Water Damage Statistics

Our research team’s firsthand experience and further investigation on water damage insurance claims shows that claims can be very costly. Last updated March 2020.

Annual cost of water damage and removal in the U.S.
Daily number of Americans that face a water damage emergency.
Average home insurance claim for water damage.
Ratio of basements that will experience water damage in their lifetime.

Water Damage Statistics

It’s everybody’s worst nightmare: waking up to hear water dripping (or rushing) out of somewhere it shouldn’t be. And a lot of it going somewhere you don’t want to go. The average home insurance claim costs around $10,000 and the insurance payout number for water damage in 2017 in the US was $13 billion.

That’s one in fifty homeowners and marks a significant increase in claims since 2005. Water damage claims costing over $500,000 have doubled since 2015. Non-weather water damage claims are the second most common type of homeowner insurance claim.

Water or flood damage can affect any property, regardless of age.  Newer homes are just as likely to experience a water damage issue as older. Newer homes are built with lower quality materials, and tract homes often experience issues with shoddy workmanship, particularly in the plumbing. Older homes may cost less to repair, with homeowners reporting they spend less on emergency projects for older homes, to the tune of $3.70 less in spending for each year since the house was built.

Understanding Water Damage: Contamination

There are two main categories of water damage. The most common water damage issues are caused by plumbing and appliance issues, and less common are weather-related events such as rain, snow, or pipes burst due to freezing temperatures. The kind of water that’s leaked into your home is even more critical to understand when assessing water damage and the expense. Most water is categorized into three types:

  • Category 1, known as white water: originates from a hygienic source such as a water supply line, rainwater or melted snow.
  • Category 2, known as grey water: has been exposed to contaminants, such as bath or shower water, discharge from a washing machine or dishwasher, aquariums, etc.
  • Category 3, known as black water: dangerous and may contain pathogenic or toxigenic contaminants from sources like sewage, toilet backflows, seawater, river or lake water, and water containing toxic substances.

In 48 hours or less, clean or grey water can deteriorate to black water, and areas that experience water intrusion clean water can rapidly become toxic. Black water and the materials contaminated by it must be removed, or it can result in airborne contamination even after it’s dried. Most porous and absorbent items contaminated by black water are unsalvageable. Additionally, if black water is involved in a flooding event in the home, it may be much more challenging to dry out the house due to the safety considerations. A certified professional company should always be used to handle black water damage issues.

Understanding Water Damage: Intrusion

The level of water intrusion in a water damage event is measured by the amount of water, the materials affected, and level of absorption, with Class 1 of water intrusion being the least dangerous and Class 4 the worst.

Water Intrusion by Class: Water Left in Material After Extraction

Standards by the IICRC (Institute of International Cleaning and Restoration Certification

  • Class 1: Minimal amount of water flow to the area and materials are mainly low porosity, such as a tile floor. Little moisture remains after bulk water was removed and minimal amount of evaporation needed for drying to complete. Can deteriorate to Class 2 or 3.
  • Class 2: Significant amount of water flow into the area. Materials that got wet are medium to high porosity (carpet, gypsum wall board). Scope of what got wet is confined to what flowed across a floor with adsorption into other materials. Can deteriorate to Class 3.
  • Class 3: Greatest amount of absorption into materials, with highest potential rate of evaporation needed after bulk water is removed. Includes major part of structural surfaces within the wet area, such as carpet, particleboard, wall and ceiling boards.
  • Class 4: The majority of moisture is trapped or bound within the building materials with a very low potential rate of evaporation after bulk water removal. Materials are typically low in porosity, may require special methods, longer drying times, or structure disassembly.

