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Ultimate Guide to Homeowners Insurance and Chimney Repairs

Introduction

Chimney damage can come in all shapes and sizes. 

Small cracks can lead to large leaks. No caps can allow birds to enter. Creosote buildup, which is natural and flammable by the way, can be just enough to set your house on fire. 

Whatever the case may be, when we’re asked if chimney repairs are covered by homeowners, the best answer that we can give is: it depends…

We’re no experts on homeowner’s insurance. So we reached out to Wes Cothran from Cothran Insurance to help us get to the bottom of this.

Check out what he had to say below. 

The mantra of all potential insurance claims is ‘sudden and accidental.’

When are chimney repairs covered for homeowner’s insurance?

Repairs to your home are only covered if they are as a result of direct damage from a sudden and unexpected covered peril. For example, fire, lightning strikes, hail, the weight of snow or ice, falling objects such as trees, wind damage, etc. 

Repairs required as a result of normal wear and tear are not covered and is your responsibility.

The same holds true of chimneys.  

Homeowners insurance does not pay for repairs due to regular maintenance. Nor do they pay for repairs taken as preventative measures. 

However, if a tree were to fall on your chimney and damage it or a windstorm blew it down, your insurance company will pay for the repairs.

Additionally, reasonable repairs after covered damage to your chimney are covered. So if a tree were to fall on the chimney causing a big hole that could let in rain, you can hire a contractor to come and do some immediate temporary repairs to prevent further damage to your home while the insurance company has a chance to determine if the claim is covered and for how much. 

But, if you don’t make reasonable repairs after damage occurs to prevent additional damage to the home while the claim is being settled, the insurance company may decline any additional damage due to neglect on your part.

Will insurance cover chimney fires?

Homeowners insurance will cover chimney fires, whether a chimney fire causes significant damage to just the chimney or the home itself. However, it will not pay for damage if the damage is as a result of the ongoing use of the chimney.

The fire would have to be a sudden, hostile fire to be considered for coverage.

Also, as long as the damage is sudden and accidental, your insurance policy will pay for resulting smoke damage inside the home from a chimney fire.

What I mean by that is your policy will not pay for smoke damage as a result of fires contained in your chimney occurring over time. But insurance will cover smoke damage if it is as a result of a hostile fire.

Will insurance cover to repair a leaning chimney due to a structural defect?

The mantra of all potential insurance claims is “sudden and accidental.”

If it doesn’t meet that criterion, then it most certainly will not be covered.

Keeping that in mind, your homeowners insurance will not pay to repair a leaning chimney due to a structural defect. That’s because a structural defect will not cause a chimney to “suddenly” lean. It would take months or years for that to be noticeable.

If you become aware of a structural defect that may cause damage, the insurance company will not pay to correct the structural defect. It is your responsibility to take necessary action before it causes additional damage.

Will insurance cover hidden structural damage to a chimney?

There is no catch-all answer for this one because some insurance companies require that to cover a chimney collapsing from an unknown hidden decay, insect or vermin damage that weakens the structural integrity of a chimney the chimney must collapse as a direct result of the building itself collapsing from unknown hidden decay, insect or vermin damage.

On the other hand, some insurance companies don’t provide coverage for collapse at all from hidden decay, insect, or vermin damage to the building including the chimney. You would need to check with your insurance agent to see which way your policy handles these events.

If the chimney collapses, is that covered by homeowners insurance?

If your chimney were to suddenly collapse, it would be covered by your homeowner’s policy for certain causes.

However, it would have to be unforeseeable.

That means if it was known that the foundation was compromised or that there was significant cracking or settling that made it structurally unsafe, your insurance company would have an argument to deny the claim.

Additionally, aside from the aforementioned hidden decay, insect or vermin damage stipulations, most insurance companies limit what the cause of the collapse is to things such as collapse as a result of fire or lightning, windstorm or hail, explosion, vandalism, falling objects, the weight of ice, snow or sleet.

It should be noted that collapse from these perils (i.e. fire, lightning, etc) is not contingent upon the chimney collapsing as a direct result of the building collapsing like it is with the hidden decay, insects, and vermin damage.

For fire, lighting, etc., the chimney can collapse on its own and still be covered.

Will insurance pay to repair the chimney from water damage?

Water damage coverage under your homeowners policy is likely only covered under certain situations and if you want coverage for flood, that would require a flood policy.

So let’s examine the ways water could potentially damage a chimney to see if it is covered:

If a water pipe burst caused damage to your chimney, that would be covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy without requiring any special endorsements or additional policies.

If you had a flood policy and a flood-damaged your chimney, that would be covered by your flood policy and not your homeowners policy because a flood is generally excluded by homeowners insurance. However, a few insurance companies are now offering this as an endorsement that you can purchase.

Due to the inherent composition of bricks and your chimney masonry, they absorb moisture. This absorption can cause issues during the winter when the water freezes which may cause spalling, which is when the brick’s surface breaks off and becomes damaged.

Additionally, this freezing and thawing may cause the mortar to be damaged. Going back to our mantra of potential claims having to be sudden and accidental, this type of damage would not be covered as it occurs over time.

