Roof insurance: What's covered and how to file a claim

Roof insurance: What's covered and how to file a claim

Insurance companies view roofs as one of the most important parts of a home because they protect homes from the elements. If you have a damaged roof, you’re likely going to have problems within your home that will lead to more claims.

Wanting to limit the number of claims that can come from a leaky roof, many insurers are becoming more restrictive with roof coverage. 

Can my home be insured with an older roof?

Some insurers have refused to renew existing homeowner insurance policies on houses with roofs older than 20 years without passing an inspection. Those who fail inspection will not be renewed without a roof replacement.

Other insurers don’t write new policies for homes with roofs over 20 years old and they will only pay actual cash value for roof replacement for older roofs when they’re damaged. This means they don’t pay to fully replace the roof, but only reimburse for what an old roof is worth after 20-plus years.

"If you have a roof that has lasted 20 years, then you've probably exceeded the roofing membrane life expectancy,” says Gerald Delaune, senior building envelope consultant at Childress Engineering Services Inc. in Richardson, Texas. “Chances are that at that point, there are issues within the roofing system that cannot be seen (such as moisture within the system), which could potentially deteriorate the deck and that it would be worth your money to replace the roof.”

As expensive as it may be to replace a roof, you may have no choice if doing nothing would cost you your home insurance policy, according to Chip Merlin, president of Tampa-based Merlin Law Group, P.A.

"Insurance companies are generally tightening underwriting requirements for older homes in general--and then specific homes where there has not been a replacement of roofs, plumbing or electrical. Roofs are the biggest issue," says Merlin. "Generally, in geographic areas where the demand of insurance exceeds the insurance company's appetite for risk, the greater the underwriting criteria come into play. Florida is such a state, but we are also seeing it along all coastal areas and in areas where hail damage is most prevalent."

Merlin notes that while some companies are tightening inspection requirements and requiring homeowners to cover the cost of these inspections for renewals, most insurers are simply refusing to write new policies for homes with roofs older than 20 years. (See "7 types of homes that are hard to insure.")

"The trend is to require an older roof – 15 to 20 years plus – to have an inspection to get a renewal. This is probably a good policy because it promotes better maintenance and reduces needless loss," says Merlin.

Does homeowners insurance cover roof damage and roof leaks?

Home insurance policies usually cover roof damage caused by fire, vandalism and “acts of God,” such as hurricanes and tornadoes. Whether they will pay for damage caused by wind, rain or hail is determined by your policy and the age of your roof.

For instance, if your roof is less than 10 years old, your insurer will likely cover the replacement in full. An insurer may not reimburse you if you have an older roof (especially one that is more than 20 years old) or the company might only pay what it deems the roof is worth after years of wear and tear.

A leaky roof may be covered, but insurance companies believe homeowners should prevent leaks and subsequent damage. It’s up to the homeowner to take the necessary precautions to maintain the property. If a leaky roof isn't fixed properly, an insurer might not cover damage.

Whether you’re reimbursed partially, fully or not at all depends on your policy, so check with your insurance company if you experience any damage.

How to protect your roof

Here are five tips to protect your roof:

  1. Take photos of your roof so you have them on file in case of any damage. If your roof is damaged, then take a set of “after” photos so you can document the damage and submit it to your insurance company.
  2. If your roof is more than 10 years old, you may want to hire a roof inspector who can check for any damage and areas that need repair.
  3. Replace any broken or worn shingles or tiles. A broken shingle might seem minor, but it’s not protecting your home and can result in damage. An insurance inspector may perform a check of your property from the street. Insurance companies can cancel your policy if the home is considered to be in disrepair and that can include a leaky roof and broken or displaced shingles.
  4. Cut back any trees hanging over your house and remove any dead trees.
  5. If your roof is damaged, contact your insurance company and ask them to send an inspector to review the damage.

Insurance companies cover roofs differently and your state can play a big part as to whether or how much you’re reimbursed. It’s best to speak with your insurance provider if you have concerns about whether or not roof damage will be covered by insurance.

Are there insurance coverage limitations on my roof?

Scott deLuise, president of Matrix Business Consulting in Broomfield, Colorado, suggests that homeowners read the existing or proposed policy carefully to see what the coverage limitations apply to roofs.

"Coverage scope and exclusions are a big deal. Ask another insurance company for a policy bid at renewal if it contains a wood shake endorsement or an exclusion for roofs over 20 years old," says deLuise. "Also, have a good quality roofer inspect your roof and get a written report so that you know the condition before any damage occurs. That way, if wind or hail strike your house, you can show the insurance company that there was no pre-existing damage. You can also request a cost estimate for replacing the roof so that you can decide if the cost of a new roof outweighs the risk of being denied home insurance coverage."

deLuise says many insurers on the West Coast are adding new endorsements upon renewal for the area's popular wooden shingle roofs. A wood shake or shingle endorsement is a written document attached to an insurance policy that excludes or restricts coverage of wooden shingle or shake roofs.

"There are different variations. Insurers are trying to limit liability for all types of roof claims for wind or hail or anything other than fire. The only way they can do that is by changing types of coverage. Here in Colorado we're seeing wooden shake endorsements, and what some companies are doing is only insuring them on an actual cash value basis, meaning that those roofs are only covered for what they're worth at the time instead of for the cost of replacement," says deLuise.

deLuise has also seen many companies limit appraisal for wind and hail roof damage during the claims process.

If the policyholder demands an appraisal, some insurance companies try to limit the appraisal’s scope to damages that they've agreed to instead of all of the damage that the insured might find. "This effectively guts the appraisal clause in the policy. For example, if you have a metal roof and file a claim for hail damage, they may come back and say that the damage wasn't caused by hail but by wear and tear due to age," says deLuise.

He also says he's seeing new cosmetic roof exclusions on many client policies, meaning that the homeowner must pay for any damage that the insurance company deems “cosmetic.”

"So, for example, if you have a metal roof and it gets hail dings in it, they won't replace the roof because that's cosmetic and doesn't limit the functionality of the roof. I think that's a really bad criteria because it's so subjective," says deLuise.

Filing a roof replacement insurance claim

The timeframe an insurance company gives you to file a claim can depend on the type of damage and the company’s policy. It’s best to contact your insurer as soon as there is damage.

Here are steps to take if you need to file a claim because of roof damage:

  1. Contact your insurance company immediately and find out what’s covered by your policy.
  2. If possible, provide “before” and “after” photos to your insurance company so they can review the damage.
  3. Schedule a time for an insurance claims examiner to review the damage.
  4. Find a qualified roofer as soon as possible. A damaged roof is not properly protecting your home so you should get it repaired quickly.

Delaune says replacing a roof can cost anywhere from $9 to $15 per square foot. He suggests that homeowners visit the Roof Consultants Institute's website to find a qualified roof consultant to assess the roof or National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) to find a qualified roofing contractor before making this major investment.