This time of year, chimneys and fireplaces are at the forefront of many homeowners’ minds. Autumn winds are coming back around, leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and there is no denying that it’s the perfect weather for lighting up a cozy fire in your home.
That said, for those with chimney damages, this idyllic scene may seem far from reach. Using a fireplace that needs repairs simply isn’t an option, and all too often, masonry repairs, replacement parts, and rebuilds are expensive and don’t make the budget.
The good news is, depending on your policy, your homeowners insurance may actually cover some (or all) of the costs involved with your chimney repairs! And if this is the case for you, you’ll be well on your way to cozy evenings by the fireplace in no time.
What Is Homeowners Insurance?
So, let’s start from the beginning – what exactly is homeowner’s insurance? Well, it’s essentially a type of property insurance that ensures you are covered if you face some type of loss or damage. Depending on your policy, this could include interior damage, exterior damage, loss of assets, or any injuries that occur on the property.
Basically a homeowner makes an insurance claim during one of these scenarios, they’ll need to pay a deductible (an out-of-pocket cost set up when the policy was created), after which the insurance company will cover the rest – should all qualifications be met.
It seems simple enough, but the tricky part comes when trying to figure out which events and damages are covered and which are not. And when it comes to your chimney, doing your research could save you quite a bit on repair costs!
Insurance & Your Chimney: What’s Covered?
So, what are you covered for in terms of chimney care? First things first, there is no “right answer” to this question, as every policy is different. Because of this, it’s really important to know what’s in your policy, so you’re prepared, no matter what.
That said, most policies will typically cover the following, as they constitute as a sudden and unexpected incident:
- Lightning strikes to your crown or chimney cap
- Chimney fires
- Branches falling on your chimney and causing damage
- A collapse due to the weight of snow, sleet, or ice
- Leaks created as a result of a bad storm or weather event
Note: If a chimney fire has occurred, the insurance company may argue the case. Some chimney fires happen because of creosote buildup and neglect, in which case you likely won’t qualify for any coverage. But if this wasn’t the case for you, don’t cave in and let the insurance company deny you! There are likely records showing if you’ve recently had a cleaning or inspection, in which case you can show that the fire was not due to neglect on your part.
Along with this, if your chimney was already damaged prior to a collapse and repairs were not completed, your insurance company may not cover damages.
What’s NOT Covered?
Knowing what is covered is important, but it’s also good to know what situations will NOT qualify for coverage. Again, be sure to look over your policy closely to ensure you’re not missing something important, as this is the only way to know for sure what you qualify for. That being said, the following scenarios will not usually be covered:
- High winds
- Damage due to neglect/poor maintenance
- Damage due to old age
- Normal wear and tear
My Claim is Accepted! What Costs/Repairs Will the Insurance Company Cover?
Now, it’s important to note that while your insurance company will cover what was damaged, they will not cover the costs for an unnecessary improvement. They may fix pre-existing conditions that improve the safety and structure of your home and chimney (even if they don’t technically qualify under your policy), but if you’re hoping to splurge on something new and fancy, that won’t make the cut. Insurance companies want your chimney to be safe but they focus on final dollar value and look for what they call like-for-like repairs.
Some things, like a new stainless steel liner, will likely be covered as they are cheaper to install one than to replace all of your flue tiles (which is not an option as code requires clay flue tiles be installed ahead of the chimney as it is constructed). And liners (where possible, are definitely less expensive than rebuilding your entire structure. Stainless steel liners, when properly insulated, can also address clearance issues that would limit or prohibit like-for-like repairs. Other code or safety issues that like-for-like repairs do not address may result in the insurance company being required and willing to pay for other repairs.
That said, if you try to throw in an expensive mantel or some refacing materials you’ve had your eye on, those claims may be denied, as they aren’t essential, or considered like-for-like. Often the insurance company only wants to determine what the like-for-like value is and that is what they will pay out. Once you have the funds, what you choose to do with the funds above and beyond the like-for-like repair is usually up to you.
And just a reminder, lying on a claim is considered insurance fraud, results in immediate denial, and is punishable by law. If this occurs your coverage will be dropped. Be honest and straightforward, and never ask your sweep or inspector to lie about damages (like saying it was a chimney fire when it wasn’t) in hopes of getting more money.
My Claim Was Denied! What Now?
First things first, don’t let your insurance company bully you. Keep fighting. They won’t want their claims staying open for an extended period of time, but they especially don’t want any bad press, so if you know it should be covered and stick with it, keep talking with different leaders in the company, and even make some noises if necessary, you’re likely to get what you’re entitled to. In the end they agreed to provide coverage and if damages fall within the scope of your policy they should be covered.
If all that fails, try calling the insurance commissioner’s office to make a complaint, or if you have a large enough claim, have a public adjuster represent you.
Your Responsibility as a Homeowner
One of the best ways to ensure you get what you need in these cases is to invest in regular professional maintenance and care. If you have a good track record showing that your system is consistently in good shape and well cared for, you’ll have a lot more luck proving that claims for unexpected damage are legitimate.
We recommend investing in annual inspections from a CSIA-certified sweep. If you live in the Grand Junction area and have yet to get yours on the books, it’s time to reach out to our crew! We’re here and happy to help you out with it all. Call today.