We homeowners expect a lot of our roofs. We take it for granted that they’ll keep the rain out and the heat in. We count on them to stay put in strong winds, hold up the weight of heavy snow, and withstand baking heat.
But when was the last time you actually took a good look at your roof? Be honest. Are there any nests up there? Any chinks or missing shingles? How many years has it been since you last treated your wooden shakes?
Sorry to be nosy, but those are precisely the kinds of things an insurance adjuster will be checking for if your roof ever needs serious repairs and you expect your insurance provider to foot the bill.
If you answered “yes” or “no idea” to any of those questions, it sounds like you could use a refresher in basic roof hygiene. Welcome. In this homeowners guide, we’re going to dig deep into how HO-3 home insurance insurance policies cover the average roof, answering questions like:
- Exactly what kinds of roof damage does home insurance cover?
- When will my policy not cover roof repairs?
- Is cosmetic damage, like a broken shingle, covered?
- Will my policy cover wear and tear to my roof?
- How can I prevent damage to my roof?
- Should I repair or replace my roof?
Homeowners Tip: Cedar roofs have been popular since colonial times. If you’re sporting one, just remember to maintain it. Most experts recommend protective treatments once every three years, at the very least.
What Kinds of Roof Damage Does Home Insurance Cover?
Insurance companies look at roof damage like they do coverage for water damage or your liability for leaky pipes, which is basically like this: If it was an accident, you’re covered. If it was the result of your negligence, you’re probably paying.
Accidents that might affect your roof can take a number of forms. The ones that your HO-3 policy protects you against are called “covered perils.” The most common covered perils are fire, theft, and storms (including lightning and hail), but your policy will also have your back for a few less likely scenarios, like if a plane hits your house or someone vandalizes your roof.
Again, the common denominator here is “sudden or accidental damage,” which explains why your policy could also kick in if your rooftop HVAC system malfunctions out of the blue and inundates your roof.
Still a little muddy? Below are two fairly common roof damage scenarios that should put things into perspective.
Interesting Fact: No one knows exactly how many planes strike U.S. homes yearly, but if it’s any indication, the Santa Monica Municipal Airport (of Harrison Ford plane crash fame) has recorded 11 crashes since 1989. Two of those involved homes in the area.1
Your Roof Is Covered
It’s winter and there’s a lot of snow on your roof. The snow melts as far as your gutters, where it sits and freezes. We call this an ice dam. The dam grows backwards up your roof. It starts stressing your roof and the retaining walls underneath. Cracks form, water starts seeping in, and before you know it, you’ve got a serious problem.
Ice dams don’t form overnight. Insurance auditors get this. But this still wouldn’t count as negligence. In fact, every top homeowners insurance provider we’ve reviewed protects you against snow and ice damage (removal and repairs). That’s because, sudden or not, snow is beyond your control.
Your Roof Isn’t Covered
You install your air conditioning units on the roof. Over time, condensation builds up and puddles form. You notice the puddles, but you figure they’ll dry up by themselves with a little help from the sun. Instead, the problem gets worse, until one day you’ve got shingle rot and mold creeping downward into your home.
You probably won’t be covered in this case, because the damage to your roof wasn’t beyond your control. It was a problem that built up over time due to your own negligence.
When Will My HO-3 Policy Not Cover Roof Damage?
Up top, we drew a general distinction between sudden, accidental damage and gradual damage caused by negligence. For anything that falls into that second class of roof damage, you might be liable.
Pretty broad terrain, I know. If it helps, by far the most common worst-case scenario home insurance policyholders face (outside of an earthquake, which isn’t normally covered either) is a roof that’s just so old and worn-out that your insurance company refuses to pay out for repairs or, in some cases, refuses even to insure it.
Obviously, being told that your roof is too old to insure won’t be music to anyone’s ears. However, I’d argue that if your roof is in such dire shape, it’s much better to deal with it prepared and with a financial plan than to discover out of the blue — after a serious accident — that you’re going to be stuck with a $15,000 bill.
And, just so we cover all the bases, you may not actually have an option. If your insurance provider considers your roof a liability, they may refuse to renew your policy until you repair it. Again, this may be a blessing in disguise.
FYI: How much does a new roof cost today? According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the average roof cost $9,958 in 2019, or about 3.4 percent of the total construction cost of a new home.2
The other coverage issue you may run into with a subpar roof is limiting yourself to a payout of actual (depreciated) cash value, or ACV, if you ever need to rebuild.
How does that work?
Imagine you bought a mountain bike for $800 in 2002 and someone stole it in 2022. With ACV coverage, your insurance company, figuring in yearly depreciation, would pay you something like $200 to buy a new bike, even if that same bike costs $1,000 in 2022. That would leave you $800 short. Not very good.
The same thing would happen to you in the case of a leaky, 15-year-old roof, except you’d be out a whole lot more money. In which case, you’d probably wish you’d invested in replacement cost value (RCV) coverage (see below).
Still not sure which type of coverage is right for your home? We break it all down in our recently expanded A-Z guide to homeowners insurance.
Homeowner’s Tip: The alternative to ACV coverage is RCV coverage, or replacement cost value coverage. A policy with RCV coverage would include the full market value of a brand-new roof at the time you rebuild, not the depreciated value of your 15-year-old roof.
Is Cosmetic Damage to My Roof Covered?
Homeowners plans are pretty straightforward when it comes to nicks and scratches. If it’s surface damage and doesn’t affect the structural integrity of your roof, it’s probably on you.
How can you tell the difference?
If your air conditioning repairman drops a unit on your asphalt roof and mangles a few singles, creating avenues for rainwater to seep in, that’s structural. You may have a claim.
