Water damage consistently ranks among the most common causes of home insurance claims. As your home ages and the climate shifts, the risk of water damage increases. Anything from coastal flooding to corroded pipes can leave water in places it doesn’t belong, and the longer that water lingers, the costlier the damage will be to fix.
Homeowners insurance covers many types of water damage. However, for your home insurance to kick in, the damage must be caused by a sudden and accidental issue inside your home, such as a burst pipe. Flooding and gradual damage are typically excluded. In either case, it’s important to understand the signs and sources of water damage before it affects your home. Read on to learn the latest water damage statistics, plus how to identify and prevent this costly issue.
Number of Annual Water Damage Claims
Homeowners are highly likely to experience water damage at some point in their lives. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), water damage affects around 14,000 people in the United States every single day.
Based on the most recent statistics published by the III, water damage and freezing are together the second-most common causes of property damage claims annually, following wind and hail. III data collected from 2016 to 2020 showed one in every 60 insured homes filed a property damage claim due to water damage or freezing each year. The average claim severity was $11,650.
Flood Damage Statistics
Several types of water damage can occur, but one of the most catastrophic is flood damage. Note that not all homeowners insurance policies cover flood damage. III statistics indicate that 43% of people mistakenly think home insurance covers flood damage.
FloodDefenders, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for local flood prevention measures, has compiled statistics on the prevalence and cost of flooding in the United States. Since 1980, flooding in the United States has caused $1 trillion in damages. America has experienced an urban flooding event once every two to three days for the past 25 years, with 99% of U.S. counties having been impacted by a flood event between 1996 and 2019.
Types of Water Damage
Water damage falls into one of three categories, depending on the cause and severity of the issue:
- Clean water damage: Damage that results from clean water falls into Category 1. For the purpose of water damage classification, water is considered clean if it is free of toxins and sewage. A leak in a water supply line or water damage resulting from melted snow would fall into this category. Most items affected by a Category 1 incident can be easily dried out without any lasting damage.
- Gray water damage: Damage that results from dirty water falls into Category 2. Water is considered gray if it has been exposed to waste or chemical contaminants. Examples are bathwater and water from your dishwasher. Although these contaminants may or may not be directly harmful to humans, gray water damage can cause issues later. Items affected by a Category 2 incident need to be thoroughly disinfected or replaced entirely.
- Black water damage: Damage that results from potentially toxic water falls into Category 3. If there is any chance that water might contain pathogens or toxins, it is considered black water. Examples include flood water, sewage, seawater, and even groundwater. A Category 3 incident requires swift and serious attention to mitigate health risks and permanent damage.
What Does Water Damage Look Like?
Water damage is often immediately evident. A flash flood or overflowing toilet, for instance, is hard to miss. However, smaller issues can go undetected and cause damage over several weeks or months. Be on the lookout for warning signs that indicate a hidden problem. Water damage can look like any of the following:
- Water stains: Even clean water can cause stains as it soaks through your walls, ceiling, or floor. Water stains typically appear as areas of beige, yellow, or brownish discoloration.
- Humidity: Some of the water leaking into your home will naturally be absorbed into the air, causing increased humidity. You might also notice more condensation or mugginess.
- Mold or mildew: If the issue persists long enough, mold or mildew can begin to grow in affected areas. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), mold can begin growing on a damp surface within 24–48 hours.
- Dripping: In the case of a hidden leak, you may hear a dripping sound with no visible source. A large or prolonged leak could also result in water dripping through your ceiling or light fixtures.
- Peeling paint: Excess humidity or water soaking through your walls can cause paint to peel or bubble. You might notice similar issues with wallpaper.
- Hairline cracks: Thin cracks in your home’s walls, ceiling, or foundation may be caused by harmless temperature fluctuations or the house settling. However, they can sometimes be a sign of serious water damage.
If your home has a hidden leak, you might also notice a higher-than-usual water bill or increased water usage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average home leaks around 10,000 gallons of water every year. Even small leaks can waste huge amounts of water—10% of households waste more than 90 gallons of water daily through minor leaks and drips.
Your utility company might even reach out to suggest that you look for a leaky pipe, dripping faucet, or perpetually running toilet if their records show constant water usage at your home. Fixing household water leaks can save homeowners about 10% on their water bills.
Top Causes of Water Damage
Although flooding and storm damage are the most frightening causes of water damage, they are not the most common. The vast majority of water damage is more subtle, with a source closer to home. Here are a few common causes of water damage:
- AC leak or condensation
- Appliance leak
- Blocked drain
- Clogged gutters
- Corroded pipes
- Dripping faucet or showerhead
- Faulty HVAC system
- Faulty plumbing
- Faulty sprinklers
- Frozen pipes
- Leaky roof
- Leaky water heater
- Leaky water supply line
- Overflowed tub or toilet
- Sewage backup
- Sump pump failure
How To Prevent Water Damage
Water damage can be expensive to repair, but early detection and prevention measures can make a huge difference. Here are a few things you can do to prevent water damage.
- Check hoses, pipes, and faucets regularly. Inspect the visible parts of your plumbing system for drips and leaks. Rust-colored water, small puddles of water, extra moisture, and noisy pipes could all indicate an issue.
- Pay attention to toilets, sinks, and tubs. If you notice any issues with your toilet, call a plumber or run some DIY diagnostics. For instance, you can drop a little food coloring into your toilet tank and wait 15 minutes to see if any colored water makes its way into the bowl without you flushing it. If it does, your toilet may have a leak. You can also monitor your sinks, tubs, and showers for signs of a leak.
- Install a water-leak detector. Use a water-leak alarm to quickly catch leaks and an automatic shut-off system to minimize the damage.
- Monitor your water bill. A major change in your water bill could indicate an issue with your home’s plumbing or supply line. To confirm the presence of a leak, go two hours without using any water and read your water meter before and after this time period. If the number changes, you likely have a leak.
- Schedule regular water heater inspections. Have a plumber inspect your water heater regularly. It’s also wise to have an HVAC company inspect your air conditioner every spring.
- Watch for signs of water damage. Keep an eye out for any signs of water damage, including those listed above.
- Protect pipes from freezing. Make sure the temperature inside your home stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), even when you are not home. This will help keep indoor pipes from freezing during cold weather. Wrap exposed pipes, such as those in your crawlspace or unfinished basement, with snap-on insulation.
- Fix issues quickly. If your home does develop a leak or any issue that could cause water damage, address the problem quickly. Cut off the water and call a plumber as soon as possible.
- Clean your gutters regularly. Many experts recommend cleaning your gutters at least twice per year. You might also install gutter guards to keep out debris. Clogged gutters cannot drain properly. As the water backs up, it can seep under your roof and into your home or pool around your foundation and leak into your basement.
A single incident of water damage can cause homeowners or insurance companies thousands of dollars. Of the 5.8% of insured homes that filed a claim from 2016 to 2020, 1.6% of them experienced a loss related to water damage or freezing each year. According to III statistics, only damage from wind and hail is more likely.
Fortunately, homeowners can take several steps to prevent or mitigate water damage. Start by learning what water damage looks like and how to turn off your water in an emergency. Then, invest in regular home maintenance, including gutter cleaning and regular HVAC inspections. Pay attention to water damage warning signs and address small issues promptly before they grow into more expensive problems.
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