Damage to Your Home During a Storm: What Insurance Covers What Damage?

Hurricanes cause a wide variety of damage to homes. One or more of the scenarios below may apply to your situation. These are general scenarios that assume you only have homeowners insurance. Since insurance coverage varies by state and insurance company, be sure to contact your insurance company regarding your specific situation.

Scenario No. 1: During a heavy rainstorm, water leaks through your roof. The roof is damaged, and so is your furniture.

Are you covered? Somewhat. While you might not be reimbursed for roof repairs, because that's a home-maintenance issue, the water damage to your home is covered. The damage to your furniture is not covered, because rainwater leakage is not one of the named perils for which the contents of your house are covered.

Scenario No. 2: My house did not flood, but I have water damage from a storm or hurricane.

Are you covered? Rain entering through wind-damaged windows, doors or a hole in a wall or the roof, resulting in standing water or puddles, is considered windstorm rather than flood damage, and is covered by your homeowners policy. The NFIP flood insurance policy only covers damage caused by the general condition of flooding typically caused by storm surge, wave wash, tidal waves, or the overflow of any body of water over normally dry land areas. Buildings that sustain this type of damage usually have a watermark, showing how high the water rose before it subsided.

Scenario No. 3: A nearby lake or river overflows its banks, causing a flash flood in your living room.

Are you covered? No. Flood damage is not covered by homeowners insurance. You must purchase flood insurance from the federal government. You can purchase flood insurance, as long as your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Scenario No. 4:

A sewer backs up, flooding your basement. Are you covered? Probably not. Some homeowners policies automatically include coverage for sewer and drain backups, but most do not. Special endorsements are available, at added cost, for sewers and drains. Read your policy carefully to find out whether you have the endorsement.

Scenario No. 5: Water seeps from the ground into your basement, damaging your foundation and interior. Are you covered? No. Seepage is considered a maintenance problem, not sudden and accidental damage. Seepage is excluded from homeowners insurance coverage.

Scenario No. 6: During a storm, the power from the electric utility is lost and all of the food in your refrigerator is spoiled and must be thrown out.

Can you make a claim? The general answer is no. However, there are a number of exceptions. In some states, food spoilage is covered under your homeowners policy. In addition, if the power loss is due to a break in a power line on or close to your property, you may be covered.

Scenario No. 7: You have a house close to the river or ocean. You have heard that if your house is destroyed by wind, the town's new building code requires that you rebuild the house on stilts. This will cost $24,000, in addition to the cost of rebuilding your home.

Are you covered for the extra cost? No, but check your policy. The most common homeowners insurance policies exclude costs caused by ordinance or laws regulating the construction of buildings. However, if you purchased a Law and Ordinance endorsement, the extra costs will be covered.

Scenario No. 8: During a storm a tree falls in your backyard and damages your roof. A tree also falls in your front yard, but does not cause damage to your property. Are you covered? Generally, insurance covers clean-up and removal of a fallen tree if it causes damage to your home or property. Most policies will pay for removal of a tree that has fallen on your house, deck furniture, or fence, and some policies will pay for removal of a tree that falls and blocks your driveway. Most likely, you are not covered for the tree that fell in your front yard. Depending on your state, however, the rules may differ. Check with your insurance company, the state department of insurance or a lawyer for more information.