Does homeowners insurance cover ice dam damage?

Homeowners insurance covers damage caused by the weight of snow or ice, so if an ice dam causes your roof to fall through, you'd likely be covered.

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The winter months present a number of potential headaches for homeowners. Water damage from winter storms, freezing pipes from arctic temperatures, and the very real possibility of your Christmas tree going up in flames are all serious issues to contend with.

Fortunately, homeowners insurance covers all of those perils, but how about a massive ice dam that gathers on your roof and causes it to collapse into your home? Yes, homeowners insurance will cover that too, but there are a few considerations to bear in mind before filing a claim.

Key Takeaways

  • Homeowners insurance covers property damage caused by the weight of ice, snow, or sleet, so if an ice dam causes your roof to fall through, your insurance would likely help cover repairs

  • Repairs to other structures on your property, like fences, pools, patios, and docks may not be covered in the event of damage caused by ice dams or snow buildup

  • Check your policy deductible to determine if it’s worth filing a claim. If the damage to your property isn't much more than your deductible, it may not be worth it

What is an ice dam?

An ice dam is pretty self-explanatory—it's a buildup of water that dams up (or collects) on your roof and freezes, forming a giant ridge of ice. Ice dams form because one part of your roof (usually along the edges) is colder than other parts of your roof. When water from the warmer section melts off, it flows into pockets where ice has accumulated, creating more ice and pools of water. This forms a barrier between your roof and the gutter, making it difficult for water to drain. Depending on your roof’s condition, dams can often lead to leaks and roof collapses, creating an expensive problem.

Luckily, homeowners insurance covers this age-old home maintenance headache, but there are a number of preventative measures you can take to stop ice dams before they start. Additionally, it might not always be worth filing a claim if the damage amount is only slightly higher than your policy deductible. Frequent insurance claims lead to higher insurance premiums and increase the likelihood that your insurer cancels your policy.

Does homeowners insurance cover ice dams?

For the most part, yes.

A standard HO-3 homeowners insurance policy doesn’t outright mention that ice dam damage is covered, but one would assume the insurer would consider it “weight of ice and snow”—a peril that is covered by standard coverage.

Furthermore, ice dam damage isn’t outright excluded in the policy, either. With all-risks dwelling coverage, if a peril isn’t explicitly excluded, then your insurance generally covers it. If your insurance company denies your ice dam damage claim, ask them to provide substantial proof via the standard policy form.

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Is ice dam damage ever not covered?

Something to keep in mind: when we say ice dam damage is covered, we’re referring to damage to your home and your personal belongings inside the home. There is a section of your policy that specifies that damage to certain structures on your property won’t be covered if the cause of loss is freezing, thawing and weight of water or ice. Those structures include:

  • Fences, pavement, patios, or swimming pools

  • Foundations, bulkheads, walls, or any other structure that supports all or part of a building or other structure on the property

  • Retaining walls

  • Piers, wharves, or docks

Does homeowners insurance cover the cost of ice dam removal?

While homeowners insurance will cover damage caused by ice dams, your insurer may not cover the cost of removing the ice dam from your roof. Homeowners insurance generally doesn’t provide “preventative" coverage, so if the ice dam hasn’t yet caused any damage structural damage, your insurance company most likely won’t pay to remove it.

However, if the ice dam does cause damage and you file a claim, your insurance company will likely cover its removal as part of your insurance claim payout.

Is it worth filing an ice dam damage claim?

One of the more confusing aspects of homeowners insurance is knowing when to use it. Yes, you’re paying the monthly premiums for a reason and you should be able to use this thing you’re putting money toward when something bad happens. But it’s not always worth it to file a claim.

For one, frequent claims make insurance more expensive and make it harder to get insurance in the long run (major insurance companies are known to turn down applicants with multiple claims in a short period of time—typically five years). Additionally, if the damage amount isn’t higher than your deductible, then you won’t be able to file a claim. (If the loss is $1,800 but your deductible is $2,000, your claim will be denied).

In terms of ice dam damage, it simply depends on the severity of the loss. Roof damage claims can be expensive, and that expense is only compounded if hundreds of gallons of water fall through and ruin a ton of your personal belongings. If we’re talking about an entire section of your roof giving way to a mini pond that causes thousands in property damage, it may be worth filing a claim rather than paying for it out of pocket. But again, it really depends on how high your deductible is and your claims history.

If we’re talking about repairing a roof leak, that’s something you might just want to pay for out of pocket instead, in addition to the removal of the ice dam itself. To remove the dam, consult a roofing professional or look into an ice dam steamer. (Yes, we checked—those exist.)

Preventing ice dams

The best way to prevent ice dams and spare yourself the maintenance and insurance headache is to be proactive. Good ventilation, drainage and proper insulation are all suggested ways to keep this expensive problem from turning into an expensive disaster. Here are a number of actionable steps you should take ahead of winter:

  • Clear your gutters of leaves and debris

  • Check and seal places where warm air could leak from your home to the attic (vent pipes, exhaust fans, light fixtures, etc)

  • Check for signs of bad ventilation

  • Keep snow from accumulating on the lower sections of your roof

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