You may hardly ever see your water heater, but you’ll definitely feel it if it ever stops working. Boiling-hot water, ice-cold water, rusty water. These all could be signs your $3,000 boiler is on its last legs. Is it time to file a claim?

Usually not. Covering appliance wear and tear is usually a job for a home warranty. There are a few situations, however, when your insurance provider may foot the bill for your water heater. Let’s take a look at those, along with a few other top reader concerns about water heater coverage.

  • Does my home insurance cover water heater repairs or replacement?
  • Is my water heater covered if it springs a leak?
  • How will I know if my water heater isn’t working properly?
  • What can I expect my insurer to cover if my water heater is damaged or destroyed?

Tank or Tankless: The type of tank your water heater is sporting can make a big difference to its longevity. For example, tank water heaters (hot water all the time) typically last about eight to 15 years, while tankless water heaters (hot water on demand) can have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years with the right maintenance.

Does My Home Insurance Cover Water Heater Repairs or Replacement?

To an insurance adjuster, home damage is divided pretty neatly in two. You’ve got sudden accidents — fires, storms, and earthquakes are the usual suspects — on one side. Standard HO-3 coverage usually protects you against those.

On the other side, you’ve got a host of unrelated issues that may result in damage to your home and its appliances. Insurers typically don’t cover the second variety, whether it’s a question of repairs or replacement. That’s how it works for water heaters too. Here’s what I mean.

Covered Not Covered
Your heater is destroyed in a fire You don’t maintain your water heater
Your heater is destroyed in a storm Your water heater is very old
Your heater is damaged by vandals Your heater is defective
Your heater is damaged in a flood* Your heater wasn’t installed properly
Your heater is destroyed in an earthquake You have a general plumbing problem

*Flood insurance is always a separate policy. For more on flood coverage, check out our homeowners guide to water damage.

FYI: Rusty water could indicate more than just a water boiler past its prime. You could have a serious plumbing problem growing inside your walls. For a deep dive into plumbing from a homeowner’s perspective, check out our homeowners guide to plumbing coverage.

Understanding Water Heater Coverage

The fact that your home insurance premium doesn’t protect your water heater against the very things you may need it for — breakdowns, bad installations, plumbing issues — can be frustrating. What are the chances you’re going to lose your water heater to a house fire anyway?

Well, fires do happen. In 2021 alone, there were 60,000 wildfires in the U.S., and California policyholders weren’t the only homeowners who suffered.1 According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, fires ate up 25 percent of all homeowner claims filed in 2019, the last year on record.2 At the end of the day, this is precisely what you need your policy for, and it should cover you there.

For everything else, regular maintenance and responsible use can go a long way to extending the life of your water boiler. If you want to be extra safe, consider a home warranty. Warranties protect against the kind of wear and tear your insurance policy doesn’t cover.

Did You Know: A home warranty covers wear and tear, but it doesn’t protect against mechanical failure. That’s what equipment breakdown coverage (EBC) does. Many top home insurance providers offer some form of EBC.

Is My Water Heater Covered If It Springs a Leak?

If your boiler springs a leak, your insurer isn’t going to pay you to fix it. (It’s an accident, yes, but not a covered accident.) There is a useful loophole in most home insurance policies, however, that you may be able to turn to your benefit.

Say your water heater leaks onto your basement floor, causing water damage. You can’t ask for money to repair your heater (that’s on you), but you may have a case for floor or wall repairs.

This general idea applies to most scenarios in which you’re wondering whether you’re. Uncovered accident: never covered. Damage from an uncovered accident: sometimes covered.

Homeowner’s Tip: A good installation is worth its weight in gold. If your insurance company finds that your water heater is misbehaving because it wasn’t installed properly, even a home warranty won’t protect you.

How Will I Know If My Water Heater Isn’t Working Properly?

It may take you a few weeks or months to realize you need foundation repairs, but you’ll know pretty fast if your old water heater has gone on vacation. Here are the most common warning signs of water boiler failure. If you can put a check next to any of these, it may be time to replace yours.

My showers are cold.

Cold showers may be a sign that there’s a problem with your water heater’s thermostat. A few days of cold showers won’t kill you, but your dishwasher and washing machine may not be getting any hot water either, so definitely check that out.

