If you discover water dripping through your roof or a bathroom pipe spitting water onto your floor, it's usually covered by your insurance. Unfortunately, coverage may not include repairing the leak, just fixing the damage it caused. As with most homeowners insurance issues, a lot depends on how the damage and the leak came about.
Insurers pay for losses from leaks, but only if you've been responsible about maintaining your plumbing. If the adjuster discovers you knew for years that the pipe was rusting apart but didn't fix it, the odds aren't in your favor. If you find a roof leak and don't take steps to protect your furniture -- covering chairs, rolling up carpet, covering the roof with tarpaulin -- the insurer's unlikely to pay for the post-discovery damage.
If you're hoping to, say, get the roof leak repaired along with the chair it leaked on, you may be out of luck. Insurance pays if leaks come from sudden damage, such as a tree falling on your roof or your pipes freezing. It doesn't pay out for repairs if your house is just old and wearing down. If there's a long-term leak and you didn't see it because it's buried behind an appliance, that damage probably isn't covered either.
Most policies say flat-out that they won't cover mold damage. If, say, you discover heavy mold growing in your laundry room because of a seemingly minor leak, the cost of cleanup falls on you. If your pipe bursts and starts some mold growing, it's a sudden-damage case and your insurer may pay to purge the mold. Policies that do cover mold usually offer between $1,000 and $10,000 worth of remediation and clean-up.
Maintenance isn't just necessary to preserve your coverage, it's in your own self-interest. Even if your company does pay out, it won't cover your deductible, so you'll lose some money. If anything you're sentimental about gets ruined, money won't bring your treasures back. Cleaning regularly and checking behind appliances can save you time, stress and grief. Having someone inspect window frames and your roof is also a good precaution to take.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.