When Ice Dam Removal Is (and Is Not) Covered by Your Insurance
When it’s winter and you’re weighing your options for removing those huge ice dams from your roof, your biggest concern is safety. But probably your second-biggest concern is cost – especially how you can get your ice dam removal covered by your homeowner’s insurance.
You’re probably wondering how to keep your ice dam removal costs as small as possible. In my 18 years in business, I’ve removed thousands of ice dams and have seen thousands of leaky homes. I’ve also seen far too many homeowners cringe as they sign excessively fat checks in an effort to save their roofs.
Some of these costs are unavoidable. But you can minimize other costs with a little bit of foresight and a general knowledge of how insurance companies deal with ice dam removal.
Here’s more detail on when you can and cannot expect to have ice dam removal covered by your insurance:
Not covered: damage done by DIY ice dam removal. Don’t try to remove ice dams yourself. If you try to remove them without a steamer and without much experience using one, there’s a good chance you’ll damage your roof. Insurance companies will not cover the damage you caused.
Seldom covered: “preventative” removal of ice dams. I’ve found that about 75% of insurance companies won’t pay for “preventative” ice dam removal–that is, the removal of ice dams before they cause leaking in your home.
Many policies specify that the homeowner must conduct “regular home maintenance” (or some responsibility that’s worded similarly). This generally means that you have to use a roof rake to clear the snow off your roof immediately after every snowstorm–before it can cause an ice dam. If an ice dam forms because you’ve let snow pile up, your insurance company will almost certainly claim that you fell short in your “maintenance.” Then you’ll have to foot the bill yourself for any preventative ice dam removal you want or need done.
Usually covered: removal of the part of the ice dam that’s causing leaking. A common scenario is that your roof is completely covered in ice dams, but only the ice dams on one side of your roof are actually causing leaking. Your insurance may only cover ice dam removal for the side of the roof that’s leaking. Removal of the ice on the side that isn’t leaking is considered “preventative” and probably won’t be covered.
It can be a catch-22 for many homeowners: you can’t get ice dam removal covered if you just want it in order to prevent leaks, but you also don’t want to wait until your house is leaking from top to bottom just so you can get the ice dam removal covered by your insurance.
Fortunately, there’s a workaround you may be able to use to get all of the ice dam removal covered. Let’s say the north side of your roof is leaking. It’s not necessarily the case that the ice dam located on the north side of your house is causing the leak: The ice dam on the south side could very well be the culprit. Water could be leaking through the south side, running along the lower chord of your roof truss, and dripping into the north half of your home.
When your home is leaking on one side it almost always makes sense to remove that ice dam first, but if it continues to leak you’ll need to remove the ice dam on the other side as well. If you explain this to your insurance company, they will most likely help with the “total” cost of your ice dam removal. But remember: ice dam removal claims often are tricky business, so you should always at least be prepared to cover the total cost yourself. I’ve seen too many “bulletproof” ice dam removal claims get denied at the 11th hour by an otherwise top-notch insurance provider.
Not covered (but smart): getting your roof completely cleared. Sometimes it’s tempting only to remove the ice dams that may be covered by insurance. But this is a gamble, because it’s easier for new ice dams to form right after a snowstorm on a roof that’s already icy. Also, even if some of your ice dams don’t seem to be causing leaks, a new snowstorm may quickly turn these ice dams into leaky emergencies that demand another phone call to the ice dam guys.
You don’t want to have to call up an ice dam removal service again and again and write check after check. Regardless of your insurance coverage, it’s usually cheapest and in the longer-term just to bite the bullet and get all the ice and snow removed at once.
I suggest two other steps that can help you make sure your ice dam removal is covered to the max:
1. Take before-and-after pictures of your roof and whatever interior area of your home is leaking. Take a few photos before the ice dam removal guys show up, and take some more once they’ve finish clearing your roof. Taking these pictures from the ground should be just fine (no need to climb atop your roof). This makes it easier for your insurance company to process your claim, and therefore makes it more likely that you’ll get the maximum amount covered.
2. Before wintertime, look through the fine-print of your insurance policy and give a quick call to your insurance agent to get answers to the following questions:
- Is preventative ice dam removal covered (unlikely), or are you only covered if your home starts leaking (likely)?
- What “regular home maintenance” are you expected to do? It’s probably just routine roof-raking, but you should still double-check.
- If there’s leaking, to what extent is the ice dam removal covered? If your insurance company is cheap with the coverage, you should shop around for better coverage before the winter months roll around.
Knowing how your insurance covers ice dam removal makes the whole process more affordable for you. This better enables you to take care of the home that takes care of you and your family.