If water were to seep into the chimney, it could potentially cause rusting to the damper or firebox or it could cause the tile liner to deteriorate. Again, since these are occurrences that happen over time, homeowners insurance would not cover it.

However, it should be noted that if a hard rain were to push water in through your chimney or brick and cause damage to your ceilings and walls, you should have a claims adjuster look at the resulting damage to the ceilings and walls as that is something that is typically covered assuming the damage occurred suddenly and accidentally.

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Will insurance pay for a new chimney cap and/or crown?

A chimney’s cap and/or crown would be covered by insurance as long as the damage was from a covered occurrence i.e. fire, wind, theft, falling object, etc. 

However, if the only damage was to the chimney cap/crown, the total damages may fall below your deductible as most insurance companies are requiring a minimum deductible of $1,000 now. 

If that is the case then you would be stuck paying for your own cap/crown as the cost of these is usually under $1,000.

Will insurance fix preexisting conditions?

As stated earlier, an insurance company does not pay for maintenance of a chimney so they will not pay to fix a preexisting condition that needs to be addressed just to prevent possible future damage. 

Furthermore, if you are aware of a particular issue and they don’t take action by correcting or fixing the issue, any future damage as a result of not fixing the issue may not be covered by your policy.

Additionally, your insurance company is only responsible for the cost to repair or replace your home with “like kind and quality” as the home stood prior to the damage. 

What that means is that if a local ordinance or law requires you to make certain upgrades or changes to your chimney after a covered claim in order to meet current code during the repair process, then that additional cost is on you unless you have had your homeowners policy endorsed with a coverage called Ordinance or Law

Since local ordinances and laws regulating buildings change regularly, I would advise anyone with a home over 5 years of age to have at least 10% Ordinance or Law coverage on their homeowners policy.

How does the insurance company decide whether to pay?

The first step in determining if the insurance company will pay or not is to determine the cause of the damage.

The insurance company has several options in determining the cause of the damage to a chimney as well as what that process looks like.

  1. They may send a claims adjuster who is an employee of the insurance company
  2. They may send an independent third party claims adjuster who is not an employee of the insurance company
  3. They may just have you send pictures of the damages with an estimate from a contractor
  4. They may send an independent third party engineer out to look at the damages.

Who they send to view the damages will be determined by the estimated total damages, how easy it is to determine the cause of the damage, and how big or busy the insurance company is.

If they are large enough to employ their own claims adjusters they will typically go that route instead of paying an independent third party.

 

For most small claims under $2,500, the insurance company will most likely be willing to accept the opinion of a local contractor as to what the cause of the damage was and how much to fix it in lieu of sending out a claims adjuster. However, they will still need pictures.

If the damages exceed $2,500, you can almost always count on the fact that a claims adjuster will be out to inspect the damages to verify the cause of the damage to make sure it is covered by the policy. The adjuster will write up an estimate for how much the damages are.

In some cases, the estimate of damages may be done on the spot, and other times it may require the adjuster to go back to their office and do the write-up.

In either case, if once a contractor goes out and starts the repairs and the contractor determines that the damage exceeds the estimate, the amount paid by your insurance company may be negotiable.

The only time an insurance company would have an engineer come out and look at the damages is if there is a question as to the actual cause of the damage.

If the adjuster can not reasonably determine the actual cause of the damage, they would want an expert in the field to come out and make that determination.

Once they determine the cause of the damage (i.e. fire, wind, etc.), the claims adjuster will pull up your specific policy in their system to view your coverages.

If the cause of the damage is not specifically excluded on the policy or you have added coverage for that particular type of claim, then the damage would be covered and your insurance company will pay the claim.

What should you do if you need to file a claim?

If you need to file a claim, it is always advisable for you to call your insurance agent first because they may be able to guide you through the process, let you know what your deductibles and limits are, refer contractors to you, and answer any other questions you may have.

However, if that is not possible due to the timing of the event, you should contact the insurance company directly.

After you file the claim, you should determine if your situation requires any immediate temporary repairs to be done to prevent any additional damage. If it does then you should contact a local contractor to come and do the temporary repairs while you wait for the insurance company to call you back.

Summary 

Ultimately, what is and isn’t covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy will be determined by the individual characteristics of your claim:

  • What Cause of Loss form is on the policy
  • Any endorsements added to it 
  • Your insurance company’s specific policy provisions. 

There are 3 types of Cause of Loss Forms: Basic, Broad, and Special. 

Basic and Broad are what are called Named Peril forms and the only type of claims covered by these forms are those types of events that the policy specifically states are covered. 

The Special Cause of Loss form is much more comprehensive in terms of what is covered because everything your imagination can think of is covered except for those things the policy specifically says is not covered. 

Since the majority of homeowners policies are written on a Special form with a Replacement Cost Valuation, that Cause of Loss form and Valuation was the focus of this article.

About the Author

A graduate of The College of William and Mary, Wes Cothran has been a licensed Property and Casualty insurance agent located in Lynchburg, Va since 1999. Since becoming licensed he has earned several designations such as Commercial Lines Coverage Specialist and Management Liability Insurance Specialist. He is licensed to write insurance in all of Va, NC, SC, WV, TX, and FL.

https://www.cothraninsurance.com/homeowners

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