A typical all-perils homeowners insurance policy does cover your roof and the cost of replacing it if it gets damaged. That's the good news. But usually, you're covered only if the damage or destruction results from a sudden accident or act of nature. Problems that ensue from general wear and tear or from a roof that has exceeded its intended life span are not eligible for reimbursement because they fall under the general maintenance responsibility of the homeowner.

key takeaways

  • Most homeowners insurance policies cover roof replacement if the damage is the result of an act of nature or sudden accidental event.
  • Most homeowners insurance policies won't pay to replace or repair a roof that's gradually deteriorating due to wear-and-tear or neglect.
  • Roofs that are over 20 years old often have limited coverage, if any.
  • To ensure approval of your claim, keep records of repairs, before-and-after photos, and reports from inspections. Notify your insurance company promptly when damage occurs.

How Roof Coverage Works

Of all the parts of your home, the roof arguably has the most direct exposure to the elements. For northern climates, there is the weight of heavy snow and hail or ice storms. In the midwest, tornados and cyclones are also common problems. In tropical climates, there is the potential for gales and hurricane-force winds.

Not only can Mother Nature do direct damage, but she can also trigger other sorts of havoc—like a violent windstorm that topples a tree onto your roof. There may be wildfires. Or there could be more unlikely incidents, like something crashing down on the roof from above—like debris from an explosion or aircraft.

Happily, the roof is an integral part of the structure of your home, and so the dwelling coverage section of your homeowners insurance policy typically protects you from such perils. Damage and destruction from such events qualify the homeowner for a total or partial replacement of the roof.

Coverage is often curtailed for roofs that are over 20 years old—they may only be insured for their actual cash value, not for their current replacement cost.

Of course, you'll still have to pay your policy deductible before your coverage kicks in. Some policies, especially those written in certain high-risk states, impose a higher deductible for damages that ensue from hurricanes or hailstorms. Residents in those areas wishing to protect their property often have to purchase additional coverage, or a separate windstorm insurance policy. Of course, anyone who wants extra protection or a higher degree of coverage can purchase it as well.

Special Considerations for Roof Coverage

If a dramatic event causes dramatic damage—the roof comes crashing down, has a major hole, or is torn off entirely—coverage is likely. More problematic are instances when the damage is less dramatic, even if an act of nature caused it. Let's say a violent thunderstorm nicks a bunch of your roof's shingles. The insurance company may classify that as cosmetic damage, and not cover it. Or let's say that, after the aforementioned storm, you notice your roof has become leaky. Even though the rains triggered it, the insurance company might claim that's a general wear-and-tear problem—reflecting your roof's gradual deterioration—which is never covered.

Ironically, any water damage caused by the leaking roof to your walls, floors, or furniture probably would be covered under the all-perils section of your policy. However, the roof repair itself would not be.

Preventing Roof Problems

It is the responsibility of the property owner to properly care for and maintain his roof, and to be aware of the life span of different materials, which can range from 15 to 100 years. Homeowners can take other steps to help protect their roof—like hiring licensed professionals to perform regular inspections. Many roofing companies will inspect a roof for free in the hopes of earning future business (just don't be surprised if they find a lot of problems).

Make sure your roof is free of debris and does not hold or collect water. Any trees touching or hanging over the roof should be trimmed back. After a big storm or a long snowy spell, always check your roof to see how the shingles and gutters are doing. If you live in wind-prone areas, see that your home and roof are up to the current building codes.

Getting Reimbursed for Roof Replacement

Age is not your roof's friend. Unless it's made of a material with famed longevity, like slate, a roof depreciates with each year; many insurers won't cover those that are over a quarter-century old. Other possible policy exclusions could include improper maintenance or neglect, the use of certain expensive roofing materials (like cedar or recycled shake shingles), or roofs with more than two layers of roofing material.

To give yourself the best chance of having your insurance company pay for a roof, the first step is to call them out for an inspection. Before they arrive, gather up as many documents as you can, including a copy of your current home insurance policy, any home inspection reports, receipts for any repair work you’ve done, and photos of any damage that has occurred. (Since before-and-after shots are always useful, it's a good idea to take photos of your roof when it's healthy.) All will be helpful in the claims process. The insurance company will send out an adjuster to inspect the damage and offer their own assessment.

Tips to Save on New Roof Costs

The average price range for a roof replacement can run from $260 to $700 per square foot depending on the roofing material used. Someone might be able to help you out for as low as $150 to $350 per square foot for asphalt shingle repair. For metal roofs, expect between $350 and $1,000 for tile and metal roof repair. Here are some tips on how to minimize your repair and replacement costs:

  1. Do your research: Know the size and complexity of your roof and the exact materials you want to have installed before talking to contractors.
  2. Shop around: Get quotes from several roofers and always request and check local references before hiring someone. Be wary of extremely low bids, which could mean subpar work, and make sure roofers offer a warranty on materials and installation.
  3. Time it right: Roofers are busiest in late summer and fall. Scheduling your roof replacement in late winter or spring may yield lower prices or off-season discounts.
  4. Do it (or some of it) yourself: Consider doing part of the work yourself. If you have the time, the proper equipment, and a stomach for heights, removing old roofing before the installer arrives could help cut costs. 
  5. Consider an overlay: An overlay involves installing new shingles on top of existing ones. Because the old roofing stays put, overlays require fewer hours of labor and cost less than a full replacement. However, an overlay may void or shorten the manufacturer's warranty on roofing materials. Overlays also typically increase future replacement costs due to increased labor and job waste.