It's easy to take a properly functioning sewage system for granted - until it stops working. A malfunction can result in a big, expensive headache for a homeowner.  Not only can a sewer backup result in raw sewage clogging your home's drains, toilets and tubs, it can also lead to thousands of dollars' worth of damage to lawns, basements, floors, carpeting, walls and electrical systems - not to mention the health hazards that raw sewage poses to you and your family.

Unfortunately, this type of disaster may not be covered under most homeowner's insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In order to fully protect yourself from the risks of a sewer backup, it's important to understand what causes it, how it can be prevented, the type of coverage you need and how to file a claim.

WHAT CAUSES A SEWER BACKUP? 

Aging pipes that can't withstand sewage and heavy rain, a blockage caused by tree roots or a blockage in a municipal sewage line that runs into a home are just a few potential causes. What many homeowners may not realize, however, is that although municipal sewage lines are not their responsibility, the pipes that run between their property and the community's sewage system, are. Unfortunately, it's difficult to identify and repair deteriorating pipes before it results in a backup, as well as contend with a municipality that has an overloaded waste management system.

HOW CAN SEWER BACKUPS BE PREVENTED?

While it may not be possible to closely inspect every pipe running under your property, there are strategies that can minimize the chance of sewer backups. The easiest and most obvious preventive step is properly disposing of materials that can lead to backups. This includes thick cooking by-products like grease, fat, oils, gravy and sauce that can solidify and cause a clog. Other food products should be properly broken down by a garbage disposal before going down the drain.

In addition to food products, excess amounts of toilet paper can lead to blockages as well. It's important not to overfill a toilet, and never flush things like diapers, feminine products, food, and paper towels.

If you suspect problems with your pipes, it may also be a good idea to have them replaced with modern plastic or PVC pipes.  Homeowners can also install backwater prevention valves in their sewer line.

WHAT TYPE OF INSURANCE IS NECESSARY FOR SEWER BACKUPS?

Since sewer backup coverage is generally not covered by homeowner's policies, you may want to consider purchasing a separate policy or add a sewage backup rider to your existing policy. Speak with a HUB International broker to find a plan that suits your needs. A comprehensive plan should cover damage and cleaning costs, as well as plumbing work that may be needed.

HOW IS A SEWER BACKUP CLAIM FILED?

Get in touch with your HUB insurance broker as soon as possible following a sewer backup. Make sure to photograph any damage done that can be compared to photographs of your home before the incident. This will assist you in receiving the maximum amount of payment. Also, account for all expenses associated with cleaning and repair. Holding onto all receipts will make the process much easier.