Solved! Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Roof Leaks?
Finding water entering your home in a place where it shouldn’t can cause a stomach-twisting moment; your homeowners insurance may or may not be able to help.
Q: After a recent storm, we found water running down the ceiling in our attic and dripping through the ceiling below. We’ve heard that water damage often isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, but is that always the case? Does home insurance cover roof leaks?
A: The sight of a dark stain spreading on a ceiling or paint bubbling along a drywall seam can be many homeowners’ greatest fears, because water is insidious and finds its way silently to where it can do the most damage. Sometimes the source of the water isn’t anywhere close to where it presents itself; roof leaks can drip down through the vertical walls between the studs, run out along a beam, and slowly dampen the ceiling far from where the leak is actually located. Some homeowners are able to identify the source of the leak quickly and repair the problem before there’s too much damage, but water is sneaky and plays tricks behind the walls. Roof leaks can be particularly pesky—and damaging—in this way. Naturally, homeowners will hurry to their homeowners insurance policy to find answers: Does insurance cover roof leaks? Does insurance cover roof replacement? In some cases, the answer is yes.
Homeowners insurance generally covers roof leaks if they are sudden and accidental.
Homeowners insurance protects homeowners financially from damage that occurs as a result of covered events or perils. But in order for water damage to be covered, it has to be a result of a sudden or accidental event. For example, if a storm caused a tree branch to break off and damage the roof, the resulting leak into the attic will be covered by homeowners insurance. Homeowners insurance roof replacement coverage kicks in when accidental or weather damage occurs to a roof that is otherwise in sound condition and the damage renders it unrepairable. All policies, however, have coverage limits, so homeowners will want to examine their policy documents to ensure that they have enough coverage to repair or replace their roof and repair any resulting damage should a disaster occur, taking current building material costs into account. Roof repair and replacement can be expensive. A shingle roof replacement can cost around $25,000, while a metal roof runs closer to $40,000, so seeking out an estimate before there’s a problem can give a homeowner an idea of what a roof replacement would cost.
Roof leaks caused by covered perils are typically included in homeowners insurance coverage.
Homeowners insurance policies specify the events and perils that they consider “covered.” In other words, if damage is caused by an event that is not excluded from the policy, the cost of repairing the resulting damage will typically be paid for by homeowners insurance after the deductible is met. Accidents, fires, weather damage, explosions, lightning strikes—all of these are covered perils. Many homeowners policies are considered “open peril” policies, so if the peril isn’t specifically excluded, it’s a covered peril. Examples of common exclusions include earthquakes, floods, pest damage, foundation settling, and negligent actions, so reading the policy carefully to understand what is covered and what is not is important.
However, homeowners insurance generally doesn’t cover damage resulting from lack of maintenance or wear and tear.
Does homeowners insurance cover water leaks? Yes, but only in certain circumstances. The challenge with roof damage is that sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether the roof leak was caused by the covered peril or something else, such as delayed maintenance or normal wear and tear. If a branch strikes the roof during a storm, tears the shingles off, and there’s a leak, the source of the damage is pretty obvious. But if there’s a significant snowstorm, ice piles up in the gutter, and water seeps underneath the shingles, it can be tricky. Were the gutters cleared? Were the shingles maintained and appropriately secured? Was there unrepaired damage in place already that allowed the leak to form? An insurance adjuster will make the call as to whether or not the homeowner has appropriately maintained the roof, and whether or not the true source of the leak was from a covered event or simply the result of an old, worn roof. This can be frustrating for the homeowner; if the roof leaks during a rainstorm, it may seem that the storm is the cause of the leak, but if the leak came through worn flashing near a skylight, it may not be. Does homeowners insurance cover water damage from leaking roofs? If the covered roof leak causes damage to the contents inside the home, insurance will generally cover it, but it likely will not cover the repair of the roof failure itself.
Some insurance carriers offer improved roof materials as a perk if your roof needs to be replaced.
