August in Wisconsin was wet. Severe storms with flash flooding, strong winds, and multiple tornadoes battered the state in the waning days of the month. The southwest, south central, and eastern areas of the state were especially hard hit—receiving between 10 and 15 inches of rain over a two-week period. Property damage exceeded $250 million. Bridges and roads washed out and thousands of Wisconsinites had property damage to homes and businesses from flooding.
It’s a common misunderstanding that standard home insurance policies will cover the damage from flooding, but in fact it never does. Flood coverage can only be purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP—but the policy must be in place for 30 days before coverage begins.
However, water damage due to drain and sewer backup or sump pump overflow may be covered if you’ve added an endorsement to your home policy.
Members Amy and Eric Brehm live in Endeavor just 10 miles north of Portage in the heart of the affected area. They were among the roles of homeowners who had property loss due to water damage and flooding.
The Brehms were more fortunate than most. The seven inches of water in their basement was due to a failed sump pump for which they had coverage on their home insurance policy with Member Benefits.
“When there is as much precipitation as we had during the last two weeks of August, the ground becomes saturated and the water table rises. Water comes up through the floor drains. Our sump pump had been taking care of it,” Amy says. But on August 28 a large storm system passed through, producing high winds, tornadoes, and more rain. It also knocked out the power.
“The power outage caused our back up system to fail,” she explains. “If the power hadn’t gone out, we would’ve been fine. Once the power came back on and the sump pump started, it took care of all the water. But the damage had already been done.”
The ten-year flood?
This is the second time in ten years the Brehm’s basement flooded. “So much for the 100-year flood,” Amy says.
The first time they had a flood issue was in 2008, just after the Brehms moved into their current home. Heavy and extended rains, similar to what we experienced in August, caused their basement drain to backup. “At the time, we only carried $1,500 worth of coverage for drain and sewer backup—not nearly enough to cover the damages. Thankfully, I guess, the county was declared a federal disaster area and we applied for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and received some help.”
The Brehms spent the summer of 2008 dealing with the clean up and took steps to prevent future problems, like putting in drain tile, a sump pit, and a sump pump system with back up generators.
“We never thought it would happen again, but as an added precaution we decided to max out the coverage for water backup ($20,000),” explains Amy. “Boy, are we glad we did, because despite all that we had done to safeguard against future flooding, we got hit again this year. And it was worse this time.”
Not their first rodeo
Because of their previous experience, Eric and Amy knew what to do. They immediately started moving things out of the basement. “This wasn’t our first rodeo,” she says.
Then at 8:00 a.m. sharp the next morning, with policy in hand, Amy called Member Benefits and talked to Beth Gold, Claims Representative. “Everything was put into motion. Beth gave us the green light to do what we needed to do and told us to document everything. We called the remediation company right away to put in dehumidifiers and fans to dry it out. The adjustor, John, arrived at the house by 1:00 p.m. It went great from start to finish. John became our day-to-day contact and we didn’t need to talk with Beth for another week.”
The cost was just shy of $18,000, so Amy and Eric were happy they had decided on $20,000 worth of coverage.
Repair costs included flooring, paneling, and wallboard, and they hired a mitigation company to remove the sub-floor, carpeting, and wall trim, as well as dry out the basement with fans and dehumidifiers. They also lost personal property including a treadmill, furniture, a refrigerator and its contents, several collectible typewriters, and lots of small items.
“It took about five weeks to get everything resolved. That was fast but we were highly motivated, and having the coverage allowed us to push through. Without the sump pump backup insurance coverage, I would’ve been dealing with FEMA like many of my neighbors had to do,” Amy acknowledges.
Don’t bet on FEMA
In October, FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance would be made available to Wisconsin. It was welcome news for many.
But FEMA isn’t a sure thing, Amy adds. She knows from her previous experience and discussions with neighbors that the amounts distributed vary greatly and often depend on who comes in to inspect. “What you get isn’t commensurate with the cost of damage,” she says.
Amy and Eric feel empathy for neighbors, especially their elderly neighbors, who haven’t had to deal with this kind of damage before and the difficulty of navigating FEMA processes. “We’ve tried to help them as much as we can since we’ve been through it. Eric and I have both said many times how blessed we were and how good we had it compared to others. The amount we paid for the water backup coverage over ten years is a drop in the bucket compared to what we received in benefits.”
The Brehms are keeping the coverage but hope it won’t be needed again. “We have a new generator and a new battery back up system, so it should work even if the power goes out,” she says hopefully.
“We can’t recommend it enough. Whenever you call, there is someone available. And you work with local people. You feel a connection.”
Affordable peace of mind
Industrywide, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover damage due to flooding. However, water damage due to drain and sewer backup or sump pump overflow may be covered if you’ve added an endorsement to your policy. This coverage is economical.
But timing can be everything. If the coverage is included at the inception date of the policy, the coverage begins on that date. However, if it’s added to or increased on an existing policy, there is generally a 30-day waiting period.
So if you are considering adding this coverage, give us a call at 1-800-279-4030 before the snow starts to melt and spring rains begin.
Amy was an art teacher for many years but currently serves as a K–12 Instruction Coach in the Montello School District. As such, she partners with teachers to identify student learning targets and plan curriculum to meet their needs in the classroom.
This is her 19th year in education.
Eric teaches high school social studies in Wisconsin Dells. He is a fiction writer and typewriter collector. “Together we enjoy finding antiques and collectibles and selling them on eBay (think American Pickers), walking our dog, and being outdoors (in the summer!). We are both avid readers, and I’m very active in my local book club,” adds Amy.