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Is an Ice Dam Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

By John Miceli

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Winter has its pros and its cons. Everyone likes a light-hearted snow day, but serious storms and heavy snowfall are a potentially dangerous nuisance. Persistent snow and ice can cause problems to your property, especially if it accumulates on top of your house.

You may be wondering if your homeowners insurance will cover snow-related damage to your roof. Fortunately, it should, but let’s take a closer look at when and how.

Is an Ice Dam Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

A major cause of ice and snow damage to many homes is ice dams, which are usually covered by homeowners insurance. Water damage from ice dams can affect the roof, insulation, attic, and inside of your house. New construction practices aim to minimize ice dam formation, but they’re always a possibility in the wake of heavy snowfall.

Ice dams form as a result of uneven heating on your roof. The warmer temperatures in your attic melt the snow and cause the runoff to pool on the cooler edge of your roof where it can refreeze. This forms a ridge of ice that blocks further runoff and causes snow to start piling up above it.

This can cause structural damage, like ruining your gutters or siding, or the excess water can cause leaks in your roof that can wreck your insulation, drywall and more. Or, if enough snow piles up, your roof could sag or collapse. 

Performing regular maintenance on your roof like removing snow and sealing air leakage paths can help prevent ice dams and snow buildup and increase your likelihood of a successful snow damage claim. 

Your insurance also isn’t necessarily responsible for removing the ice dam, just reimbursing and repairing. If it’s still present when the damage is being cleaned up, it will likely be remedied, but if you just have an ice dam on your roof without any damage, you can’t file a claim for your insurer to remove it.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Roof Leaks From Ice Dams?

Since ice dams are often unpreventable or unexpected, your homeowners insurance should cover the damage they cause. It’s important to act quickly, though, as allowing a leak caused by an ice dam to exist for some time without taking action could be seen as negligence by your insurer.

Since an ice dam prevents water from draining off your roof, it can eventually find its way through your roof and into your house. If the insurance company determines a roof leak was caused by an ice dam, and you called your insurer promptly after noticing, you should be entitled to some coverage. After all, the leak is a result of ice dam damage, which is covered.

What You Should Know When Filing Ice Dam Roof Damage Insurance Claims

You need to act quickly when filing a claim for ice dam roof damage, since the longer the leak is there, the more damage it causes, and the less likely you are to be covered. For instance, let’s say you had an ice dam on your roof in December. You take care of it yourself, but after you go back inside, you notice some minor water damage spots on your ceiling that weren’t there before the ice dam. You say you’ll take care of it later, but you forget. 

In a few months, the spots grow much larger, and you call your insurance company to say that an ice dam caused a leak in your roof. Even though an ice dam did cause the leak, your negligence caused the damage to become a much larger issue, and your insurer may deny your claim as a result.

Also, your homeowners insurance won’t cover damage to your roof that you may cause when you’re trying to remove an ice dam. If you mess up your roof with an ice pick or burn a hole in it while trying to melt away an ice dam, your insurer won’t cover you. Again, they’ll likely cite negligence on your part. You should remove and prevent ice dams responsibly and safely.

The Weight of Ice and Snow and Homeowners Insurance

Damage from the weight of ice, snow, or sleet is usually covered by homeowners insurance. It’s often explicitly mentioned in policies as a covered peril. “Perils” is just a term to refer to potential causes of damage.

The most common home insurance policy, called the HO-3 form, covers you from a list of over a dozen perils. The weight from snow, ice and sleet are usually bunched together as one peril, presumably since it’s generated from the same source – snow – and the three are often found together. Where there’s snow, there’s likely to be ice and vice versa.

The weight of snow, ice, or sleet usually affects roofs. Your roof is part of the structure of your home that’s protected under your dwelling coverage. So, if your roof gets damaged by ice or snow, your insurance will likely cover you. 

When You May Not Be Covered

Homeowners insurance policies also contain other structures coverage, which protects the structures on your property other than your house, like fences, sheds, detached garages and more. It’s important to know that your other structures coverage may not include protection from snow. 

For example, some Universal Property and Casualty policies have a clause about the weight of ice and snow that reads: “This peril does not include loss to an awning, fence, patio, pavement, swimming pool, foundation, retaining wall, bulkhead, pier, wharf, or dock.” Coverage varies by provider, but clauses like this are typical of many insurers.

Also, your personal belongings may not always be covered from ice or snow damage. For instance, if your roof collapsed due to an accumulation of snow and exposed part of your living room, your furniture and television could get ruined by falling snow or sleet.

While your insurer should cover the damage to your roof, they may not choose to reimburse you for your wrecked belongings if they determine negligence on your part caused them to be destroyed. 

If your provider believes you could’ve done something to prevent the property damage, like moving or covering your stuff, you may not get reimbursed. Also, if your insurer believes your roof was in a general state of disrepair before it got damaged by snow, or it was in some state where regular maintenance could’ve prevented snow damage and the insurance company believes you didn’t take action, your insurer may not cover you.

Also, filing repeated homeowners insurance claims for snow and ice damage may be an issue. For instance, if you’re looking for help every winter for damage caused by ice dams, your insurer will probably think there’s at least something you could do to prevent it and will deny your coverage eventually. Filing a lot of claims in a short period will also raise your rate.

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The editorial content on Clovered’s website is meant to be informational material and should not be considered legal advice.