Flooded kitchen inside a home.

The Difference Between Water vs. Flood Damage

Laura Olson
Jan 12, 2024

Imagine a broken pipe causes water to seep into your rental property or a nearby river overflows and floods the area. Both scenarios can lead to significant damage and repair costs. But what are the critical differences between water and flood damage in terms of insurance coverage? 

Understanding these nuances is vital in selecting the appropriate insurance policy, implementing preventive measures, and effectively dealing with claims. 

In this article, we’ll explore the important distinctions between the two perils, examine how they affect insurance policies, and guide you in assessing your property’s risks. With the right information and tools, you can make a more informed decision on both insurance coverage and risk management strategies. 

What Is Water Damage?

Water damage is defined as the destruction or deterioration of property from water intrusions not caused by acute natural disasters like hurricanes or hailstorms. Common causes of water damage in rental properties include:

  • Leaking pipes or plumbing fixtures
  • Accidental overflow from toilets or unattended bathtubs and sinks
  • Malfunctioning appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers, or refrigerators
  • HVAC system issues, like condensation buildup or leaking ducts
  • Seepage through foundations or walls due to poor drainage
  • Burst pipes due to freezing temperatures
  • Ice dams in colder climates

What Is Flood Damage?

Flood damage results from an overflow of water from natural sources, such as rivers, lakes, or coastal waters, which may be caused by storms or municipal engineering failures. Common causes of flooding include:

  • Heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt that raises water levels
  • Mudflows created by heavy rains or melting snow
  • Dam or levee failures
  • Storm surges along coastlines
  • Flash floods as a result of erosion, blocked municipal storm drainage, increased construction, or poor land development
Exterior of suburban home during a flood

Key Differences Between Water and Flood Damage

The most important distinction between water and flood damage is the origin of the water. Generally, water damage results from issues on the property itself, like appliance or pipe disrepair. In contrast, flood damage comes from outside the property, be it from municipal drainage issues, storm-caused flash floods, or overflow from natural bodies of water.

The distinctions between water and flood damage directly impact insurance coverage, repair, and restoration processes. 

Repair and Restoration Processes

While water and flood damage both require prompt attention and remediation, the repair and restoration processes differ due to the nature of the damage and potential contaminants.

Water damage often involves the following types of repairs:

  • Drying and dehumidifying affected areas
  • Repairing or replacing damaged pipes and appliances
  • Mold and mildew remediation

Flood damage restoration may require more extensive repair, such as:

  • Heavy-duty cleaning and disinfection due to potential contaminants from natural sources
  • Additional structural assessments and repairs
  • Compliance with local floodplain management regulations during reconstruction

Other Important Differences

  • Degree of damage: Flood damage generally affects a larger area and multiple properties. Water damage is often limited to a specific section of a single property.
  • Cost implications: The cost of repairing flood damage can be significantly higher due to the scale of destruction and potential contamination.
  • Prevention and mitigation: Preventive measures for water damage may include regular property maintenance and inspections. Flood damage prevention is more difficult, and involves assessing flood risk and implementing targeted mitigation strategies.

Assessing Your Property’s Risks for Flood and Water Damage

When it comes to understanding water damage risks, there are a few property features to watch out for. Exterior drains that are too close to the property wall and negative grades can allow water to pool and cause damage over time. Similarly, poor ventilation or sealing issues in the roof can result in damaging ice dams in cooler months. Meanwhile, cracked, corroded, or poorly constructed piping is more likely to burst from freezing temperatures or increased water pressure. 

Flood damage risks require a wider understanding of your property’s location. Factors like elevation and distance from natural water sources can significantly change the likelihood of floods damaging your property. Regional considerations such as common weather types and storm frequencies raise the impact potential for flood damage. You may also want to think about how municipal investments in the property’s community impact risk; actions like repairing or reinforcing levees, maintaining storm drains, and even performing roadway upkeep can all reduce flood risk levels.

To assess water damage risks, you can have a certified property inspector come out and create a detailed report on your property’s risk factors. To understand flood damage risks, you can enter your property’s address into our interactive risk map.

Insurance Coverage for Water Damage

Did you know that just one inch of water could cause $25,000 worth of damage to your property?

Standard property insurance policies usually cover water damage, provided it’s sudden and accidental. However, coverage can be affected by factors such as the cause, the extent of the destruction, and your property’s maintenance history.

Insurance providers expect you to be responsible for regular property upkeep and timely repairs to prevent avoidable damages. If they determine the water damage occurred due to inadequate maintenance on your part, they may consider these damages preventable and deny your claim.

That's why reviewing your policy's specifics and discussing any concerns with your insurance agent is essential. You need to ensure you have adequate coverage for water damage.

By examining your policy, you can identify the types of water damage events covered, any exclusions, and your coverage limits. This way, you know how much protection your property has and whether you need additional coverage or endorsements to fill in the gaps.

Insurance Coverage for Flood Damage

Standard property insurance policies typically exclude flood damage coverage because floods are considered a separate and distinct risk from other perils. Floods often result in widespread, catastrophic damage. Covering such events under standard policies would significantly increase the premiums for all policyholders.

By offering flood insurance as a separate policy, insurance providers can more accurately assess the specific flood risk associated with each property and charge appropriate premiums based on that risk. This approach keeps insurance affordable for those who don’t require flood coverage while ensuring adequate protection for those at higher risk.

Take the Next Step: Protect Your Rental Property with the Right Coverage

Knowing the difference between water and flood damage can help you choose insurance policies that provide comprehensive coverage against unforeseen damages. You can also identify potential issues within your property and adopt tailored preventive measures to minimize the risk of damage.

Don't leave your investment vulnerable to the unexpected. Explore the Obie Risk Map to assess natural risks in your area and ensure you have the most suitable coverage, regardless of the size of your property portfolio.