What Is a Water Exclusion Clause?

A water exclusion clause is a restriction in homeowners and renter's insurance policies that denies coverage for some water-related claims. Events that are likely to fall under a water exclusion clause include damage caused by flood, tsunamis, standing water, groundwater, and drain or sewage backups.

Homeowners and renters may be able to add some types of water damage coverage excluded in the standard policy by purchasing a rider or separate, specialized insurance.

Key takeaways

  • A water exclusion clause is a standard feature of property insurance contracts, denying coverage of various categories of loss associated with aquatic events.
  • Typically, water exclusion clauses include floods due to external causes; sewage or water main failure/backups; tsunamis; standing or groundwater.
  • Homeowners policies typically do protect against water damage from a sudden mishap inside the home, like a burst pipe or overflowing toilet.
  • Separate flood insurance furnishes coverage against flooding.

Understanding a Water Exclusion Clause

A water exclusion clause is common in most property insurance policies. The reasoning is that only specific areas are prone to water-related natural disaster events, such as floods, tidal waves, or tsunamis. Water exclusion is one of several types of exclusion clauses found in homeowners and renter insurance contracts. Other standard exclusions include movements of the earth (quakes, landslides), wars and certain other government actions, and nuclear hazards and events.

However, aquatic-related perils aren't totally excluded by homeowners insurance. Most policies routinely do cover water damage that occurs for specific reasons—usually a sudden or accidental event that occurs within the structure, such as a burst pipe or malfunctioning dishwasher or other plumbing/water supply-related problems. Gradual damage or wear and tear that happens over time generally isn't covered, though.

Destruction arising out of certain weather events—like thunderstorms that send a tree crashing through a wall, or snow that collapses a roof, allowing water to pour in—generally are covered (at least, the water damage they cause is; ironically, the cost of repairing the wall or roof may not be). Some types of hurricane-related damage may also be covered, though in 19 coastal states, policyholders have to pay an additional hurricane deductible before coverage kicks in.

Special Considerations: Floods and Water Exclusion Clauses

Unless it's due to an internal cause, like a gushing washer/dryer or an overflowing toilet, flooding is a typical part of a water exclusion clause. These clauses generally define a flood as rising or surface waters that come from the outside in, though even this is often subject to controversy—and litigation: Should the clause apply if the flood ensues from man-made forces (a burst dam, a collapsed levee) rather than natural forces (e.g., continuous rain that makes a river overflow its banks)? Does surface water come solely from rain or melting snow, or does it count if it's been sitting on a man-made surface such as pavement, a balcony, or a roof?

Despite the legal debate, the bottom line is that a flood from an external source that seeps into a home probably won't be covered by the hazard insurance component of a standard homeowners policy. The expensive nature of water damage, and the prevalence of it—between 2013 and 2017, water damage was the second most common home insurance claim —gives homeowners and renters reasons to find alternative coverage options.

19.5%

The percentage of homeowners insurance claims that cited water damage and freezing as the cause of loss in 2017, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Usually, that means purchasing a separate policy for protection against flood damage, known as flood insurance. In fact, for properties in high-risk areas, lenders sometimes require mortgaged homeowners to carry flood insurance—at least to protect the structure of the dwelling. (Unlike a standard homeowners policy, flood insurance requires that a policyholder buy separate policies to cover the property and the property's contents.) Homes financed by a federally backed lender, for example, require flood insurance if they are located in a government-designated flood hazard zone.

Flood insurance policies are available for both residential and commercial properties. Renters can also purchase flood insurance policies that cover their personal property in a single-family home, apartment, condominium, or business property.

While flood insurance can be purchased through many different insurance companies, the rates are regulated by the federal National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). So the same policy costs the same amount, no matter which company it is purchased through.