Imagine this scene:  your customer comes home from work after a long day. As they step inside they hear… splosh. The living room has transformed into Lake Okeechobee. Their prized copy of War and Peace (that they still intend on reading someday) floats by like a funeral barge. “Gray” or “black” water contaminated with waste and sewage is everywhere.

Some homeowners have no idea that water or sewage that backs up through sewers or drains is excluded on their policy. Others decline the coverage due to the additional price or a mentality that this type of loss “will never happen to me.” But backups and overflows occur frequently enough that homeowners cannot afford to ignore them.

Let’s dust off the ISO policy (like War and Peace, it begs to be read in its entirety someday). The base HO3 policy excludes property damage which is caused by:

Water, water-borne material or sewage which backs up through sewers or drains or which overflows or is discharged from a sump, sump pump, or related equipment (Florida Special Provisions HP-0109-09).

What constitutes a “back up” or “overflow” can be as murky to a homeowner as the water spewing from the drain. Every claim is unique. Depending on the circumstances, the unendorsed policy may not afford protection for certain types of back-up or overflows.  When a customer needs coverage the most (i.e., when there has been a claim) is not the time to look at the policy and wonder if coverage exists.

Tower Hill customers can bridge the coverage gap by adding either the Water Backup and Sump Overflow endorsement[1](HP-0495-00) or by adding an Emerald Plus or Emerald Deluxe package.  These optional endorsements provide up to $5,000 (with a special deductible of $250) for direct physical loss that is caused by:

a. Water, water-borne material or sewage which backs up through sewers or drains; or

b. Water, water-borne material or sewage which overflows from a sump even if such overflow results from the mechanical breakdown of the sump pump. This coverage does not apply to direct physical loss of the sump pump, or related equipment, which is caused by mechanical breakdown. (HP-0495)

Sump pumps are designed to remove accumulated ground or subsurface water away from the foundation. If these systems fail during heavy rainstorms, water can quickly overflow the sump pit and inundate the home.

For HO4, HO6 – Prime and Preferred, DP3, and MH policies, there is no option to add the Water Backup and Sump Overflow endorsement. And for all policies, the following water losses are still excluded:

  1. Flood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these, whether or not driven by wind…
  2. Water below the surface of the ground, including water which exerts pressure on or seeps or leaks through a building, sidewalk, driveway, foundation, swimming pool or other structure.  (Section I – Exclusions HO 03)

Annual plumbing inspections and/or snake-outs of drain lines can help reduce the probability of loss. Homeowners can also install backwater check valves in their sewer lateral. These devices allow waste water out of the home, but close when water tries to enter back into the drain line.

Empower your customers. As the old G.I. Joe cartoon tagline went, “Knowing is half the battle.” The cost for water extraction and mitigation can easily exceed a thousand dollars. Add in repairs to flooring, baseboard, drywall, and contents… suddenly $5,000 of coverage seems a lot more affordable.

All statements made are subject to the provisions, exclusions, conditions and limitations of the applicable insurance policy. If the information in this blog conflicts with the policy language it describes, the policy language prevails.

[1]For all companies except Tower Hill Signature.  See (RPI HO 09 WBU).  The Signature endorsement applies the All Other Peril deductible or $1,000, whichever is greater.

Brian Hunt, AIC, CPCU

About Brian Hunt, AIC, CPCU

Commercial Underwriter II
Tower Hill Insurance Group

Brian started his insurance career with State Farm in St. Paul, MN, in 1998. In addition to handling property and liability claims, he served as part of the National Catastrophe Team, following tornadoes, hurricanes, and hailstorms across the country. He made several friends named Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Ivan, Wilma, and Katrina. He moved to Florida in 2009 to manage a catastrophe office in Jacksonville, and because of a girl (now wife) his path led him to Gainesville and Tower Hill Insurance. In his free time, Brian is an Ironman triathlete and also enjoys writing about local and national history.