Torontonians will never forget the winter of 2013/2014. An ice storm, an extended power outage, walls of snow and slush, three polar vortexes and more than 30 extreme cold alerts made it one of the coldest winters on record. Residential plumbing companies across the GTA had their hands full with frozen pipes and flooded homes, and drain repair work had to be postponed in many cases because it was too cold to work outdoors. Many homeowners found to their dismay that their insurance didn’t cover them fully for the damages they sustained during the deep freeze.

Here’s what your homeowners’ insurance usually covers:

Structural Damage

The main purpose of this type of insurance is to cover the cost of structural damage to your home and outbuildings such as your garage, garden/tool sheds, and cottages on the premises from approved causes. This typically includes problems caused by electrical wiring, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning and needs to carry a high enough value to cover the cost of replacement if necessary. It’s important to note, however, that you can only be certain of your claim being paid out if the reason for the damage is covered.

Personal Property

If items inside your home are damaged, your homeowners’ insurance will cover those, but also only if the reason for the damage is approved. Personal effects are usually items such as:

  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Computers and electronic equipment
  • Sports equipment

Policies don’t automatically include items over a certain value, such as jewelry, cash and artworks damaged in basement flooding events, unless you have listed the items separately.

Loss of Use

This is a secondary coverage item that applies if you have to move out of the home while it is being repaired. The policy then covers the cost of accommodation for you and your family. For example, if your water pipes froze and cracked during the power outage and then your home flooded when the power came back on, you may not be able to live there until it has been repaired. Given than plumbing companies had so many of these cases recently, you could require accommodation for a few weeks or more. If you have to pay for this yourself it can become quite expensive.

What’s NOT Covered

The worrying aspects of homeowners’ insurance are the items that aren’t covered under a standard policy. Damages caused by rivers rising or earthquakes aren’t always covered, for example, whereas flooding caused by a burst pipe would be. If your hot water heater is new and it bursts, the flood damage is likely to be covered. If it is old and rusted, however, basement flooding caused by leaks may not be unless you have special coverage for that.

If you’re unsure about whether any aspects of water damage are covered by your policy, consulting with a qualified plumber in Toronto can help put your mind at rest about the issue.