When cracks start appearing in the walls, floors or ceilings of your home, or you suddenly have difficulty opening doors or windows, there’s trouble ahead. This could be a sign of foundation damage due to a number of causes.
Does homeowners insurance cover foundations? Generally, it does, just like other parts of the structure, such as the roof, windows, flooring, etc. But this can also depend on the particular circumstances, and especially whether there are certain perils at the root of the problem.
Homeowners policies cover some risks, but not others. The perils that usually are covered include sudden and unexpected disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, fire, wind, explosions, and vandalism.
To help you navigate the matter of foundation coverage, here are some things you need to know.
How Do Typical Homeowners Policies Address Home Foundations?
HomeInsurance.org answers this question with a simple explanation, stating that if a home’s foundation is damaged by a peril that is included in the home insurance policy, then the repairs for those damages will be covered.
However, there are often exceptions to this, as when foundation or slab damage is caused by the types of perils that are called out as specific exclusions in your policy.
For example, most policies exclude damage to the foundation as the result of settling, shrinking, cracking, bulging, or expansion of the foundation.
So foundation damages caused by earth movement (like earthquakes, landslides, mudslides, and sinkholes) are generally not included unless you’ve purchased additional coverage.
The earth regularly shifts, so soil is not always stable. Some geographical areas are more prone to this than others, such as neighborhoods built on or near foothills, volcanic soil, or other unique geological conditions.
And then there are the occasions when something as simple as overwatering the yard can result in oversaturating the soil – or when an especially severe weather season causes flooding or frozen ground, or sometimes the opposite of that, a serious drought.
Other factors excluded in policies include damages arising from lack of maintenance, like tree roots slowly and gradually becoming too large, eventually resulting in the drying out and settling of soil, as well as shifting or cracking of the foundation.
Sometimes this can happen with roots crossing over property lines from the neighbor’s yard. Most homeowners insurance companies won’t cover any damages that don’t arise suddenly or accidentally, or which happen in the ordinary wear-and-tear of everyday life.
While many of these situations have the potential to impact the foundation of your home, they’re unfortunately not always included in the types of perils home insurance policies insure against.
The best plan is to check with your insurance agent to see what your policy does cover.
What’s Ordinary And What’s Not
The main purpose of homeowners insurance is protection against the unforeseen and unexpected events that you don’t normally prepare for – the big accidents and disasters that could potentially lead to extreme financial hardship and suffering for you and your family.
More ordinary situations are not covered by traditional policies, because they’re considered outside of the scope of “sudden and accidental” hazards.
Here are a few examples of “ordinary” situations that could create foundation problems, but which are not covered under the provisions of typical homeowners insurance:
Would faulty workmanship by a builder, contributing to foundation damage, be covered? According to Insurance QnA, homeowners insurance will not pay if the house suffers from structural damage that is caused by an inferior builder.
Usually, the homeowners insurance policy specifically excludes damage due to faulty workmanship and construction. This kind of damage often happens as part of a gradual process.
When there is a mistake made in the construction or if the job was done haphazardly, the damage caused would not be considered “sudden and accidental.”
Likewise, structural foundation damage caused by changes in soil conditions, hydrostatic or lateral water pressure is neither sudden nor accidental.
As a result, it probably won’t be covered under your homeowner’s insurance. The conditions that contribute to structural foundation damage are considered to be preventable by keeping up with home maintenance.
On the other hand, the Insurance Information Institute advises that homeowners insurance does provide coverage for burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof. In other words, water that comes from the top down—such as rainfall and burst sprinklers—is covered by a standard homeowners policy.
But water that comes from the bottom up – like an overflowing river – while excluded from homeowners policies, can be covered by a separate flood insurance policy, which you can purchase from the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program, and some private insurers.
The Massachusetts homeowners policies, and in several other states, allow for add-on coverage available for sewer and drain backups that you can get from most insurers.
Overgrown tree roots
As mentioned earlier, tree roots are also considered an ordinary situation that can be solved with better attention to the maintenance of the landscaping on your property.
An article on home insurance on The Nest website says homeowners insurance generally doesn’t cover root problems. While tree roots usually aren’t strong enough to penetrate a house foundation, they can inflict indirect damage.
As the roots grow and expand, they not only displace soil, causing it to shift, they also dry out the soil, leading to the ground settling beneath the foundation. Since this happens over a long period of time, not suddenly or accidentally, it too is excluded from policies.
Earthquakes and sinkholes
According to the Insurance Information Institute, most homeowners policies exclude damages stemming from earthquakes and other movement of the earth.
It is possible to purchase separate coverage for earthquakes, and some states that require insurers to offer optional sinkhole coverage for an additional premium, either as an endorsement to a property insurance policy or as a stand-alone policy.
Florida also requires insurers to provide coverage for “catastrophic ground cover collapse” in standard homeowners policies, which would pay for damage severe enough to make a home uninhabitable.
What Can You Do?
There are numerous preventive measures you can take to head off serious structural damage to your foundation. A few of these include:
- Extend downspouts away from the house.
- Clean and maintain gutters to keep them flowing freely.
- Don’t plant trees and shrubs too close to the foundation.
- Don’t put mulch or soil or too close to the house, or create borders of planting beds that could act as dams storing up water near the foundation.
- Drain in the right direction – have your lawn graded so that water runs away from the house instead of back in toward the foundation. Sometimes, as the result of natural settling after many years, the soil accumulates in a way that rainwater is guided into the basement walls.
- Reseal your basement – If heavy rains cause water seepage downstairs, that means your once-waterproof cement floors and basement walls have deteriorated. Painting vulnerable areas with water sealant can prevent seepage.
- Address tree root problems by doing some digging, severing the roots, and installing a root barrier.
- Check sprinklers and irrigation systems to be sure they are not creating water damage to the walls and foundations of the house. Turn off and drain outside faucets to protect against frozen pipes.
- Install an emergency pressure release valve for your plumbing. This protects against the increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.
- Locate the main water shut-off valve for your home. A damaged hose or a burst pipe can send water racing into your home. Being able to find and shut off the water supply quickly will save time, money, and stress.
- Finally, consider hiring a certified contractor to check your foundation for any sign of cracks, leaks, seepage, settling or other problems. It may be an expense, but it would be a more economical ,alternative to paying exorbitant out-of-pocket costs for damages not covered by insurance.