7 Ways to Cover the Cost of Emergency Home Repairs

Home repair loans aren't the only way to pay for fixes. Insurance and government aid may be available, too.
Hal M. Bundrick, CFP®
By Hal M. Bundrick, CFP® 
Edited by Amanda Derengowski

Some or all of the mortgage lenders featured on our site are advertising partners of NerdWallet, but this does not influence our evaluations, lender star ratings or the order in which lenders are listed on the page. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners.

If you’re a homeowner and your water heater hasn’t gone out yet, just wait. They bust a seam or spring a leak or otherwise go on the fritz every 10 years, give or take.

Emergency home repairs are financial dings that never come at a good time. Water heaters are actually the least of your concerns; usually a few hundred bucks later you’re back to hot showers. But a new furnace, air conditioning unit or roof — now we’re talking big-money repairs that can easily break your budget.

Sixty-five percent of American homeowners say their home needs repairs to make it safe or free from costly damage, according to a NerdWallet survey of 1,345 homeowners conducted online by The Harris Poll. Cost is a barrier to making the repairs for the 49% of respondents who said they need them, and those who cite cost as an obstacle estimate they’d need an additional $7,370, on average, to make the necessary fixes.

"When repairs are urgent and there isn't enough cash on hand, there are several ways for homeowners to cover the costs," says Holden Lewis, NerdWallet mortgages expert. "They can borrow the money and pay it back with interest, or they might collect insurance claims or qualify for grants."

Here are seven ways to cover emergency home repair expenses. Some are home repair loans of different types, but not all of these have to be repaid.

1. Home equity line of credit, or HELOC

A home equity line of credit allows you to tap the value in your home as you need it. That’s perfect for home improvements, as well as those unexpected major expenses. But remember, borrowing against home equity can put your home at risk if you can’t repay, so spend HELOC funds wisely and pay promptly.

Curious how much your home is worth?
NerdWallet can show you what your home is worth and update you on changes over time.

2. Homeowners insurance claim

Check your insurance policy to see if a home repair emergency is covered. For example, a new roof may have at least some, if not all, of its replacement cost covered if it was damaged by a storm. You might not be able to see the damage from the ground, but a qualified inspector will find it for sure.

3. Government home repair assistance

The FHA 203(k) and Limited 203(k) loan programs allow borrowers to buy or refinance a property, with additional funds added to the total loan amount to pay for repairs or upgrades.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers the Title I Property Improvement Loan program. Title I loans are FHA-insured loans issued by lenders, particularly for owners with little equity in their homes. The proceeds can be used for major repairs or for appliances and other household items that “make your home more livable and useful.” But no, that doesn’t include luxury items like a swimming pool or hot tub.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture can be a resource as well. The USDA Section 504 Home Repair program helps homeowners with very low incomes in rural areas to repair, improve or modernize their homes. Grants are also available for homeowners 62 or older.

4. Community development programs

These programs are administered by state or local governments, agencies and financial institutions. For example, municipalities often use Community Development Block Grants issued through HUD to offer emergency repair loans or grants to local homeowners.

Sometimes there are restrictions to qualify for such programs, such as an income limit equal to 80% of the area’s median income. Other assistance plans may serve senior or disabled homeowners. But it’s worth checking with your local office of housing, housing services, housing authority or similarly named agency for details.

5. Disaster relief

If your emergency home repair is disaster-related, you may want to turn to relief organizations like the Red Cross or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA can offer funds for emergency disaster repairs not covered by your homeowners insurance. This money is for major repairs for safety or sanitary living conditions, not to restore your home to its pre-disaster condition.

6. Credit card

This is probably the first instinct for many: Tap the plastic. One-fourth of homeowners say if they were hit with an urgent $3,000 home repair, they’d charge it to a credit card and pay it off over time, according to the NerdWallet survey. But think twice. Your available credit may not be enough to get the job done. And if your card has a high interest rate, you might be paying off the last home disaster when the next one strikes.

7. Cash-out refinance

And as a last resort, if you have equity in your home, you might consider a cash-out refinance for emergency repairs. The problem is, it can take time to shop for a good refinance rate.

Other resources

Additional aid for emergency home repairs can include Habitat for Humanity, local service organizations and nonprofits, volunteers from a religious organization and community centers.

If you’re going through a rough patch and tap one of these resources, you may even be inspired to join in and help someone else once your home repair emergency has been resolved.

This survey was conducted online in the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Oct. 31–Nov. 4, 2019, among 1,345 U.S. homeowners ages 18 and older, among whom 898 say their home currently needs necessary repair(s). This online survey isn't based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact Marcelo Vilela at [email protected]

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.