By Sally Praskey
Special to

Many of us dream of an oceanside or lakeside retreat. After all, what could be more relaxing than watching the sun set over the rippling waves? But when water finds its way into your house - no matter where you live - it's a different story.

Say you wake up one morning to find your basement swimming in water. Well, that's bad enough, but it gets worse - the damage may not be covered.

It all depends on what caused the flooding. Let's go through a few scenarios to see what causes of damage would and wouldn't be covered under your homeowners package policy.

Maybe covered, maybe not

  • A water pipe freezes and bursts while you are away on a two-week vacation. Since the damage occurred while your house was unoccupied for more than four consecutive days, it would be covered ONLY IF you had arranged for someone to check your house daily to ensure that heat was maintained, or if you had shut off the water before you left. If, on the other hand, the damage occurred while you were living in the house, it would be covered.

  • If the water in your basement came up through the main drain, then you're covered - as long as you have Sewer backup coverage on your policy. Many homeowners policies provide this option, although you may have to request it, and there may be a dollar limit on such coverage, especially in flood-prone areas.

  • If the water damage occurred as a result of a river overflowing, you'd be up a creek without the proverbial paddle, insurance-wise. A peril (cause of loss) like flood cannot be insured against, because, the thinking goes, if you live in an area that can be flooded, sooner or later, it will be. Insurance is intended to protect against the financial consequences of unpredictable events, not those that are inevitable.

  • Perhaps you left your basement window open during a rainstorm. If so, that damage wouldn't be covered, because it could have been avoided had you been more careful. If, on the other hand, a windstorm broke your basement window and the water came through that opening, the damage would be covered, because windstorm is a covered peril.

  • If the water seeped in through a crack in your foundation, or as a result of blocked drains from falling leaves, it wouldn't be covered, because this kind of problem is caused by a lack of maintenance, and is therefore preventable. The same goes for a leaky roof.

  • If your washing machine suddenly overflowed, or you inadvertently left the bathtub running while you ran to answer the phone, that damage would be covered, because it is considered "sudden and accidental."
These are just a few examples. Obviously, water damage is a very complicated issue, so don't just go with the flow. Find out from your insurance representative what is - and isn't - covered on your policy, and how to stay out of hot water - or any water, for that matter!

Sally Praskey is the editor of Insurance Canada,, an insurance-related Web site for consumers and professionals, and co-author of The Insurance Book: what Canadians really need to know before buying insurance.

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