But if Bobby from next door dents your metal roof with a baseball, don’t waste your time filing a claim. You’re going to have to hope Bobby’s parents foot the bill for this one.
That isn’t to say that all roof damage will be so clear cut. For instance, how do you know that Bobby’s baseball didn’t knock a shingle out of place, exposing your roof to the elements? You don’t. Which is why you should always inspect any damage to your roof when it happens, cosmetic or otherwise. This is especially true when we consider the next class of roof damage: wear and tear.
Did You Know: As a general rule of thumb, the more you’re willing to invest in your roof, the longer its life span will be. For example, an asphalt shingle roof that costs $11,000 might last you 20 years. Not bad value for money. But a copper roof with a $20,000 price tag could last 50 years or more.
Will My HO-3 Policy Cover Wear and Tear to My Roof?
If you’re wondering if your home insurance covers leaky roofs, the answer is, generally, no. Most leaks would fall under maintenance, and that’s your responsibility as a homeowner. (The exception would be a leak caused by sudden damage or an accident.)
What kinds of roof leak scenarios are we talking about? Here are the six most common:
- Broken shingles can spell major damage over time.
- Clogged gutters mean water on the roof isn’t draining.
- Cracked flashing will let water get under your shingles.
- Cracks in chimneys also let water in, typically around the “mud cap,” where the chimney is mortared into place. (Bad skylight installations can also have the same effect.)
- Humidity in the attic can undermine your roof from below.
- Too much foot traffic increases the risk of damage.
I’d like to add one more culprit to the list because it’s arguably the most frustrating: damage from insects and rodents.
Do you have pigeons nesting in your gutters? What about a termite colony or a family of squirrels? Your insurer won’t cover these unwelcome house guests. In their eyes, pests are avoidable. So if you see early signs of an infestation, call pest control immediately because it’s on you if your roof becomes collateral damage.
FYI: Your home insurance policy might not leave you completely high and dry if a pest infestation causes damage to your roof. For instance, say a squirrel nibbles its way through the discharge line of your roof-mounted HVAC unit, a puddle forms, and a month later you’ve got water damage on your roof. That was an accident you were unaware of. Your HO-3 policy might kick in in that case.
How can I prevent damage to my roof?
I guess the best news for us homeowners is that we can put most wear-and-tear disaster scenarios to bed with basic roof upkeep. Here are a few ideas for your roof hygiene checklist.
Inspect your roof regularly.
Annual or bi-annual inspections kill two birds with one stone. You have proof of maintenance for adjusters, and you stay one step ahead of slow-brewing issues that could become full-blown emergencies if you let them go. Just make sure you find a roofing specialist you can trust. If there’s anything worse than a leaky roof, it’s a completely airtight roof you pay to fix.
Perform necessary maintenance.
Unclog those gutters. Tear down those nests. Trap those squirrels. And, of course, fix that flashing, shingle, or crack in your chimney. If you’ve got a wooden roof, figure in treatments once every three years. As always, being proactive is the best insurance against out-of-pocket home repair bills further down the line.
Homeowner’s Tip: Always read your home insurance policy’s fine print on roof coverage because not all coverage is the same. Nationwide’s Better Roof Replacement, for example, gives you RCV not just for a new roof, but for a stronger roof. For more details on Nationwide’s roof coverage, here’s our guide to Nationwide’s homeowners plans and pricing.
Should I repair or replace my roof?
This is the million-dollar question. (Actually, it’s the $10,000 question, according to the NAHB.) But still a whopper of an expense any way you cut it.
Long story short: You should repair it when it makes sense.
When does it make sense to fix your roof? Here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Repair: If your roof is 10 years old (you could easily stretch this to 12) or younger, your default troubleshooting mindset should be to repair it. I’d also recommend looking for a fix if the damage affects only a small portion of your roof. Obviously, if it’s cosmetic, it’s also a repair.
Replace: Any roof that has served you for 15 years or more is a candidate for replacement if push comes to shove. Likewise, if the damage is so extensive that repair costs approach rebuilding costs, you’re better off rebuilding.
Did You Know: Homeowners underreporting the age of their roofs is a problem that plagues insurance companies. According to the risk assessors at Verisk, it costs home insurers over $1.3 billion yearly.3
Roof coverage has its share of exceptions and ambiguities, for sure. But for the most part, determining your liability is straightforward. Maintenance (and damage that could have been avoided through reasonable maintenance) is your end of the bargain. Accidents are on your home insurance provider.
Sometimes there are gray areas. For example, I said that pests are generally your problem as far as your roof goes. That’s true, except if a pest causes an unrelated accident that then damages your roof, in which case you may still be covered. See what I mean?
In either case, the best defense against any unwanted roof bills is being smart about upkeep. Have regular roof inspections (one every few years is fine). Fix any damage you see when you see it. If you do, you’re increasing the life span of your roof and lowering your odds of ever footing any serious repair bills should worse ever come to worst.
FYI: You might consider yourself lucky to have wild bees on your property, considering how endangered they’ve become. However, that doesn’t mean you want them hanging off your eaves. Over time the extra weight could cause structural damage to your roof.
Yes. Most lenders require homebuyers to carry homeowners insurance as a condition of their mortgage.
Homeowners insurance protects against significant or catastrophic damages, whereas a home warranty covers your home’s major appliances and systems against breakdowns.
It’s difficult to say, but many financial experts argue that home warranties are often not worth the money.
Most home warranties will cost between $200 and $1,700 per year. You’ll also have to pay a service fee that’s between $75 and $125 when you need to use the warranty’s protection.
It’s difficult to nail down exactly how much homeowners insurance will cost since premiums are determined by a huge number of factors, but for an average home in an average part of the country, you can expect to pay between $100 and $150 per month.