After a significant incident that goes beyond some damaged shingles, many homeowners will ask, “Does homeowners insurance cover roof replacement?” The answer depends on the homeowners insurance company and the individual policy. Standard policies generally include roof replacement coverage in addition to providing insurance for covered events. Many of the best homeowners insurance companies and policies have what’s called “guaranteed replacement cost,” which means that if an insurance adjuster determines that the roof needs to be replaced due to a covered event, the company will pay the cost to replace the roof at today’s prices once the homeowner has met their deductible. Homeowners who have an “actual cash value” policy will receive only the actual cash value of their roof at the time of the covered loss, not the cost to replace it. This is an important differentiation. Other companies may offer to replace the roof with upgraded materials to make it stronger and less likely to be damaged by future events. Especially if your roof is a little older, this may be coverage that is worth seeking out so that if a covered peril should occur, a roof replacement will be a genuine upgrade.
Regular roof inspections and maintenance can help prevent minor issues from becoming major problems.
The best way to reduce the risk of experiencing a roof leak in the first place is for homeowners to maintain the roof. They shouldn’t wait until there’s a problem, because by the time a problem makes itself evident, it may be a big one. Regular roof inspections allow an expert to walk the roof, check the flashing, and look for any indications that there’s a slow leak already in progress. The homeowner will then want to follow the inspector’s recommendations for repair if any issues are found. That way, the homeowner can rest more comfortably knowing their roof is in good shape, and they will also have documentation of the inspection and maintenance to show their homeowners insurance company that the roof was in good shape and well maintained prior to any incident. Another benefit of regular inspections is that a qualified inspector can give the homeowner an estimate of when the roof may need to be replaced, allowing the homeowner to save and budget for the expense of replacement. In addition, keeping the gutters cleared and free-flowing will protect the edge of the roof from forming ice dams and will reduce the likelihood of pest damage to the wood underneath the shingles.
Many homeowners delay roof maintenance because they fear that it will be too expensive. In some cases, a home warranty can help defray the costs of inspections and repairs. While not all home warranties cover roof leaks or have specific exclusions, they can be a great tool alongside homeowners insurance. The best home warranties act as service contracts that cover certain repairs and maintenance calls after the payment of a preset service call fee. This makes it possible for homeowners to comfortably call for a maintenance technician, already knowing how much the visit will cost. Home warranties apply to all home systems and appliances that are outlined in the contract, including plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and kitchen and laundry appliances. Roof leak coverage may be offered as an add-on, as well as coverage for septic systems and well pumps. If the warranty includes roof coverage, it may cover the repair to the roof if it has failed as a result of age or normal wear and tear, and it may also cover roof water damage. But a warranty will typically not cover other damage caused by the roof leak. In some circumstances, the home warranty might cover the failure of the roof when homeowners insurance does not.
If you did your due diligence and determined that your roof leak is the result of a covered event, you can file a claim with your insurance company.
First, you’ll need to find the source of the leak and determine whether it’s the result of a covered peril. This may be straightforward—if, say, the tree is still lodged in the roof, it’s pretty clear—or you may need to do some investigation in the attic or crawl spaces. Do not climb up on the roof itself; if it is badly damaged, it may not support additional weight. Next, document the damage. Take well-lit photos from every angle of the visible damage, interior water damage, landscape photos that show the extent of any debris, and close-ups of specific damage (using a lens so as not to walk on the roof). Then, make any small repairs that are possible and begin drying water that has made it to the interior using fans, towels, and wet-dry vacuums. Mold can form very quickly and, if the homeowner hasn’t made an attempt to stop the flow of water or dry out the area, homeowners insurance likely will not cover mold damage.
Before contacting the homeowners insurance company to officially file a claim, consider getting a few estimates of the repair costs. A licensed roofing contractor should be able to give an approximation of the roof repair or replacement costs. If the homeowner has a home warranty, they can usually request a service call to assess the damage as well. This will help decide whether or not it’s worth filing a claim; even if no money is actually paid out, filing a claim will generally cause the homeowners insurance premium to rise. If the repair costs are less than the insurance deductible, the homeowner will receive no real benefit from filing the claim. In this case, the better option may be to hire a roof repair technician and pay the costs out of pocket. If the repair costs will be significantly more than the deductible, then it’s reasonable to call the insurance company and file a claim for the leak. Collect any available documents that show the age of the roof and maintenance records. The homeowners insurance company will take the report, begin the claim, and send an adjuster to the home to assess whether or not the claim will be successful, then guide the homeowner through the process.