Your homeowners insurance deductible guarantees you'll never get 100 percent of the repair cost for your kitchen floor or anything else. If you have a $500 deductible, the first $500 comes out of your pocket. If your deductible is $1,500, you pay at least that much. Beyond that, how big a check you get depends in part on the terms of the policy and what caused the problem.
If your kitchen floods because a pipe froze or rain came in through a roof leak, your policy should cover your losses. You're not so lucky if a nearby river overflowed or a rain pooled on the ground and seeped into your house. In that case you're dealing with flood damage and every homeowners policy exempts floods from coverage. You can only file a claim for flood losses if you have a federal flood insurance policy.
If your insurer can prove your kitchen flooded because you screwed up, it may be able to blow off your claim. If, say, you make no attempt to insulate or heat pipes against freezing, or don't maintain or repair the plumbing, the company can say your losses are your own fault. If damage happens and you don't take steps to minimize it -- putting a tarp over a roof leak, for instance -- the company can make the same argument.
If your policy only covers the cash value of your floor or your kitchen appliances, you may end up hurting financially. Cash-value coverage takes wear and tear from age into account: with every year that passes, age reduces the value of your property, which reduces what you get paid. Replacement-value policies cost more but they're a safer bet, paying what it costs to restore your floor, up to the policy limit.
Once you've done whatever you can to shut off the flow of water, take photos of the damage. Contact your insurer and keep a record of your conversations, insurance adjuster visits and other claims activity. Be careful not to sign anything that says this is your final payment if you haven't gotten everything paid off, or if the adjuster insists your rain damage was really flood damage. Ask the adjuster to put everything in writing, in case a new adjuster takes over the case later.
- Nolo: Homeowners Insurance: What You Need to Know
- Insure.com: Water Damage: Seven Home Insurance Scenarios
- Merlin Law Group: It's Freezing ... Coverage for Frozen-Pipe Losses
- Allen Financial Insurance Group: Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost
- Consumer Reports: Making a Claim: How to Get Your Due
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.