Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
If you’re wondering how septic systems work, you’re not alone. Septic systems are commonly used in rural areas where sewer systems are not available. They rely on the natural sediment in your soil to filter and distribute the waste water from your home after it’s been treated by chemicals that help to break down the outbound effluent into a biodegradable state.
When septic systems are running properly, you hardly notice them. They do require maintenance from time to time to keep them functioning properly. But, what happens if you experience a septic system failure? Will your homeowners insurance (HOI) cover the issue? These are good questions. We’ll explore the design of your septic system and review your coverage options so you’ll know how septic systems work and how they’re covered under your HOI.
Your septic system can be thought of as an organic “digester” or holding tank that treats your home’s waste with chemicals. They help to neutralize the organic material, or effluent, and then it’s distributed into a drain or absorption field. Here are a few things to know about your septic system:
Septic systems separate effluent in a holding tank. Effluent is any type of solid waste produced by your home — from laundry, bathroom toilets, showers and sinks. Your kitchen waste and all plumbing for the home send effluent to a holding tank where it’s then treated and dispersed into the ground.
Solids typically settle at the bottom of the tank. This septic “sludge” that makes up the bottom of the tank can become a problem if it’s not managed and maintained. It may have to be professionally cleaned out on occasion to keep the tank working correctly.
Oils and fats float near the top of the tank. Materials like soap and cooking oil will create a layer at the top of the tank. Unpleasantly titled “scum” this layer consists of lipids that eventually break down and are released with the effluent.
Drainage of treated septic wastewater usually flows into a drain field. A series of perforated pipes release the waste directly into the soil below. These buried “lines” are located several feet underground in a “leach field” or other chamber which is designed to slowly percolate the effluent into the sand and sediment.
The drain field soil disperses and purifies the wastewater. The wastewater treatment process continues once the effluent is released into the soil and sedimentary layers further down. This is usually the final step in neutralizing any harmful bacteria that remain in the effluent.
Your homeowners insurance policy does not cover the system itself. It does cover your home however, if damage to your home were to occur because of a malfunctioning septic system or as a result of septic problems that caused overflow into your home.
Septic backup insurance provides dwelling coverage for water damage up to the endorsement limit for structural components, interior elements and mechanicals such as:
Service lines bring power, natural gas and water into your home — either through a buried line or above ground in the case of electric cables. Sewer pipes and septic lines leading to and from your home are also considered service lines. When sewer backups flood your basement, you may be covered with an in-force service line policy.
If a tree root should break your service line, this coverage would help pay for the cost of repair or replacement of the affected line. And if your home should become uninhabitable due to a service line failure, this coverage helps pay for a hotel during cleanup, repairs and restoration.
Eligibility for this added coverage is based on a number of important factors. For instance, your homeowners claims history can impact your ability to qualify for coverage. Here are a few examples of conditions that impact your home’s septic backup coverage eligibility:
Your home’s flood risk score can help to determine if you qualify. If your home is located outside of a flood plain you may be able to get septic backup coverage. You should know that even with a low score, flood insurance can be a smart investment.
Installation of systems to reduce backflow can help you qualify. You also may qualify if you’ve taken measures and installed hardware that helps to stop backflow. The installation of sump pump backup battery systems, backup generators and check valves can help you retain this important coverage.
Failure to remedy a known backflow issue can be a problem. If your home has experienced backflow that resulted in damage and claims filed in the past, you may not be able to qualify for coverage until preventative action or measures have been taken.
An excessive number of homeowners claims can work against you. A high number of claims made on your home’s insurance policies can sometimes prevent you from qualifying for this additional coverage.
While you’re considering adjustments to your septic system to help keep your home safe, remember to get in contact with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab). They can help you find insurance coverage that best protects your home from the unexpected.