Having a roof over your head is one of life’s most basic necessities, and let’s be honest, it’s easy to take those protective shingles for granted. But if you’ve ever experienced a leaky roof, you know that this damage can leave you, your family, and your stuff exposed to the elements—and can even leave your home temporarily unlivable.
According to a 2020 report from Remodeling magazine, replacing an asphalt roof could set you back around $25,000, with a metal roof costing you a cool $40,000 to replace. Luckily, there are some cases where your homeowners insurance policy can kick in to repair your damaged roof, saving you and your wallet some major stress.
We’ll take you through the basics of roof leaks in your home insurance policy, so your coverage doesn’t go over your head. We’ll also go through some helpful tips and tricks for keeping your roof in tip-top shape.
What is homeowners insurance?
A homeowners insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurance company that covers you in a bunch of different situations. It protects you and your home if bad luck leaves you recovering or repairing the damage. Lemonade homeowners insurance policies (sometimes called HO3 policies) cover open perils for dwelling coverage and named perils for contents coverage—things that may happen to your stuff, including fire, lightning, windstorm, hail, smoke, vandalism, theft, freezing, damage from aircraft or vehicles, and riots, to name a few.
Want to take a deeper dive? Skim our plain English guide to homeowners insurance.
When roof leaks are covered by homeowners insurance
Here’s the general rule: Roof leaks are covered when they’re caused by sudden, accidental events. If your roof leaks because of a fallen tree, windstorm, hail damage, vandalism, or weight of ice, sleet or snow, you’re covered.
Let’s say a windstorm blows through, and lifts your roofing shingles on your house, causing rain to leak into your home. Your homeowners insurance would cover you, since this is a sudden, unexpected occurrence, and is named in your policy’s list of named perils.
BTW, by ‘covered,’ we mean your homeowners insurance will help reimburse you for damages to your roof itself, as well as any damages to furniture, appliances, systems, etc. that were caused as a result of the roof leak (minus your deductible, of course).
When roof leaks aren’t covered
Generally, roof leaks aren’t covered when they happen because of gradual events, such as:
- Mold, fungus, or wet rot
- Wear and tear/deterioration
- Lack of maintenance
- Birds, vermin, rodents, insects
Why aren’t these covered? Well, insurance companies believe people can take steps to prevent roof leaks caused by these events. And like humans, roofs need regular maintenance to stay in healthy shape.
So if you’re trying to figure out if your roof leak is covered by homeowners insurance, ask yourself: “Could I have prevented the roof leak?”
The more you show your insurer you maintained your roof and prevented damage, the greater the chance your policy will cover you.
But luckily, homeowners insurance is not a zero-sum game. For instance, if you have an old roof that ends up leaking into your kitchen, homeowners insurance might still cover the interior damage, even if they won’t cover the roof itself.
Also, take note: Homeowners insurance alone doesn’t cover roof leaks that result from flooding or earthquake damage. To protect your home during these events, you’ll need separate flood insurance and earthquake insurance.
If you live in a high-risk flooding area (i.e. you own a sump pump or use the word ‘levee’ frequently), check out your community’s flood map and seriously consider getting flood insurance. For more info on flooding, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has a pretty good Q&A section.
How to prevent roof leaks
When it comes to roof damage, the best offense is defense. While there’s little you can do to prepare your roof from sudden, unexpected events, you can take steps to prevent mildew, pests, and general roof wear and tear.
Please note that maintaining your roof yourself can be extremely dangerous, even if you’re not afraid of heights. Proceed with caution and safety, and consider hiring a professional roofing company.
Clean your gutters
Gutters are your roof’s drainage system after rain or snowfall. When there’s a blockage, it could leave standing water on your roof, making it a prime location for water damage and mildew growth. Standing water could freeze over, creating an ice dam. When water has no place to flow off your roof, it can drip into your attic, your insulation, or your living room. Yikes.
Make a point of having your gutters cleaned at least twice a year. If you live in an area with tons of foliage, you might want to clean your gutters every three months. Trimming trees on your property regularly will also help keep your roof and gutters free and clear.
Clear your roof
At the end of the fall season, clear debris from your roof. That frisbee you tossed just a little too hard could get knocked around by wind, cracking shingles. Wet leaves left on your roof through the winter can rot, creating mildew. Berries, nuts, or flowers dropped onto your roof can attract insects, rodents, and other pests
Check your flashing
Flashing is used to connect, seal, and fortify your roof around things like chimneys, vents and skylights. Flashing is usually made of either metal or plastic.
Gaps can form between flashing and your roof, caused by temperature changes, humidity, or natural wear and tear, leaving your roof vulnerable to serious leaks. Water loves to find a way into your home, and all it needs is a tiny crack.
Roof flashing should be replaced around every 15 years, and will cost you between $300-$600, depending how much flashing you have.
Replace broken or missing shingles
Shingle roofs usually need to be replaced every 20 to 25 years, but instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars all at once for a brand new roof, you can nip roof damage in the bud. Have a professional roofer come in for an inspection, and have damaged or missing shingles patched and replaced for around $600. This is a good idea on an annual basis, or following any major weather events that may have caused damage. Trust us, raising the roof isn’t as fun as it sounds.
Unfortunately, if you’re already experiencing leaks in your home, you’re likely in for thousands of dollars of roof repairs. It’s always better to stop problems before you notice that dreaded drip, drip, drip…