Short Answer: It Depends. Here are some answers to questions we regularly encounter, and hopefully, a lot of insight into the whole subject of “insurance coverage and chimney repair.”
When is chimney repair covered by home insurance?
Repair is generally covered when there is a loss caused by a sudden and unexpected event. Wear and tear, old age, etc. are not covered. That said, the true devil is in details. And there are always the exceptions.
The Classic Case of Repair. The two classic cases of when a chimney repair is covered is
- when the top is struck by lightning and
- when a chimney fire occurs and causes damage. The common element being that an “event” happened.
Unexpected events that aren’t covered. Keep in mind that an event such as someone driving his truck into your chimney is a different kind of event. This would be covered under the drivers or vehicle owners insurance.
Events cannot be intentional. Obviously you can’t set fire to your home and collect insurance (without risk of going to jail) and that applies to creating smaller events as well. It has to be sudden and unexpected.
There are exceptions. Your policy explains what is and is not covered, including exceptions to the rule. Wind damage and flood damage are usually not covered. So if the wind causes chimney damage, the insurance company probably has no responsibility. However, if the wind blows a tree down which strikes your chimney, that’s different – the tree did it, not the wind; you may have to argue about it. If flooding occurs from the creek rising and eroding the foundation under the chimney, again you are probably on your own.
Insurance policies make for boring reading, but it’s not that hard to find the information you need. There are sub headings and each point or exception is made separately; information isn’t buried in long paragraphs you can’t understand. Do take a look at your policy, especially if there’s wind or flood involved.
“Take a look at your policy, especially if there’s wind of flood involved.”
Will homeowners insurance cover chimney fires?
You bet it will. Usually getting them to cover chimney repair due to a chimney fire isn’t a problem. Every once and a while the insurance company will not want to cover the damage in which case you’ll have to put on your debate hat and argue your point. Your policy covers chimney fires so don’t take no for an answer.
Now if they determine that you don’t maintain your chimney to their satisfaction, they might cancel your policy after the event. But even if the fire was caused by your failure to make reasonable efforts keep the chimney clean, the repairs to the chimney are covered.
The more specific question: “Is any damage covered if there is a chimney fire?” Yes, anything damaged as a result of the fire. This includes broken flue tiles and damage resultant from heat transfer. For example, the outside of the bricks get so hot the 2×4 framing catches fire.
And what about damage to someone else’s property? That is handled under a different part of the policy than for your own home, but you undoubtedly have liability coverage. I have little experience with this aspect so will say little more about it, but I’m sure you’re covered. Do read your policy or call your agent to confirm that.
Will homeowner’s insurance cover repair to a leaning chimney due to a structural defect?
No it won’t. This is because this is not a sudden and unexpected event. This is not to say that your insurance won’t kick in if that leaning chimney causes damage to another part of the house. Let’s say the chimney falls over and crashes right through your deck and onto your lawn tractor. The deck and the tractor would be covered, but not the chimney.
“It’s generally covered when there is a loss caused by a sudden and expected event. Wear and tear, old age etc. are not covered.”
Is hidden structural damage covered by homeowner’s insurance?
It depends. If the structural damage in question is a poorly built chimney, chimney repairs to correct those defects are not covered. On the other hand, if damage (…a fire for instance) occurs as a result of the fact the chimney was poorly built, that damage is covered. It also depends on the insurance adjuster. I’ll talk about this aspect at length later.
Will homeowners insurance cover a chimney collapse?
Maybe, even probably. But interestingly, it probably should not. Or at least let’s say, the insurance companies can probably make a plausible case for denying the claim. That said, there’s a good chance they might pay up.
The reason for NOT paying would be that the chimney collapsed for some structural reason, and if that reason is apparent they may well deny the claim. As with the example above with the leaning chimney that crashed through the deck, they could maintain that it was a long time coming and you should have dealt with it. (Again, they would be on the hook for resulting damage, but not the chimney itself)
On the other hand, it’s a pretty sudden and unexpected event when a chimney collapses. They might pay and in fact I’ll guess they will more than 50% of the time. But don’t bank on it.
Will homeowners cover repair to a chimney due to water damage?
Probably not. It’s hard to think of a scenario where flood isn’t involved that involves water. I suppose a plumbing problem that somehow affected your chimney would be covered. Rain and snow do wear out chimney, particularly in the winter with the freezing and thawing. This falls under normal wear and tear however; it’s not a sudden event.
This is true for cracks in the crown as well. Unless damage is the result of some covered event, it’s not covered.
Will homeowners insurance cover the destruction of the chimney cap?
Again, we apply the test- “Is it the result of a covered event?” If the wind ruined the cover, probably not. But if a tree limb falls on it, probably so. For the record, it’s probably not worth turning in a claim anyway. A chimney cover is a very small claim and you want to save your insurance for the day it really matters. You don’t want to get canceled over a $200 claim.
What will the insurance company cover on my chimney?
