulnerable to freezing in the extremely cold weather.
To keep pipes from freezing:
   1. Cover exposed pipes with insulation sleeves to slow the heat transfer. The more insulation the better.
   2. Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulk.
   3. Keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to allow warm air to circulate around the pipes. **Homes with infants and toddlers should make sure dangerous chemicals and other hazards are removed from these cabinets before leaving them open.
   4. Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through an unheated or unprotected space.
   5. Drain the water system, especially if your home will be unattended during cold periods.
   6. As an extra precaution install a temperature alarm to notify you in case of a sudden change.
**Don’t forget to protect your seasonal home too.

What are ice dams and how do I prevent them?

Ice Dam Image
An ice dam is an accumulation of ice at the lower edge of a sloped roof, usually at the gutter. When interior heat melts the snow on the roof, the water will run down and refreeze at the roofs edge, where temperatures are much cooler. Eventually, the ice builds up and blocks water from draining off the roof. This forces water under the roof covering and into your attic or down the inside walls of your home.
Take these steps to avoid ice dams:
   1. Keep the attic well ventilated. The colder the attic, the less melting and refreezing on the roof.
   2. Keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic from within the home.
   3. As an extra precaution against roof leaks, have a contractor install a water repellent membrane under your roof covering.
– Information about freezing pipes and ice dams courtesy of Auto-Owners Insurance.