THURSDAY, AUGUST 11, 2016
As an insurance agent for 20 years, I've talked about water and sewer back-up so many times I've lost count. And we've paid lots of these claims over the years as well. But it's something altogether different when the claim happens to you. So roll up your sleeves and let's "dig" into my sewer back up experience. I promise it won't disappoint and you'll learn a lot too- information that could be very helpful should you experience something similar.
A basement drain gurgling and backing up with sewage is NOT a good sign- time to call the plumber
We had returned from eating dinner, and my husband went into the basement to get something. He said he heard a gurgling sound and when he rounded the corner, he noticed the basement drain was overflowing. Of course, it wasn't just water coming up the drain, but poo of course......He called me downstairs and after taking one look at it, I called the plumber I normally use (he's also a customer of mine, and I always use my own customers first, if possible). See picture to the left of what greeted us....
He dropped by (mind you it was 7:30 at night) to take a look and discovered that the nearest access point (manhole) was too far away to run a snake. So the line would have to be dug up. Ugh. Not to mention it was the day before 4th of July weekend, so there was no way to get the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (OUPS) there until well after the holiday. Luckily, we had made plans to go out of town until Monday, so the timing worked out great.
Time to mark utilities- OUPS arrives Wednesday to mark utilities (6 days after the initial discovery)
When I returned home Wednesday afternoon, I almost cried at the sight of the utilities flags all over my yard. This meant we were that much closer to getting the sewer line dug and repaired so we could have access to water again. You see, when you are extremely limited as to the amount of water you can put down the drain, you have very few options. Luckily, my parents had been on vacation, so we borrowed their house for bathing, using the bathroom, washing dishes and doing laundry. We slept at our house and ate easy meals that were simple to clean up. You don't realize how much water you use, until you no longer have access to it. It was pretty miserable. In fact, I asked my parents if they could stay out a few extra days so we could keep using their house!
Friday, and it's time to start digging!
In the meantime, the plumber had secured the sewer line map for our house to know where to start digging. So he showed up bright & early Friday morning with heavy equipment and started digging and everyone went off to their respective locations for the day.
I got a call from my husband around 4pm that said I needed to come home and dig up some of my flowers and relocate them because where the plumber had to dig was in one of my flowerbeds. Heartbreaking, but a small sacrifice. So I dropped everything, ran home and transplanted a handful of flowers to other beds.
That's when I noticed half my patio was gone.
My first thought was, "If the sewer line is under my flowerbed, Good Lord, WHAT'S under the patio??????"
This is when it starts getting REALLY good............
As if not having a functioning sewer wasn't enough, come to find out that the plumber had the sewer plans for the WRONG house. Whether he made the mistake or the city did remains to be seen. But the plans said the line was under our patio. After digging about 10 feet, it was determined no sewer there. Sooooooo.....the plumber went back to the City Engineer's office and finally obtained the plans for our house. Lo and behold, the sewer line was exactly where it was supposed to be. Since it was the end of the day, he got the new hole dug, then barricaded off the hole and said he would be back at 8am Saturday morning to finish the job (side note here: the plumber was very good to us for this error since it wasn't out fault, so there was no need to take any action).
One last casualty- our concrete stoop
I went to work Saturday morning, then went to run errands. When I came home, I noticed the concrete stoop by the back door was gone because it kept wanting to fall into the hole and onto the plumber. Obviously, I understood, but it was just one more casualty of war.
By Saturday afternoon, the sewer line was unplugged and repaired. The culprit? Baby wipes! So warning to you all: don't flush baby wipes down the toilet!
How my homeowners insurance responded
The simple answer- it didn't. Nor should it have. And here's why. According to my homeowners insurance policy, for Coverage A (Dwelling) and Coverage B (Other Structures) policy language states "We insure against risk of direct loss to property described in Coverages A and B only if that loss is a physical loss to property."
What does this mean? It means if it didn't directly damage my house or a detached outbuilding (like a shed or garage), which it didn't, then no coverage applies. Let me note that the policy language I just described is VERY typical language. So pretty doubtful you'd find a company that states otherwise. My house was perfectly intact and it certainly didn't affect a detached outbuilding (which I don't have anyway).
What about Coverage C- Personal Property? Sewer lines are not personal contents items like your furniture, clothing or electronics. So no coverage available there.
What about Water Backup of Sewers, Drains and Sump Pump Failure coverage?
Yes, I hads water backup of sewers, drains and sump pump failure on my homeowners insurance policy (and I recommend anyone with a basement, finished or not, have it). But here's the thing: there was no damage in the basement. The sewage only spread out about an inch beyond the drain. Our basement is unfinished, so the mess was on concrete. We got VERY lucky. When it was all over with, my husband cleaned up the mess with rags and bleach. However, if that was NOT the case, then the Water Backup coverage would have been available to hire a professional clean up company and get a contractor to make necessary repairs (such as replacing floor coverings, repair or replace drywall, painting, etc.). You can read more detail about Water Backup coverage here.
So when might I get SOME coverage in a situation like this?
First off, let me state that typically an insurance company will not pay to replace an appliance or system from which water escaped. This is the same approach when a pipe bursts in your wall. The damage caused by the busted pipe is covered, but the pipe itself is not. Sewer lines or an irrigation system would follow suit. A hot water tank that busts would qualify (had this happen too!) They'll pay to clean up the damage (after the deductible of course), but the new hot water heater is on you.
However, what if the sewer plans had indicated the sewer line went right through the middle of my house and a trench would have to be dug in my house? Would that cause direct physical damage to my house? You betcha. In fact, here's my insurance policy language that states this:
"If any of these cause water damage not otherwise excluded, from a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protective sprinkler system or household appliance, we cover loss caused by the water including the cost of tearing out and replacing any part of a building necessary to repair the system or appliance. We do not cover loss to the system or appliance from which this water escaped."
Again, very standard language.
So my policy would have covered temporary expenses if we had to move out for a short while and repairs to the house, but any expense associated with the sewer line would have still been our responsibility.
Hopefully my story has helped you better understand how typical insurance companies handle claims like what I've described. Many people mistakenly believe the sewer line repair and replacement would be covered, but it seldom is, unless there is actual damage to the house, a detached structure or contents.
We're happy to talk about this with you- just give us a call at (937) 592-4871. You can also fill out a contact form on our website. If you're ready to discuss your Bellefontaine Ohio homeowners insurance, call or fill out a quote request and we'll get the conversation started!
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