Your Homeowner’s Policy Might Not Cover You From All Storm Damage

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

Having a sewer back-up and damage to your home would be bad news, indeed.  But having a sewer back-up and finding out that your insurance doesn’t cover the damage would be far worse news.

With the heavy rains of spring giving way to summer storms and hurricane season, it’s good to know what your homeowners’ insurance policy covers and what it doesn’t cover.  Generally, homeowners’ insurance covers damage from water that comes from the sky, but not from the ground.

Damage caused by wind-driven rain that comes into your house through your roof, windows, doors or holes in the walls is generally covered, as is damage caused by fire or lightning.  Whether the damage is caused by a hurricane, a tornado, a snowstorm, hail or some other source of precipitation, it’s covered.

Damage caused by flooding or a sewer back-up generally is excluded from coverage by homeowners’ insurance.  What can homeowners do to protect their homes from storm-related damages that are not covered by standard homeowner’s insurance?

Flooding.  Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  If your home is in a low-risk area, the cost of coverage can be as low as $365 a year – or $405 if you have a basement – but it can exceed $2,500 a year if your home is in a high-risk area.

Homes in the Sturbridge area are generally not at great risk for flooding, but it is best to ask your insurance agent for a risk assessment or to check your address on the NFIP’s Web site at FloodSmart.gov.

Sewer back-ups.  Sewers often back up when heavy rains overburden them; sewage may also cover your basement if your sump pump stops working.  However, you can typically add a rider to your policy with $10,000 or $20,000 in coverage for about $50.  You may also want to consider purchasing a back-up sump pump that is battery operated, so it can work even during a power outage.

Tree damage.  Of course, heavy rains and lightning often result in damage to trees, as well as homes.  Given that the tree damage is caused by a storm, you may wonder if you are covered for removal and replacement of damaged trees, or if a falling tree damages your property.

The cost of pruning, removing or replacing trees damaged by storms usually is not covered by homeowners insurance, as many area residents learned after last October’s freak snowstorm, but damage to an insured structure caused by a falling tree is covered.

If a tree falls on a detached garage, for example, you should be covered for damage caused to the structure and its contents, as long as the garage is insured.  If a fallen tree is blocking a driveway or a ramp designed to assist the handicapped, some insurers will cover the cost of removing it.

In addition, standard insurance typically covers damage to trees and shrubs caused by fire, lightning, explosion, theft, aircraft, vehicles not owned by the resident, vandalism and malicious mischief, according to the Insurance Information Institute.  However, coverage is typically limited to up to 5% of the total coverage provided by the policy or about $500 per tree.

If a tree from a neighbor’s property falls on your home, your homeowner’s policy should cover any damages.  In some cases, if the tree is in poor health or was not properly maintained, your insurance company may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company, using a process called “subrogation.”  If your insurer wins the case, you may be reimbursed for the deductible.

Protect Your Home

While additional coverage to protect your home against flooding and sewer back-up makes the most sense, there are other alternatives you can take to reduce your insurance cost and increase the safety of your home.

When you take action to protect your home from storm damage, you can also reduce your insurance premiums.  You may be eligible for discounts, for example, if you purchase storm-proof shutters, a lightning rod with surge protection or an automatic back-up generator that can operate your sump pump.

To be certain you are taking the right steps to protect your home, review your homeowner’s policy with your insurance agent.  Having photos of your property as it appeared before it was damaged and keeping an inventory of your property can also be helpful.


Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at rmcgrath@mcgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.

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