So your water pipes have burst during the Arctic freeze. What are you supposed to do?
The Insurance Council of Texas expects hundreds of thousands of insurance claims — including auto, home, renters and commercial — thanks to the winter weather.
With a few more days before warm temperatures return to Houston, experts say it may take a while for pipes to thaw and leak.
Here’s what to expect if you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the cost of fixing your plumbing and replacing your property.
Most homeowners’ insurance policies will cover the ensuing damage from a burst pipe. If there’s a flood in the living room and water soaks through the flooring, baseboards and drywall, your policy will cover it — to a certain extent. Your insurance may also cover the costs of temporary relocation if the home is uninhabitable.
The average frozen pipe property damage claim in Texas cost $15,500 in 2020, according to data from State Farm.
“If you have damages already, start documenting that,” said Camille Garcia, a spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Texas. “Make a list of what was spoiled or damaged, so when you contact the agent, you’re going to have that information readily available.”
Even if you don’t have damage yet, take pictures now in case you need a before-and-after comparison.
Reach out to your insurance company as soon as possible to find out exactly how much your policy covers and what other documentation is necessary. Your policies will likely include personal property damaged in the ensuing floods, such as furniture, clothing and food.
If the pipes ruptured because you didn’t drain water or keep them warm when you could have, insurance may not cover the damage. Most policies will expect you to take reasonable steps to protect your home, but thanks to the power grid failures that left more than 4 million people without heat this week, there were only so many things people could do to keep their pipes from bursting. Sudden and accidental leaks are generally covered.
Before insurance coverage kicks in, though, you may have to pay the cost of your deductible.
Given high demand,it will take a while to get a claims adjuster on the line. Kelly Hyde, who owns a townhouse in Shady Acres and was in the process of selling her home when the winter storm swept through Texas, spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone Tuesday afternoon trying to get a hold of her insurer, Allied Trust.
Hyde, who now lives in Denver, found out the ceiling of her master bathroom had caved in after asking a neighbor to check in on the property. The pipes coming from the water heater, located in the attic, ruptured during the blackouts and freeze.
Her insurer gave her a claim number, but no estimated time for when an adjuster would help her.
“We were waiting for the clear to close and now I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hyde said.
If you’re leasing your home or apartment and face a burst pipe, your renters’ insurance should cover the cost of any personal property. Similar to homeowners’ insurance, it may cover the cost of furniture, clothing and food.
Take pictures and keep a written list of your belongings, in case you need to submit documentation to your insurer. Property owners are allowed to require renters to carry insurance, but Houston does not require it of all renters. Homeowners’ insurance won’t cover the cost of your belongings as a tenant.
“As a renter you wouldn’t have coverage for the structure,” Garcia said. “What your policy kicks in for is any damage to your personal property.”
Your landlord is responsible for fixing and covering the costs of structural damage if the storm and blackouts were at fault. If you spot a water leak anywhere, notify your landlord immediately and save any written communication (emails and texts) with your landlord in case.
The property owner should also tell you where the water cut off is located in case you need to turn off flow.
Insurance premiums won’t change significantly as a result of the winter storm. Texas is a disaster-prone state, and companies already factor that into their costs when giving residents quotes.