About one in 15 homes will have an insurance claim this year and many of those claims will be for roof leaks. Wind and hail are the leading cause of homeowners insurance claims, which whip and pound roofs and siding. It can cost thousands of dollars for a roof leak repair.
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You might be wondering how to fix a leaky roof or how to get homeowners insurance to pay for a new roof. Good news: In many cases, a roof leak is covered by your homeowners insurance policy. However, the cause of the roof leak is what determines whether the damage will be covered. Additionally, the roof of your home may be only partly covered for the cost of repair or replacement.
Roof leaks and covered perils
A standard homeowners insurance policy covers the most common risks to your home. These might be listed as covered perils on your homeowners insurance policy. Some policies cover all perils except those that are specifically excluded. Most of the perils that might damage your roof are covered, like wind/hail, weight of snow and falling branches, so it makes sense to look at the exclusions. The named exclusions on your homeowners insurance policy are causes of damage that will not be covered.
Common named exclusions that might cause a roof leak:
- Mold, fungus, or wet rot
- Wear and tear and deterioration
- Settling, shrinking, bulging or expanding
- Birds, vermin, rodents, insects
Your homeowners insurance policy has more named exclusions than the five listed above but these five are where you should focus your attention first. If the roof leak is caused by any of these conditions, the claim won’t be covered.
From your insurer’s point of view, a home insurance policy isn’t a maintenance policy and these five exclusions from coverage are really maintenance items that the homeowner is responsible to repair. Homeowners insurance policies are designed to cover damage that is sudden and accidental.
Examples of roof leak claims that are usually covered:
- Falling trees or limbs
- Other falling objects
- Windstorm or hail
- Weight of ice, snow, or sleet
- Vandalism or malicious mischief
These risks are all sudden or accidental, with the exception of vandalism or malicious mischief, which is a covered peril because the homeowner is not at fault for the damage caused.
The causes of roof damage that aren’t covered by a homeowners insurance policy usually center on maintenance items and generally aren’t sudden.
- Neglect isn’t sudden.
- A roof that leaks due to wear isn’t sudden.
- Settling might be sudden — but as a named exclusion, won’t be covered.
- Wet rot isn’t sudden.
Understanding roof coverage
Most of the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home is covered at full replacement cost, which means that if the roof damage cost $10,000 to fix, the insurer will pay you $10,000, less your deductible. However, roof coverage is treated differently from the rest of the bricks and sticks used to build a home.
The roof is usually covered for actual cash value, which is a depreciated value based on wear and tear due to age. Each insurer might use a slightly different method to calculate roof depreciation, but the practice of insuring roofs for actual cash value as opposed to replacement cost is very common. Some insurers provide full replacement cost for roofs — even older roofs — but this coverage is becoming less common.
If your insurer uses a 30-year life expectancy for your roof and your roof is 20 years old when it develops a leak, it’s a good bet that the roof repair claim won’t be paid at the full cost of repair or replacement. In this example, your insurer might pay less than half of the repair cost. Again, not all homeowners insurance policies penalize those of us with older roofs, but many do. Some insurers offer an optional an add-on to your policy that provides better roof coverage and takes some of the sting out of roof claims.
Deductibles and roof leak coverage
Because so many roof leaks are caused by wind and hail, it’s important to discuss deductibles. Many homeowners insurance policies have up to three deductibles, each of which will apply in different situations.
- A standard deductible applies for all perils, per occurrence.
- Many policies have a wind/hail deductible, which is often higher than the standard deductible and only applies for wind or hail claims.
- Homeowners near a coastline often have a third deductible, called a named storm deductible, which applies if the damage to your home is caused by named storm, like a hurricane or tropical storm. The name storm deductible, also called a hurricane deductible, is often based on a percentage of the dwelling coverage for your home. If your home is insured for $300,000, for example, the named storm deductible might be $6,000, assuming a two percent deductible.
Only one of these deductibles would apply for any single claim, but as you can see in the last example, the deductible can take a sizable bite out of your claim settlement. If your policy also depreciates your roof based on wear and tear due to age, you can visualize your claim settlement shrinking to nearly nothing.
Coinsurance and roof leaks
Coinsurance is another concern with roof leak claims. A home that is insured for less than the full cost of rebuilding the home maybe subject to coinsurance, which means that claims will be paid as a percentage of insurance to value. If your home cost $200,000 to rebuild but you have it insured for $100,000, the insurance the value is 50 percent and covered claims for your home will be paid at 50 percent — less the deductible.
Other damage caused by a roof leak
Often, the first indication you have that there’s a roof leak is when you notice water damage in ceilings, walls, overhead light fixtures, or even pooling water. In the case of larger leaks or leaks that have been going on for while, the roof leak itself might be the least expensive part of the repairs needed to your home.
It’s important, if at all possible, to stop the source of the water by covering the leaky area or finding a way to catch the water before it can cause more damage to other parts of your home.
The same coverages and exclusions for roof leaks that were discussed earlier will apply to other damage to your home that was caused by the roof leak. If your roof developed a leak because it was worn out, that claim would not be covered, meaning your insurance won’t pay for damage to the roof or to your home because the damage to your home was caused by a named exclusion.
As a homeowner, you already know home ownership requires vigilant maintenance and a keen eye for potential trouble. Armed with the knowledge that homeowners insurance might not cover everything, you have good reason to be cautious and to make repairs before wear and tear cause a bigger problem.
Steps to take if you have a roof leak
- Cover the leak as quickly as possible, but with safety in mind. Your insurer doesn’t expect you to climb all over your house and risk injury.
- Move all your valuables out of harm’s way. Many of life’s comforts don’t mix well with water.
- Mop up water or use a wet vac to prevent water seepage that can lead to mold.
- Use a bucket or leak-proof container to catch any water that is still leaking through or dripping from ceilings. Be sure to empty the water container frequently to prevent overflows.
- Use a fan to help evaporate water.
Your insurer can usually send someone if your roof needs a tarp until the damage can be repaired.
Roof leaks can be among the most damaging risks to homes because once water begins coming in, it can find its way in nearly everywhere. Your insurer can help with remediation even before beginning repairs, but you are the one on site so there are some things you can do. Cover the leak (if you can do so safely) and clean up any water that has come into your home before it can cause more damage.
It’s always recommended that homeowners review their insurance coverage every year or two. There may be an add-on for your policy that can provide better roof coverage, but the time to make changes to your policy is before you have a claim. Once the roof is leaking, it’s too late to change your roof coverage.