Will your insurance cover flood damage? Here are some answers
You survived the torrential downpours and you're cleaning up the mess from flooding in and around your house.
Now comes the next battle: dealing with your insurance company over the damage.
Experts agree that figuring out what damage can be claimed on your homeowners policy can be time-consuming and tricky. But the stress can be lessened if you know how to prepare and work with your insurance carrier. Here are some answers to common questions regarding coverage:
What is covered under my homeowners policy? What is not?
A flooded basement is not typically covered under standard insurance policies. A rule of thumb is that water that comes from the top down is usually covered by a homeowners policy, while water from the bottom up isn't, according to the Insurance Information Institute. So while water damage caused by a thunderstorm ripping a hole in the roof or breaking a window might be covered, a basement full of water from an overwhelmed sump pump isn't.
Homeowners insurance protects a home from sudden and accidental physical losses, according to Brent Jablonski, Allstate agency owner in Fox Lake. The policy provides dwelling protection that covers the home and structures like a garage or shed, as well as personal property protection.
Damages from floods, earthquakes and sewer backups are excluded from most homeowners insurance, Jablonski said.
Flood coverage is offered through a separate policy under the National Flood Insurance Program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but policies are sold and managed by private insurance companies, he said.
Jablonski and Missy Dundov, media specialist for Bloomington-based insurer State Farm, stressed homeowners should regularly review their policies to know exactly what items are covered.
What should I do to prepare to make a claim?
Dundov suggests creating a home inventory to expedite the claims process.
"When it is safe to do so, people with property damage should have reasonable temporary repairs made to prevent further damage," she said. "Depending on your coverage, these repairs may be reimbursed."
Save receipts if you purchase items -- such as tarps and plywood or other supplies to make repairs -- to submit with the claim.
Homeowners should have their policy number available when they call and be prepared to provide a brief description of the damage, Jablonski said.
"By having an understanding of the size and type of loss, we are best equipped to ensure the right people are involved in the evaluation of the claim," he said.
American Family Insurance based in Madison, Wisconsin, also recommends finding a contractor, preferably one that's operated in the area for several years, that is insured and bonded, and provides a written guarantee.
How long will it take to get my claim resolved?
There is no easy answer to this, as much of the timing depends on the extent of the damage. Dundov notes State Farm will usually contact a homeowner within 24 to 48 hours of filing the claim, while Jablonski said contacting Allstate as soon as possible will help expedite the claim.
"The complexity and collaboration that is needed to make sure we get a customer back on his or her feet can sometimes take time and is necessary to make sure we do right by our customer," she said.
How can I better protect myself if this happens again?
State Farm's Dundov suggests taking a few steps to limit a flood's impact on your property, like moving essential items to an upper floor, turning off utilities at the main switches and valves, and disconnecting electrical appliances.
Allstate's Jablonski also recommends keeping an up-to-date inventory of personal property in a safe place away from home.
"It's helpful to keep track of model numbers and stores where items were purchased," he said.
If you had flood damage, Dundov and Jablonski also suggest looking into flood insurance -- soon.
"A flood insurance policy normally takes 30 days from the date of purchase to go into effect, so don't wait until a flood is imminent to buy a policy," Dundov said.