New Homeowners, Beware of This Stinky Problem Insurance Doesn't Cover

One problem with being a new homeowner — other than turning into your parents, like in the Dr. Rick commercials — is that it brings a lot of new expenses into your life. When you buy a home, you are suddenly responsible for costs that you never knew existed, like foundation repairs, and radon mitigation. One of the worst is sewer backup.

A few years ago, some friends of mine suffered a sewer line problem at their house, and it ultimately cost them $10,000 to fix. Sewer backup and other sewage problems literally stink. And what might “stink” even more is: sewage problems are not always covered by homeowners insurance.

Let’s look at a few ways to protect yourself from this particularly stinky cost of homeownership.

What is sewer backup and water backup?

Sewer line backup, also known as sewage backup or water backup, happens when sewer lines get clogged or damaged. There are a few types of sewer backup and water backup that are all part of the same soggy, messy problem:

  • Sewer backup: At worst, this can cause the stinky stuff that you’re trying to flush out of your house to…come back into your house.
  • Stormwater sewer backups: Water backups can also result from heavy rains that cause stormwater sewer systems to fail, sending dirty stormwater flooding up into residential homes.
  • Sump pump overflow: This is another kind of water backup problem that affects homeowners with sump pumps. If you have a basement in your house that tends to get wet when it rains, you might want to try installing sump pumps (or upgrading your old ones for heavier capacity).

Which homes are most at risk for sewer backups and water backups?

Sewer backups can be especially bad for older homes that have not had regular sewer inspections and sewer line maintenance. Lots of old trees on your property or in your neighborhood can also create higher risk for sewer line clogs; the tree roots can get inside the sewer pipes, causing blockages.

If your home is in an older, tree-lined neighborhood with older sewer lines, you might want to consult a local sewer line cleaning service. Add it to your annual to-do list and home maintenance budget. Many sewer services will offer free estimates and low-cost sewer inspections, so you can keep an eye on the situation before it becomes a costly problem.

Read more: check out our picks for best homeowners insurance companies

Water backup is destructive and dispiriting, and it’s something that no homeowner ever wants to experience, but it could happen to you. It’s a particular risk if you live in a wet climate, or a place experiencing heavier rains due to climate change. Many cities are trying to expand the capacity of their stormwater systems. But this might not help you if your home gets flooded by water backup and you’re not covered by insurance.

How to get sewer line coverage from homeowners insurance

Sewer line backup is not always included with homeowners insurance, but many companies offer it as an optional coverage. Check your homeowners insurance policy to see if you have coverage for sewer backup or water backup (or both). Different homeowners insurance companies might use slightly different words for these coverages.

For example, my homeowners insurance policy covers:

  • “Water backup” coverage: Pays for some costs of damage from water that backed up through sewers or drains, or overflowed sump pumps
  • “Service line” coverage: Pays for some costs of repairs to external service lines, including sewer lines, water lines, and power lines

Some local water works and utilities also offer service line insurance via private insurance companies like HomeServe. These plans let you buy extra insurance coverage for the parts of your water line or sewer line that are your responsibility to maintain as the homeowner.

Bottom line

New homeowners (and longtime homeowners) should check their homeowners insurance policy to see if they have sewage backup, water backup, and service line coverage. And make sure you understand how much the insurance company will actually pay after your deductible. If you suffer a major sewer line issue, or overflowing storm water from a heavy downpour in your neighborhood, the costs could be more than several mortgage payments — and more than your “rainy day” fund can cover.

Our picks for best homeowners insurance companies

There are many homeowners insurance companies to choose from. We’ve researched dozens of options and short-listed our favorites here. Looking for a green build discount or easy bundle policies? Want an easy-to-use interface? Read our free expert review and get a quote today.

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