Sewer Backup Damage: Filing Sewage Backup Insurance Claims

Storm water enters the municipal sewage system threatening sewage backup damage

Sewage backup insurance claims are one of the most common claims made in Canada. They are often caused by heavy rainfall or snowmelt overwhelming sewer systems that are aging or unable to keep up with the demands of a changing climate. They can also be caused by blockages in the municipal sewer system or a problem with the plumbing inside the building, such as a buildup of grease, cooking oils, and products that should not be flushed.

Sewer backups can cause extensive damage to your basement, bathroom, kitchen, or other rooms where there’s the potential for sewage to come up through your drains. Cleaning up can be an expensive process, and if it has happened in your home prior , there is a fair chance it will  happen again unless you take steps to prevent them.

This guide is designed to teach you how to handle sewer backup damage and the process of filing a claim with your insurance company.

Do You Have Sewer Backup Insurance Coverage?

Although backups are a problem across Canada, sewer backup insurance coverage is not always standard in homeowners insurance policies. A sewer backup is not the same as basic water damage. Water damage usually refers to damage  from a leaky or burst pipe or from a leak in the roof. If the water comes into your home from above, it is probably water damage. If it comes up through the drains, it is a sewer backup and a very different issue in terms of your insurance.

If you are concerned about the possibility of a sewer backup in your home, review your home insurance policy to see if you are covered if a loss occurs.

Contact your insurer about adding an endorsement if you do not have coverage already, especially if you live in an area that is prone to backups. These tend to be neighbourhoods with older sewer infrastructure and higher flood risks. If your property has a history of sewer backups, it makes sense to both install a backwater valve and sump pump as well as obtain the appropriate coverage. Preventative measures like a sump pump can help reduce the extra premiums you have to pay.

Cleaning Up After a Sewage Backup

Raw sewage is a serious health hazard and cleaning it up on your own poses a number of hazards. Even when you go to inspect the damage, it is recommended that you wear protective gear, including rubber boots, gloves, and a mask that will filter out toxic gases.

Cleaning up after a sewer backup should usually be done by professionals, as there is an extensive process ahead of you. First, the water will have to be removed. It is possible that it can be pumped out, but thicker sewage may have to be removed by other means.

Next, everything will have to be washed and disinfected. Materials like drywall and carpet will likely have to be removed entirely, as the contamination and water damage is probably irreparable. The same goes for any upholstered furniture, clothes, and belongings made from porous materials. Attempts to salvage belongings that have absorbed the water can prove to be expensive and could drain your insurance coverage if the attempt is unsuccessful.

Finally, professionals will typically use dehumidifiers and fans to dry out the last of the moisture. This must be done within 24-48 hours of a sewage backup, or less else it can lead to mold growth.

Heavy rain falls on a grate on the street

Filing Sewage Backup Insurance Claims

If your insurance policy does cover sewage backup damage, you want to make sure your insurer covers as much of the damage as possible.

Depending on the extent of the damage, looking into insurance law firms that can help you with your claim may be worthwhile. An insurance lawyer provides assistance in a number of ways.

First, they can help you understand your insurance policy and what you should be able to expect out of your coverage.

They will also assist with the paperwork you need to file and keep you on top of deadlines. If you are having communication issues with the adjuster or the insurance company, an insurance lawyer can apply the necessary pressure to get the claim moving in the right direction.

When you receive an offer from the insurance company, a low and possibly undervalued number can be very stressful to see. An insurance lawyer can help you with your flood insurance claim calculation, including consulting with a builder or engineer for a third-party estimate on the extent of the damage to compare against the one provided by the Insurer.

Can You File a Third-Party Liability Claim Against the City?

Sewage backup damage is often the result of aging municipal infrastructure. That means municipalities may be open to third-party liability claims against them to cover the damage. However, successfully making a claim usually requires that you prove that the damage was, in fact, caused by the city’s negligence, which can be a difficult hurdle to clear. Homeowners are often better off filing home insurance claims with their insurer and leaving it to the company to recoup any funds from the City.

Common Questions About Sewer Backup Insurance

Do I Need Sewage Backup Insurance?

Heavy rainfall events are often the culprit for sewer backup damage, especially in cities and towns with sewage infrastructure that also collects storm waters. Major storms resulting in sewer backups are one of the most common risks faced by homeowners in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton that can result in tens of thousands of dollars in damage and lost property. Sewer backup insurance in Ontario is increasingly important now more than ever before.

What Does Sewer Backup Insurance Cover?

Sewer backup insurance should cover the cost of cleaning up the sewage, repairing structural elements (such as flooring and drywall), and the restoration of contents or their replacement if they cannot be salvaged or restored.

How Much Sewer Backup Insurance Should I Have?

Even if you have sewer backup insurance, many homeowners do not have enough. The cost of a sewer backup can vary widely based on:

  • The height of the water. Costs rise dramatically if the water is high enough to affect electrical outlets and ruin furniture, not to mention the amount of drywall that has to be cut out and replaced.
  • The type of sewage that floods your home. Clearer, thinner sewage can be pumped out, whereas a thicker sludge will be more costly and more time-consuming to remove.
  • Whether or not your basement is finished. A finished basement will also be much more costly in terms of damage to flooring, drywall, trim, and furniture.

The average cost of recovering after a sewage backup is $30,000. If your coverage limit is too low, you may end up paying out-of-pocket for a significant amount.

Sewer backup insurance can save you a significant sum of money if you suffer from a loss. Review your policy to make sure you have coverage if you are concerned about the potential for a sewer backup.