My water temperature fluctuates.

Just because your water takes a few seconds to settle at a steady temperature doesn’t mean there’s a problem. Then again, it could be a cry for help from a soon-to-be-malfunctioning water boiler. You may want to check that out too.

My water flow isn’t great.

Sluggish taps? You may have built-up scale, which can easily put your boiler out of commission. Investigate that immediately if you don’t want Santa to have to bring you a new and very expensive home appliance this Christmas.

My water heater is making funny noises.

Funny noises are universally not good. If your water boiler sounds like Snap, Crackle, and Pop meets the Incredible Hulk, call in an expert immediately. It could mean scale and sediment are burning in there, and that could be dangerous.

My water is gross and smelly.

Does your H2O smell and look like it’s been sitting in a canteen in the sun for five years? That could mean you have a more general plumbing issue, but it could also mean your water tank is harboring bacteria or rust, which usually means your tank rod isn’t doing its job. That’s a phone call ASAP.

My water heater is over 20 years old.

Is your heater approaching retirement age? It could be ready for the great basement in the sky. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for extending the life of appliances to the max — water heaters are expensive — just not at the expense of a functioning house and clean water.

On the bright side, newer water heaters are more energy efficient. By putting your old workhorse out to pasture, you’ll be lowering your electricity bill.

FYI: The longer your water boiler leaks unchecked, the more responsibility you bear for the mess. That means your best shot at getting a full payout for water damage is to report it immediately.

What Can I Expect My Insurer to Cover If My Water Heater Is Damaged or Destroyed?

More often than not, your HO-3 policy won’t cover water heater repairs or replacement. But if worse ever comes to worst and you suffer a covered peril that destroys your water heater — or your water heater damages your home as a result of a covered peril — your insurer should kick in and cover costs for:

  • Removing excess water
  • Cleaning up debris and machinery
  • Replacing possessions lost as a result of the damage and/or repairing structural damage to your home

Did You Know: There is documented evidence that when ventilation is faulty, water heaters can emit enough carbon monoxide to kill a person.3 This is probably the best reason to have your water boiler inspected yearly.

Final Thoughts

Diagnosing water heater problems can be a little tricky. Some of them — smelly, discolored water and poor water pressure — could indicate larger plumbing issues. A small number of those problems, like carbon monoxide leaks, can be very dangerous. So safety before insurance payouts always.

If you ever get to the point where you’re thinking about filing a claim for a busted water heater, then you’ll want to have this rule of thumb in mind.

Unless your heater was destroyed or damaged by a covered peril (e.g., storm, fire, earthquake, or vandalism), your insurer isn’t going to reimburse you. Wear and tear and mechanical failure are on you. The only exception is water damage that happens as a result of a covered accident. In that case, your policy may cover you.

And remember: If your leaky boiler has begun to damage the floors or walls, report it ASAP. The sooner you take action, the better the chances your insurer will pay out in full.

Homeowner’s Tip: When it comes to scale buildup, hard water is usually the culprit. Homeowners in Florida know just what I’m talking about. The best defense against sediment in your tank? Flush it four times per year.

FAQs

Can a broken water heater be dangerous?

Yes, it can. Besides heating water to uncomfortable temperatures, a poorly ventilated boiler could be leaking carbon monoxide.

How do I know if my water heater needs to be replaced?

If you’ve had your water heater for more than 20 years and you’re experiencing any of the water issues we covered up top, it may be time to replace it.

Does home insurance cover water heater replacement?

Not usually, unless your heater is damaged or destroyed in a covered peril.

How do I know if my water heater isn’t working properly?

Major signs of water heater malfunction are poor water flow; smelly, funny-colored water; strange noises; and unstable water temperature.

Does my HO-3 policy cover water heater damage?

It won’t cover damage to your heater itself — unless it’s damaged in a sudden, covered accident — but it should cover any water damage to floors, walls, or possessions caused by your heater.

When will my homeowners insurance not cover damage to my water heater?

Your policy won’t cover damage to your water heater if it’s due to negligence, a faulty installation, age, or mechanical failure. You’ll need a home warranty or equipment breakdown coverage (EBC) coverage for that.