Causes of Water Damage

Hidden water leaks can be a nightmare to diagnose and find, and time is of the essence. The signs may not be apparent right away. It’s critical to track down the leak as soon as water leakage is suspected, and the property owner or manager will likely need to hire a plumber to find and diagnose the problem. Common causes of water damage include:

  • Malfunctioning plumbing fixtures such as toilet
  • Malfunctioning appliances such as water heater blowing up
  • Mold or mildew in a bathroom or kitchen that returns even after being cleaned
  • Stained ceilings may indicate water in floors or walls
  • Blistering paint and cracking walls
  • Water pooling on floor, buckling or cupped wood floors (especially in a slab-foundation home)
  • Old supply hoses on your washing machine- these fail between 8-9 years and will allow water to pour into your home
  • Dry rot in wooden components of structure
  • Water build-up
  • Sudden increase in water bill
  • Clogged gutters
  • Leaking, blocked, or burst pipes
      • Freezing
      • Corrosion
      • Tree roots
      • Pressure due to blocked garbage disposal or other appliance
  • New homes with PEX & CPVC can still be vulnerable:
      • Improper pipe insulation, potable water, harsh chemicals 
      • Damage due to exceeding allowable bend radius during installation
      • Rodents may chew through PEX for water
  • Sewage backups

Tick-Tock: Time Means Damage

Once a water-related emergency occurs, it’s critical to act quickly. Water damage can ruin a home quickly if steps are not taken immediately to contain it. Even after the initial damage of soaked drywall or a ceiling bursting open from water pooling above it, the secondary damage that comes from water intrusion will ensure that the repair bill is going to go up every hour that you wait to take action. As soon as possible:

  • Turn off the water main to the home
  • Remove any valuable items from the property that might absorb mold or water.
  • If there are water-logged photographs or heirlooms, quickly get them to a specialist to preserve them. Your insurance company may pay for your items to go to a restorations company or specialist.
  • Rugs, draperies, furnishings should all be removed from the affected area. Throw rugs you don’t mind sacrificing or towels can be used in a moderate water spill to try and soak up water as quickly as possible.
  • Open cabinets, doors, and if it’s warm outside, exterior doors and windows.

Water moves fast and does incredible damage. Whether it was a burst pipe that flowed all night can release a horrifying amount of water into the home,  or a dishwasher that blew up and released a few gallons onto the kitchen floor, remember that water will flow until something stops it. Once it hits a surface like a wall, molding, or the foundation, it starts to fill up. It may have taken millions of years for water to wear away and erode the Grand Canyon, but it can wick up into the drywall, wood, and plaster in a matter of hours. If water gets into confined areas that are difficult to extract water from, entire portions of the home may have to be dismantled.

The more time water sits after a flood or water damage, the more likely it is that it will become contaminated. Even clean, Category 1 water will become dirty, Category 3 water. Here is a timeline for how water begins to affect a home over time:

Within Minutes:

  • Water spreads quickly, following the path of least resistance
  • Carpets, padding beneath flooring, subflooring can become saturated quickly
  • Furniture on wet carpets will begin to leach and stain

Within Hours:

  • Furniture in contact with water will delaminate and swell
  • Particleboard cabinetry and furniture will distort and weaken, crumbling over time
  • Dyes from non-colorfast fabrics will bleed- clothing stored together, upholstery, etc.

Within 24 Hours:

  • Furniture in contact with water will delaminate and swell
  • Particleboard cabinetry and furniture will distort and weaken, crumbling over time
  • Humidity will begin to make the house stink
  • Dyes from non-colorfast fabrics will bleed- clothing stored together, upholstery, etc. will damage whatever is next to it

Within Days:

  • Fungi and mold becomes visible, musty odors present
  • Wood may severely warp and cup, making most wooden floors unsalvageable
  • Painted walls will blister, wallpaper will begin to peel away
  • Structural wood within home, such as framing, may begin to swell and split

Within Weeks:

  • Mold infests organic materials, most will become unsalvageable
  • Home becomes hazardous and must be evacuated
  • Allergen sensitivities can be caused by microbial organisms
  • Home may have to be gutted down to the studs

Within Months:

  • The cost of repairs may be more than what the insurance company values the home for resulting in a total loss
  • Damage that could have been prevented over time by neglect may disqualify the owner from an insurance claim
  • Insurance company may drop the homeowner completely from their policy


The Cost of Water Damage: How Bad Can It Get?

