Just the words “foundation repairs” are enough to give most homeowners a bad case of the heebie-jeebies.
It isn’t just because the foundation literally holds our houses up that makes damage such a real concern. It’s also because, unlike assessing roof damage, we can’t really see what’s going on down there.
And, believe me, there’s a lot going on. It’s wet underneath your house and teeming with creepy crawlies. Your foundation is also vulnerable to attack by a silent but deadly apex predator: your oak tree’s roots.
So it would be really nice if our home insurance covered our foundation. But does it? Broadly speaking, your HO-3 policy should cover your foundation for a number of accidents, depending, as always, on the scope of your homeowners coverage. But there are few gray areas too.
In this home insurance guide, we’re going to show you:
- When home insurance covers foundation repairs
- How to spot damage to your foundation
- How to protect yourself against structural damage
- What you should do if it’s time to file a claim for foundation repairs
Did You Know: Concrete slabs are the quickest and cheapest foundation to lay, which explains why slab foundations rose sharply in popularity over the past 20 years.1 However, with plumbing lines buried under concrete, repairs can be costlier and harder to diagnose.
When Does Home Insurance Cover Foundation Repairs?
A standard home insurance plan comes equipped with a fairly hefty list of built-in coverage for your foundation. Water damage from a malfunctioning water boiler? Check. A fire that destroys your basement or crawl space? Check? Wind and hail damage? Check. Falling trees? Check. Vandals? Check.
This list goes on, but those are the most common “covered perils” as far as foundation damage goes.
Discerning homeowners may have noticed a few things missing from that list, things like earthquake damage (a special shout-out to California homeowners here), sinkholes, flooding, pest infestations, and general wear and tear. In fact, I’d wager that these are the very first things that come to mind when the subject is “damage to my foundation that I want to be covered for.”
Unfortunately, you aren’t covered for most of those. Here’s why. Insurance companies divide the world of house damage into two main categories: bad stuff you can prevent (or at least mitigate) and bad stuff that’s totally beyond your control. All the examples above fall into the first category.
The good news is that you can insure your home against earthquakes, flooding, and sometimes even sinkholes. You’ll need to purchase additional insurance, however. For the rest, vigilance is key. More on that in just a second. For now, how about a recap?
|Your foundation Is covered||Your foundation isn’t covered|
|Fire and lightning||Damage from movement or settling|
|Wind and hail||Wear and tear|
|Accidental water damage||Earthquake (available separately)|
|Snow and ice damage||Flooding (available separately)|
|Explosions (volcanoes included)||Sinkholes (sometimes available)|
|Falling objects (aircraft included)||Pests, such as rodents and insects|
FYI: A sinkhole starts small when flowing water nibbles its way through underground rock, but it can grow into a gargantuan hundreds of acres wide and over 100 feet deep. A mega sinkhole, in other words, can swallow a home whole. For homeowners in Florida — where sinkholes are common events — State Farm policies offer special sinkhole insurance.
How to Spot Damage to Your Foundation
You might not be able to see foundation damage directly, but you can definitely pick out the telltale signs of brewing trouble. Here are the biggies. If you notice any of these getting worse over time, jumping on the horn with a foundation specialist might be a good idea.
- Your exterior masonry shows gaping, scissor-like cracks (don’t worry about hairline cracks). The same goes for protruding bricks that look like they’ve been squeezed out of place.
- Your interior sheetrock starts cracking floor to ceiling, and/or you notice wallpaper unpeeling from walls. (Nails popping from your drywall can also be a sign of foundation trouble.)
- Your outside walls look like they’re leaning away from the house. This could be a sign of an imminent collapse, so check that out ASAP.
- Your tiles are cracking en masse.
- Your doors don’t fall plumb, and there are cracks around your door frames.
- Your floors are noticeably uneven. Few houses are built completely flat, but if you notice an abnormal gradient you don’t remember seeing before, your foundation might be out of whack too.
- Your crawl space is filled with moisture and/or bugs.
Pro Tip: A crawl space foundation provides a cushion in between the ground and your home. A crawl space will save you money over an actual basement, and you’ll have warmer floors and access to your plumbing and wiring. Crawl spaces do tend to absorb moisture, however, which can lead to mold, and they won’t give you great protection from the elements.
How to Protect Yourself Against Foundation Damage
Soil is everything when it comes to the health of your foundation. Soil that’s too wet will lead to expansion, knocking your foundation out of position. Then again, dry soil can lead to shrinkage, which can have the same effect. Shrinkage is a problem for Texas homeowners in particular.
