If water gets into your house, it can wreak havoc, especially if mold starts to grow. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself before and after a water-related disaster to save money and headaches.
Not all water damage is the same, and different types of insurance coverage are needed for the ways water enters the home, said Vernon Hawkins, Long & Foster Insurance regional manager for Montgomery County/Southern Maryland and Washington D.C. As always, it’s best to work with your insurer to make sure you’re adequately covered before anything happens.
Most homeowners policies require a separate endorsement for water damage, such as from a sewer backing up or pipe breaking, or rainwater coming in through the roof, for example. Additionally, there’s flood insurance, for people who are in federally recognized zones that are prone to flooding or who may experience a swell of groundwater into their homes. Homeowners insurance typically won’t cover flood events.
“One of the things I see a lot in D.C. is where the storm sewer openings get blocked by debris, which causes flooding,” Hawkins said. “That’s considered a flood, so you would need flood insurance.”
If water gets in, here are five steps Hawkins recommends taking:
1. Try to stop the damage, if you can do so safely. That could mean placing sandbags to keep out flooding, using a sump pump or shop vac to remove water, or finding your home’s water shut-off valve to cut off the flow into the house. Remember, flood water often contains sewage and contaminants, so you shouldn’t let it touch your skin. Don’t sacrifice your health and safety.
2. Contact your insurance agent or company. Keep your insurer’s information where you can get to it quickly in an emergency situation. They will provide guidance on how to proceed with your claim. Your insurer can also help determine what kind of alternative, temporary living arrangements are covered if the home is not habitable.
3. Take pictures, and document the cause of the damage if possible. This will help your insurer determine what happened and what the next steps will be in making repairs.
4. Call a professional mold remediation firm to help dry out your home and belongings. Some things might be salvageable if they are cleaned and dried soon enough, but mold can start to grow in just a day, so act quickly.
5. Bag up the items you can’t save. Preserve damaged things for the adjuster to see, if possible. Some belongings really must be thrown out, such as soaked paper, so take pictures and inventory the destroyed items before you set them by the curb.
“One of the worst things you can do is throw everything away when you don’t have documentation, or have everything cleaned and restored before we see it,” Hawkins said. “Take pictures, and document everything.”