The main factor that will determine how much it will cost to mitigate and repair water damage is the type of water that was released into the property. After that, insurance companies will begin to look at how much damage was done, and to what. Here are some sample scenarios:

Siding & Windows

Storm damage to clogged gutters, with water build-up that flowed over side of home. Builder shortcuts with the window flashing around a sliding door and incorrect angling of window fascia allowed water to leaking over the top of the door, and underneath it, rotting the wood below it. First indication was black mold and spongy hardwood flooring.  Damage:

  • Subfloor began to rot, then floor joists
  • Rim joist under sliding door damaged, needed repair
  • Sliding door and adjacent windows had to be replaced
  • Rotted siding around window and door had to be replaced
  • Entire interior hardwood flooring ruined
  • Total cost: $38,000

Flooded Basement:

An unfinished basement flooded due to a water heater blowing up and the water standing in the furnace room for 24 hours before it was noticed.  Damage:

  • Water extraction
  • Replacement of damaged items
  • Carpet on stairs
  • New sump pump
  • Mold mitigation on concrete walls and framing
  • Total cost: $6,0000

Malfunctioning Appliance:

A dishwasher backed up and flooded into a kitchen. The homeowner worked fast to mop up the water, but it got under the laminate floor in the kitchen. Damage:

  • Water extraction
  • Kitchen flooring replaced
  • Kitchen cabinet kickboards replaced
  • Carpet in adjacent room that was damaged
  • Total cost: $1,600.00

Faulty Toilet Flooding:

A toilet in a second-floor bathroom flooded black water down through the kitchen on the main floor, across multiple rooms until it found a floor joint that allowed it to flow down into a finished basement, where it pooled as deep as a few inches in some spots.

  • Drywall, doors, carpet replaced throughout all 3 floors of home
  • Ceiling underneath bathroom and 20 feet each way replaced
  • Kitchen window beneath bathroom replaced
  • Kitchen cabinets, countertop, molding, crown molding and some appliances replaced
  • Drywall 4 foot up to above floor on main floor of home replaced and retextured
  • Bathroom tile and subfloor replaced in affected bathroom
  • Affected furniture replaced
  • Total cost: $108,000

Water Damage and Insurance Companies

It can take up to 18-24 months for the entire water damage claim process- insurance claim and repairs to be completed. A large loss insurance claim can be frustrating and take up a lot of time. Preparing in advance of a water damage claim can help your bottom line and restore the home to the same condition before the damage.

  • Become familiarized with home insurance or renter’s policy
  • Retain offsite documention of property to include building plans, room sizes, finishes, types of windows, flooring, etc. 
  • Retain receipts/quotes/invoices for any repairs, upgrades and other modifications made to property
  • Room-by-room inventory of furnishings and possessions

For example, an insurance adjuster calculates out the cost of replacing builder grade kitchen cabinets in a home. Since purchasing the house, the homeowner has since swapped them for LEICHT cabinets and Jenn-Air appliances. Having documentation of these upgrades will help your insurance company offer you the appropriate scope of loss figures the first time round.

It is also essential to understand that insurers may only pay for an item or even the materials your home is built from in a water damage claim based on its actual cash value, minus depreciation. Unless you go out and replace them, buying out of pocket, and can present the company with receipts, they will likely only reimburse you for the items minus depreciation. It is crucial to get a copy of the depreciation schedule an insurance company uses and speak up if you think your items are being unfairly depreciated.

The damage to the home and insurance deductibles is not the only expense a property owner may face as a result of water damage. During repairs, there may be other incidental and unexpected costs.  Preparation for a disaster can make the process easier and give you plenty of documentation to ensure that the money being paid out for the home to be repaired isn’t coming out of your wallet.


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