But what if you’re somewhere in the middle? You’re not living in drought conditions and rainfall is average. How do you maintain the necessary balance for your soil to keep your foundation in place? Here are a few precautions you can take.
Drain excess water from your yard.
Subsurface drains, a.k.a., French drains, go in channels under the topsoil and siphon excess water off your property so it doesn’t flow down toward your foundation. If your yard has a lousy grade — U.S. code recommends a six-inch decline for every 10 feet you move away from your house2 — drains could be a smart move.
Unclog your gutters.
Clogged water can be as bad for your foundation as it is for your roof. If there’s a lot of rainwater running off into your yard without a proper drainage system, puddles will form. Over time, the standing water will seep underground and undermine your foundation. Your homeowners policy covers you for plenty of instances of water damage, but bad drainage isn’t one of them.
Beware of trees.
We need more trees on the planet, but these innocent CO2 vacuums are a double-threat to a foundation under certain conditions. Roots have a one-track mind, where growth is king. (They don’t mind trampling a foundation if it’s in their way.) Plus, trees hog a lot of water, moistening surrounding soil. That one-two punch can put even the sturdiest concrete foundation on the ropes.
Sprinkle if necessary.
Too much water? Bad. Too little water? Also bad. To stop your soil from caving in on itself like a mouth without teeth, keep it hydrated when there’s no rain.
Bring in an expert.
I’d like to say you should have a foundation checkup every few years. But, in practice, I know few of us homeowners would actually manage this. So, instead, I’ll say this. If you notice any of the signs of foundation distress I mentioned a few paragraphs back, or you’re not sure how saturated your soil is, an inspection could save you money in the long run. Remember that wear-and-tear foundation repairs cost thousands of dollars and they’re not covered.
Did You Know: If you were wondering why HO-3 policies don’t cover floods, there’s one main reason: Insurance providers classify floods as “gradual” events, not sudden accidents. According to FEMA, a true “flood” must cover two or more acres of land and two or more properties.3
What Should You Do If It’s Time to File a Claim for Foundation Repairs?
You’ve weathered a major accident that you believe has compromised your foundation, and now it’s time to get your home’s backbone up to 100 percent again. Here’s what you should do:
Notify. The first thing you’re going to want to do is notify your insurer or your agent so that the accident is on record.
Document. The next step is to document the damage. Photos or videos work here. Whichever you use, be comprehensive. The clearer a picture you can give, the better your case.
File. The final step is to file your claim. Once this happens, an insurance adjuster may need to inspect your home, though these days video reviews are also an option (Liberty Mutual does it this way). Some insurers, like Lemonade, use artificial intelligence to speed up the claims process. Check out our Lemonade homeowners review for the nitty-gritty.
Don’t have a policy yet? These home insurance providers have user-friendly online quote generators that could streamline your hunt.
FYI: Basement foundations give you a lot more living space and a place to hide during a bad storm. The flipside is, basements are a lot more expensive to build, sometimes don’t get great light, and — you probably know this one — are prone to flooding.
In the best of all possible worlds, every contractor would grade a yard with the right slope and lay a solid foundation. In reality, that doesn’t always happen. To add insult to injury, your insurance policy, which protects you against so many accidents, won’t have your back here. Negligence (even your contractor’s) is on you.
So you need another plan to protect your foundation. Here’s what we recommend. Make sure your yard is draining properly, and watch out for early signs of trouble. Gaping cracks in the walls, badly aligned doors, and sinking floors are all indications of underlying foundation distress.
And, it goes without saying, if your foundation ever does suffer a bona fide accident, file a claim immediately, because, while you may be able to weather a week or two without a kitchen, no family can live safely in a house with a compromised foundation.
True or False: Your home insurance will protect you if a contractor mislays your foundation. That’s unfortunately false. If your foundation goes sideways, you’re going to be stuck with the bill.
Yes, it should, but only if the damage is from an accident or “covered peril” that your policy covers. (See above for a full list.)
No. Even the best home warranties don’t usually cover structural damage. But they do cover wear and tear for appliances and home systems.
Soil quality plays a huge role in your foundation’s health. Saturated soil expands, compressing foundations. Likewise, soil that’s too dry contracts. If there’s too much contraction, your foundation may start to shift.
Foundation repair can run anywhere from $2,000 to more than $8,000. Basements are especially costly to rebuild.
No. Standard HO-3 homeowners insurance policies never cover wear and tear or negligence.