Does a basic homeowner's insurance policy cover water line replacement?

what does usaa homeowners insurance cover

Tree roots have grown into the main water line that runs from the meter to my house and the whole thing has to be dug up and replaced. (Merry Christmas to me!) It occurred to me while talking with plumbers yesterday that my homeowner's insurance might cover something like this. However, I read the policy packet and am not seeing any details about what my insurance does and doesn't cover.

There are a number of exclusions and endorsements detailed, but none of these deal with major plumbing repair. I tried calling my insurance company (USAA), who is normally very helpful, but they are not willing to answer the basic question I have, which is: Are water lines normally covered by basic homeowner's insurance policies? They are telling me I have to go through all the rigmarole of filing a claim to find out if it's covered, which is something I do not want to deal with if it's not customarily covered anyway.

I understand all policies are different and that you are not my insurance agent and that nobody knows whether or not my insurance company will give me any money. But do any of you know: Are main exterior water lines, running under the yard from the meter to the house, a customary thing covered by some homeowner's insurance policies? Is it worth filing a claim?

Possibly relevant details: I am in North Carolina, in the United States. This house is my primary home. When I bought the home I was 28 and knew nothing about things to ask for in a homeowner's insurance policy, so there is nothing fancy or extraordinary about it.

Is it worth filing a claim?

What's the cost of your deductible vs. the estimated cost of the repair? Even if it is covered, it might not be worthwhile to go through the exercise.

posted by jquinby at 8:00 AM on December 20, 2013

Honestly, the only way you will know if it is covered by your policy is to file the claim. The CSR you were talking to on the phone has no real way of knowing. Nor does any rando-internet stranger.

If you aren't questioning the necessity of the repairs, the price quoted to you, and you were going to cover it out of pocket anyhow, you might as well file the claim.

You can try to file a claim, but normally tree roots encroaching into pipes is not covered.

One simple way to tell if something is covered is to ask if the occurance is sudden to slow. Tree roots are slow, so not covered. If the tree roots caused a back up and a pipe broke, the damage from the broken pipe is sudden so it is covered.

Good luck.

posted by gnossos at 8:21 AM on December 20, 2013

They are telling me I have to go through all the rigmarole of filing a claim to find out if it's covered, which is something I do not want to deal with if it's not customarily covered anyway.

That's why they want you to do it. They're not going to offer you any opinion on the claim without doing a formal investigation, because you can hold them to any opinion they offer. If they deny coverage, but it turns out it should have been covered, they're screwed. If they grant coverage, but it turns out they should not have, they're still screwed.

File the claim or don't, but there's no way of getting a final determination without doing so.

posted by valkyryn at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2013

When this happened to us a few years ago, our plumber remarked that he had done a number of water line replacements in our neighborhood recently. He attributed it to all of the houses being built around the same time, and a combination of tree roots + aging builder-grade pipes taking their toll. It never occurred to me to file for insurance - I saw it as an inevitable routine maintenance expense, like a new roof or water heater. I'd ask the plumber what his/her experience has been with other customers and insurance.

nthing that only by filing a claim will you know for sure.

But I doubt it will be covered. Property insurance is intended to protect you from a variety of risks, which are mainly theft, fire, impacts (from vehicles, airplanes, other falling objects including trees etc.) and certain weather-related risks like wind, rain, floods. Earthquake coverage is generally an add-on. If the tree fell in such a way as to damage your water line (by uprooting it, for example), that might be covered, but even there they might say the underground damage was not caused by a falling object. Tree roots doing what tree roots normally do are certainly not falling objects, weather events, or any other risk that's in a standard policy.

posted by beagle at

9:03 AM on December 20, 2013

Mine didn't and neither did the HOA so we had to pay for everything out-of-pocket. (

posted by Jacqueline at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2013

Filing a claim isn't rigamarole. It's blindingly simple. Call the claims number. Report the problem. They'll quickly tell you if it's covered. Have your policy handy to tell them the number, etc.

If it's a basic policy, unlikely, but you will get a huge headache trying to read through the coverages. Few (or none) are written for easy comprehension by laypeople.

I suspect this problem falls under routine maintenance, not loss. Like tread wear on your tires. time and use consume them. You pay to replace. If, however, one blows up and destroys your car or kills the neighbor kid, your insurance is there to protect you.

posted by FauxScot at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2013

Tree roots have grown into the main water line that runs from the meter to my house and the whole thing has to be dug up and replaced.

Maybe this is inconsequential to the question, but this doesn't make sense to me. I would expect tree roots to threaten old waste/sewage pipes, but not the metered supply line. You're talking about replacing the big sewer pipe, not the little supply pipe, right?

I don't know what you mean by big sewer pipe vs. little supply pipe, but yeah, it's the metered water line. I first noticed the issue when I received our water bill this week and saw that it was double the normal amount, and the following morning saw standing water in the front yard under a tree. The first plumber I called was sort of fascinated by the extent of the root system ("I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen anything quite like this") - it's a very large tree for the small size of the yard. Whoever built the house wasn't thinking ahead, I guess, planting that thing directly over the path between the meter and the house.

Thanks for the answers - I might file a claim just to see what happens, but it sounds like I'll probably be eating this one.

The first plumber I called was sort of fascinated by the extent of the root system ("I've been doing this a long time and I've never seen anything quite like this")

Wow, that is really odd. Tree roots typically grow into and clog up big sewage lines, because small, otherwise inconsequential leaks in those lines dampen the surrounding soil, and nearby roots grow towards sources of moisture, right into the pipe. But small leaks in pressurized supply lines are not normal, and trees rarely bother them. If there's a silver lining to this, it's that your water bills have probably been high for a long time, because you've been watering the heck out of this tree long enough to foster the unusual root system; those bills may drop further than you expect after the repair.

posted by jon1270 at 9:38 AM on December 20, 2013

I would make the claim. We had a leak in an internal water line due simply to old age and it was covered.

posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on December 20, 2013

Hi! I have TOO MUCH experience with this.

No, your insurance will not cover the sewer pipe or the supply line, it's also not the city's issue. The pipes are all yours. The other fun part about this is that your entire yard will be dug up to reach the pipes safely. The plumber will typically replace the sewer pipe (about $7,000) and throw in the water supplyl line for a few hundred.

GET ESTIMATES! GET PERMITS! GET REFERRALS!

The first time we did this I didn't know we needed permits, and the guy did a gawdawful job and we had to have it re-done five years later.

Also, get a clean out by the water meter and one by the house, have it stick up decently high. Ours was buried somewhere out by the meter and. what a nightmare!

I'm sorry, I've been there and this is no freaking fun.

My parents just filed a massive plumbing claim with USAA. They did not cover any of the actual plumbing work, which took place under the foundation. USAA did cover what's called "access"-- access to the pipes under the foundation. That cost a couple of thousand dollars. USAA also paid for them to stay in a hotel while the work was being done.

posted by vincele at 2:24 PM on December 20, 2013

Oh and USAA gave them a list of reputable plumbers, which helped. The one they went with were more reasonably priced and had a good reputation. The plumber my parents had found was not so great, as USAA pointed out to them. Good luck.

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