Burst pipes, overflowing toilets, floods—there are so many ways water can wreak havoc on your home. So, how can you tell whether you’re dealing with water damage or flood damage?

They sound similar, but in the insurance world, water damage and flood damage are vastly different. If you think your homeowners insurance policy has you covered in the event of a flood, you’re not alone. Plenty of homeowners don’t realize that although their insurance policy covers water damage, flood damage is something entirely different.

It’s not as confusing as it sounds. This overview is designed to help you understand the differences between water damage and flood damage, and what homeowners insurance will and won’t cover.

What Is the Difference Between Water Damage and Flood Damage?

The key difference between water damage and flood damage is where the water comes from. Generally, if the water source originates inside your home and flows out of it, it’s water damage. If the water source originates outside of your home and flows into it, it’s flood damage.

Another way to tell the difference between water damage and flood damage is to look around your neighborhood. If you and your neighbors are having water issues caused by heavy rains or rising waters, you’re probably dealing with flood damage, but if you’re having a water issue inside your home and your neighbors aren’t, you’re likely dealing with water damage.

What Is Water Damage?

Water damage is sudden, accidental and occurs before the water comes in contact with the ground. Examples of water damage include, but are not limited to:

  • An overflowing toilet
  • A burst or leaky pipe
  • Buildup in areas susceptible to collecting water such as crawlspaces, attics or basements
  • Malfunctioning appliances such as a washing machine or water heater
  • HVAC issues

What Is Flood Damage?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency defines a flood as a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of normally dry land areas. Flood damage is a result of the following water sources:

  • The overflow of inland or tidal waters
  • The unusual, rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source
  • Mudslides or mudflows, which are often caused by flooding. FEMA considers mudslides similar to a river of liquid or flowing mud on the surfaces of typically dry land areas.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Flood Damage?

Although the standard homeowners policy covers water damage, it does not cover flood damage, nor does it cover flooding related to heavy rains, hurricanes or storms. Since flood damage is not considered a type of water damage, it’s critical to take out a flood insurance policy that provides coverage for the flooding that often accompanies wet weather, especially if you live in a high-risk flood zone.

In most cases, the standard homeowners insurance policy will cover water damage if the homeowner could not prevent the damage, but this is where it can get a little dicey. Whether water damage is covered or not depends on a few things:

  • The source of the damage
  • The type of insurance policy
  • Whether the water damage is sudden and accidental or gradual

If a pipe bursts, your sewer backs up or your water heater goes out—things that are sudden and accidental—your homeowners policy will probably provide coverage. But if you have a persistent leaky pipe, a deteriorating roof that heavy rains make worse or you haven’t been keeping up with maintenance—things that are gradual—you might be out of luck. When water damage is determined to be a result of the homeowner’s negligence, it can be difficult to convince an insurance provider to cover it.

What Does Flood Insurance Cover?

You can usually purchase flood insurance through your existing homeowners insurance provider. Flood insurance is mandated by the National Flood Insurance Program, and it can help protect your home, your belongings or both.

Building Property coverage can help protect your home’s:

  • Physical structure and foundation
  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Central air conditioning equipment, furnaces and water heaters
  • Certain appliances, including refrigerators, cooking stoves and built-in appliances like dishwashers
  • Permanently installed carpeting over an unfinished floor
  • Permanently attached bookcases, cabinets, wallboard and paneling
  • Window blinds
  • A detached garage (up to 10% of Building Property coverage)
  • Debris removal

Personal Property coverage can protect things like:

  • Personal belongings, including clothing, furniture and electronics
  • Certain portable appliances such as portable and window air conditioning units, portable microwave ovens and portable dishwashers
  • Washers and dryers
  • Freezers and the food in them
  • Curtains
  • Carpeting installed over finished flooring
  • Certain valuables such as original artwork or furs (up to $2,500)

Flood insurance does not cover:

  • Gradual damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold that could have been avoided by the homeowner
  • Property and possessions outside of the insured structure, including trees, plants, decks, patios, walks, fences, seawalls, septic systems, wells, hot tubs and swimming pools
  • Additional living expenses incurred while the home is being repaired such as temporary housing
  • Currency, precious metals and valuable documents such as stock certificates
  • Financial losses due to business interruption or loss of use of the insured property
  • Most self-propelled vehicles, including cars and their parts

Please note that these lists aren’t exhaustive. Read your policy and talk to your insurance provider to understand your coverage.

Get Covered for Flood and Water Damage

Flood insurance is relatively affordable, especially if you live in a low-risk area, yet just 15% of American homeowners have a flood insurance policy. That’s not a lot, especially when you consider that the average paid flood claim in 2017—the year of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria—was $91,735, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security data cited by the Insurance Information Institute. Just one inch of floodwater can cause more than $50,000 worth of damage, so why aren’t more homeowners getting insured?

Are they crossing their fingers in hopes that a flood won’t damage their home? Or are they under the false impression that their homeowners insurance policy will protect them in the event of a flood? Whatever the case, it’s critical to get informed because damage from water—whether it’s water damage or flood damage—can be expensive and challenging to bounce back from.

One more thing: don’t wait to get flood insurance until weather forecasters are predicting record-breaking rainfall, because most flood insurance policies require a 30-day wait period before they go into effect. Even if you do spring for flood insurance, you may not technically be covered if flood damage occurs before your policy kicks in. With monsoon season approaching in states like Arizona and California, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared.

Personal Express Insurance offers flood insurance coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. Our Homegrown Pros are always here to assist you, whether you want to learn about the benefits of flood insurance, apply for a free homeowners insurance quote or have questions about how your policy covers water damage. Just call 1-800-499-3612 or meet with your friendly local agent to learn more.

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*The information provided in this blog is designed to give helpful advice on the topic discussed. It is not intended to provide legal or any other type of advice and is not meant to be a thorough discussion of every issue that a person should consider or may encounter. Personal Express Insurance is a brand utilized by the following insurance underwriting companies: Integon National Insurance Company and National General Premier Insurance Company. All policies will be underwritten by these two underwriting companies.

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