Given the location of your chimney, it’s easy to overlook needed repairs until something dramatic happens. Maybe a brick or a stone from your masonry breaks lose, or perhaps the damage has resulted in a leak. Discoloration in your ceiling or dripping can quickly make you realize that your chimney is in need of repairs. Unfortunately, serious damage to your chimney can be somewhat expensive to fix. Homeowners may worry about fitting these costs into their budgets. You might find yourself wondering if your homeowners’ insurance will cover the work that you need.
Like many financial issues, there is no clear-cut answer to insurance coverage when it comes to chimneys. Depending on the circumstances and the policy you have, a claim for chimney repairs could get delayed for weeks or months or even denied. One of the best ways to ensure that your homeowners’ policy covers any sudden damage is to maintain your chimney and work with professionals who can provide necessary documentation to your insurance company about the nature of the damage getting repaired.
Damage Related or General Wear and Tear?
In general, most homeowners’ policies protect damages that result from weather, fire, burglary attempts and even fires. Damage that comes from aging, lack of maintenance or simply aging will most likely not get covered. There won’t be a specific clause that discusses chimneys, but they are typically covered under general policies. Damages from serious issues, like severe weather, lightning strikes, fires and even animals could get covered. However, your insurance company will want to verify that damages came from a covered event and not just general degradation over time.
Sometimes, it may seem like a leak from your chimney was the result of a storm, when, in reality, the storm simply provided enough water to cause internal symptoms. It’s possible that the damage had developed slowly, over time. Your insurance company will most likely look very closely at the chimney. They may even send an adjuster out to look at the damage. That person will look at issues like how solid the mortar is and the condition of your flashing, among other considerations.
If you haven’t taken the time and made the effort to maintain your chimneys, its masonry, mortar and flashing, leaks and damage resulting from weathering might not get covered. Many chimneys are in need of basic repairs and maintenance, but go ignored until they cause some kind of secondary issue, like a leak in your ceiling. The mortar holding your chimney together can degrade over time. Flashing can get pulled loose or even torn by weather, aging or animal activity. Metal chimneys can rust, resulting in breaks and other issues. Maintenance can help prevent all of these issues.
Maintenance Is Key to Chimney Longevity
The older your home and the chimney on your roof, the more critical maintenance becomes. Of course, you should also have regular inspections and maintenance performed on your chimney, even if you just had it rebuilt or your home is from a new construction. Chimney professionals can help prevent leaks, build-up of creosote and even remove animal nests that could cause fires or smoke damage to the interior of your home.
If you don’t want to have to replace your chimney or invest in expensive repairs, your best option is to have it maintained and inspected at least once a year. Choosing the right chimney professional is important, too. You don’t want a general contractor who doesn’t understand chimneys looking over this critical part of your home. You want to work with someone who understands chimney maintenance and repairs.
Ideally, the professionals will provide a record of the maintenance performed and keep detailed internal records. That way, if there ever is storm- or animal-related damage to your chimney, you can provide the insurance company with documentation that your chimney was previously well maintained and in functioning order.
Check Your Policy for Limitations
Most homeowners’ policies have limits on what they cover. In general, wind and flood damage are excluded from standard homeowners’ policies. You will need to have a supplemental policy or a special rider in your policy to ensure that you have coverage for damage caused by winds or a flood.
The good news here is that if the wind knocks a tree onto your house, your insurance policy will most likely cover those damages. Only damage directly received from wind or flooding will get excluded from coverage. Depending on if your home is in a flood plain (even a 100-year flood plain) or in an elevated area prone to strong gusts of wind, investing in supplemental policies or special riders can give you peace of mind and protection in the case of severe weather.
Document Everything When Filing a Claim
Just like you want to have a record of your regular maintenance, you should record details about the damage and attempt to deal with it. As soon as you realize that there has been damage to your chimney, called a professional capable of assessing the nature and extent of the damage. Some companies will even provide an estimate for the cost of repairs at the time of inspection. From there, you can contact your homeowners’ insurance company and determine what is necessary to file a claim.
If an insurance adjuster is coming to your home, make sure to have your maintenance records, estimates and other information related to the chimney readily available. In some cases, you may even ask your chimney professional to stop by at the same time as the adjuster. That way, an outside party can substantiate your claim that the chimney had been properly maintained.
If your claim gets denied, be ready to pay for the repairs yourself. Putting them off for too long can result in worse damages, and your insurance company likely won’t approve any other claims related to leaks or roof damage resulting from your delay in chimney repairs. Having a safe and functional chimney is important, even if you don’t intend to use your fireplace. A broken or damaged chimney could pose a threat to the integrity of your roof. Leaks could cause black mold inside your home or dry rot in support beams. It’s important to be proactive about dealing with chimney damage.