It’s always at the back of our minds when we’re travelling in the winter, hoping we don’t come home to a broken water supply or some kind of leak in our homes: burst pipes. They suck. So, does insurance cover a burst pipe? You won’t hear yes-or-no answers too often because the cause of the burst pipe may or may not be covered under your home insurance policy.
That’s the key to understanding how insurance claims work, as it happens!
You’ll likely hear “it depends,” and there are some important reasons why. First of all, every policy is different—the homes, locations, people, and coverage options all differ. That’s going to affect important factors involving a burst pipe, such as what caused the pipe to burst and how much damage it caused.
Consider the potential causes of a burst pipe for a moment. This list isn’t exhaustive, but see if any of these sound like your situation.
- The pipe sustains significant rust damage or some kind of corrosion, causing weak points that couldn’t sustain pressure.
- A pipe freezes while you were away travelling during winter.
- The pipe may not be secured properly, which could cause it to move when water moves through it.
- An increased water pressure from somewhere in your home or plumbing network might cause a pipe to burst.
Insurance coverage will also depend on the damage a burst pipe causes to the rest of the property. Remember, we’re not just talking about replacing the piping itself, but also the damage all of that water could do to your home. All-risk insurance coverage is a good bet for this kind of damage.
Scenarios like these could happen:
- A burst pipe could ruin a wall or ceiling.
- It could cause a toilet to stop flushing properly, become clogged, and then backed up (ruining the bathroom floor and part of the hallway’s hardwood).
- A very cold winter day bursts a pipe in the basement, flooding the rec room with two inches of water.
Burst pipes can cause significant damage in a short amount of time, making it worthwhile to check up on them regularly.
Does insurance cover a burst pipe?
A burst pipe could lead to damaged ceilings and floors, mold build-up in drywall, damaged electrical materials, rotting materials, or even damaged heating systems. That’s a lot of potential damage from a single pipe.
Typically, the leak has to be sudden and accidental for it to be covered. Slow-forming pipe damage generally isn’t covered, since it’s expected that you’d notice it and repair it with consistent home maintenance (and that’s your responsibility as a home owner). Failing to fix something that’s visibly or audibly wrong is usually classified as negligence, which means insurance wouldn’t cover that. In that scenario you’d be on the hook for the entire repair cost instead of just the deductible on your home policy.
For example: if you knew your pipe had rusted a few months ago but seemed fine anyway, then insurance wouldn’t cover that pipe bursting. On the other hand, if you had it replaced by a professional and the piping was just defective, then it would be covered.
Pro tip: insurers won’t insure lead pipes in most cases, so it’s always worthwhile to double-check on your pipes—and what they’re made of—before something goes wrong.
“Galvanized or lead piping usually means your plumbing is older, which makes it more likely to crack or leak. Insurers generally prefer homes with upgraded copper or plastic plumbing.”
When in doubt, ask yourself: “could this have been anticipated with due diligence, and was it within my power to prevent?”
Check your policy for a time limitation, as most policies do not cover accidental floods that occur when the home is vacant for more than 48 hours (but sometimes that limit is set at 24 hours). Get around this by having a friend or family member check on your house daily. Remember: your coverage will be considered void if you don’t have someone responsible checking on your home every day.
It’s important to understand that there are different types of insurance that could apply to your situation, depending on the context. It’s also worth noting that, if you live in a condo, then this might be covered by your association’s master condo insurance policy.
Three Types of Insurance for Water Damage
- Homeowners Insurance: Standard policies will probably cover accidental and sudden water damage caused by things like burst pipes and sudden foundation cracks. Remember that the cause for the burst pipe has to be “sudden and accidental,” though.
- Sewer Back-up Coverage: This is typically purchased as an add-on to a standard home policy, but it’s important to have it—sometimes clean water and sewage mix together in the leak, which can make it difficult to tell which came first.
- Overland Flooding: This is flooding that occurs due to extreme weather conditions, like a river overflowing or excessive snowmelt. It can be difficult and expensive to secure depending on your region, your claim history, and your provider. Always check for flood damage coverage on your policy, though.
What to do when a water pipe bursts inside your house
When you wake up to a basement with an inch of water, it’s pretty obvious there’s something wrong. You’ll notice immediately when pipes burst. Follow these instructions:
- Do not turn on any electrical switches.
- Turn off your main electrical switch, if it is safe to do so.
- Shut off water supplies and plug holes to stop continued damage
- Open a faucet to relieve any remaining pressure in the pipes
- Call your insurance provider to report the damage and determine further instructions for repair, like which plumber to call if they have a preference to ensure coverage
- Take photos of the damage
- Move items out of flooded or damaged area
- Open doors and windows, and set up fans to help dry the area and prevent mold.
- If you must call services or buy materials to do repairs immediately, save your receipts
You can keep your eyes and ears open for slow leaks for these things:
- Strange sounds when you flush toilets or take a shower.
- Strange smells coming from your drains.
- Checking up on your basement’s trouble spots.
- Fixing even the smallest leaks.
- Checking for water spots on your ceiling once in a while.
Pay extra attention to cottages, though. Cottage insurance can work a little differently because their use tends to be seasonal instead of all-year-round, and they are often shut down in the off-seasons. You might need someone inspecting the structure every so often, depending on the insurer.
How to prevent water damage in your home
Not sure how to protect your home from water damage?
You’re not alone. 43% of Canadians don’t know how to prevent water damage, despite it being responsible for 48% of home claims in Canada.
As a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to take care of your house and make sure it’s in good working order. We recommend doing an annual check up while you’re already doing spring cleaning, at the very least.
This list goes beyond burst pipes and includes an inspection of all the usual culprits for water damage:
- Check all faucets and repair any leaks
- Re-caulk around windows and doors
- Check the roof for leaks or damaged shingles
- Inspect your home’s foundation for cracks
- Clean and check all drains and hoses
- Inspect the property for pooling in low areas
- Clear and adjust your eavestroughs and downspouts so that water is directed away from your home
You can read the full guide for water damage prevention here. The Insurance Bureau of Canada also recommends a few measures for protection:
- Installing a sump pump
- Installing backflow valves or plugs in drain toilet and other sewer connectors
- Elevate your furnace, hot water heater, and electrical panel
- Ensure there is proper grading around your home so that surface water flows away from your foundation
If you’re not sure whether or not you want to file a claim just get in touch with us for claims counselling. We’ll walk you through your options and the payoff before you have to decide to contact your insurance provider.