They will cover whatever was damaged, and the necessary labor to restore it to its original condition. They will not pay for an improvement. More to the point- they will not pay for an unnecessary improvement; fact is that most liner replacements would cost more to restore to original condition than to install a brand new stainless steel liner. Stainless steel liners are superior to the original clay tile liners, so in that sense it’s an improvement.
Every now and then an adjuster will try to make an issue of that, but when he learns how much it costs (this could include tearing down the whole structure and buying matching bricks) to replace the tiles according to code they will agree to replace the tiles with a stainless steel liner.
So they will repair the tiles if they are broken after a chimney fire. They will also repair any structural damage you incur as a result of the fire. Perhaps the face of your fireplace also caught fire inside the wall. The firemen ripped off the whole wall and left it on the floor- all that has to be fixed too.
They may fix pre-existing conditions. Let’s say they rip open that wall and you see that not only did the chimney catch fire but there are holes in the smoke chamber and it’s evident they have been there all along. Technically that is not covered, but it is extremely doubtful the company will quibble over getting that area made right. They do not want you to burn the whole house down. In practice they will want the whole structure made safer in a case like this.
But let’s say you never did like the mantle out front and think you’ll take this opportunity to get a real nice one. They’ll draw the line on that. What will likely happen is they adjuster will say, “OK to replace the old one would cost $XXX.xx and the new one is $YYY.yy. We’ll allow $XXX.xx toward that part of the job and you pay the difference.” Again, they aren’t in business to improve your home, just to insure you against loss.
What about the crown and cap? The crown and cap are small things, but they are not covered unless they suffered damage as a result of the fire. These are small things in comparison to other damages and are normally considered to be part of quality chimney repair. If your crown or cap has damage not caused by the “event”, then you can discuss it with the adjuster or with any luck you have a chimney contractor that just folds it all into doing the job. Some sort of cap is required with any UL listed system anyway. As for sealing a cracked crown…technically no, but it’s seldom an issue.
However let’s say it’s not something small like the cap. Let’s say the chimney caught on fire but in the inspections that followed it turned out that the plywood form that your hearth was poured on is still there. That wood can’t be there, but it’s bad workmanship. The company will want you to fix it, but it’s not the company’s responsibility to pay for it. Even so, you can ask; they might pay- stranger things have happened.
Just because something is nicer after the repair than it was before the damage is not a reason for the insurance company to balk. If it’s necessary to do [whatever] to restore the condition of the chimney, it’s covered.
“Just because something is nicer after the repair than it was before the damage is not a reason for the insurance company to balk.”
How does the insurance company decide when to pay or not?
The insurance companies have the terms of the policy, but they also have company policies (general ways they want customers treated, etc.) This means they do have some elasticity. The fact is that most companies, most of the time, don’t really want to make your life miserable. The industry is priced to allow for the gray areas, and for being somewhat elastic when they aren’t obviously constrained by the terms of the policy.
Most companies are happy to pay a legitimate claim. Of course they’d be better off if there were no claim, but once you are there making your claim, they are prepared to deal with it and smile at the same time. It’s what they do.
They also do not want a bad name with the public. The insurance commissioners are consumer oriented and want the public to be protected, which helps keep them on track if they start to stray. The insurance company doesn’t want to waste time on fighting battles that when won result in “losing the war” of bad publicity. So they are all priced in a way that allows them to pay some claims they might not really own, strictly according to the terms of the policy.
However this is not random. In my experience claims which otherwise might not be paid are only paid for the following reasons:
- If it can’t be proved that an event didn’t occur.
- If you are a long-time customer who has a packaged insurance with them. A claim-free history is a plus too.
- Very pushy and unreasonable homeowners who dig in and don’t let go. Creates the situation for an unwinnable war.
- People lie about the cause of their damage.
- Inexperienced adjusters who don’t know enough to deny a claim.
- Magic. Somehow, out of the blue, they pay and you wonder why.
Here’s the story on insurance adjusters
Insurance adjusters come in two (technically three) different types. There are company adjusters and independent adjusters. The third type adjuster will represent you, we will talk about them later.
A company adjuster is just what it sounds like: he is an employee of the insurance company. Big companies have their own adjusters. Companies like State Farm or Allstate for example. These companies often handle things over the phone and you never even meet the adjuster. Other companies, not always so small, choose to use the services of outside adjusters. These are usually individuals that contract with the insurance companies to handle verifying the claims for them.
Generally speaking, the independent adjuster is successful in business if he “keeps a lid on claims.” That is to say, these individuals are probably tougher about paying claims than company adjusters are. I don’t know if they are paid a percentage of the savings on some reserve, or if it’s just getting called more frequently; whatever the payment model is, it is true that independent adjusters can be real tough.
Company adjusters obviously are not going to last long if they give away the store either. But in their cases they do have a corporate attitude. I mean that in both ways: the employee himself is part of a large company and may well be more relaxed about small sums of money against a huge reserve budget because he has that flexibility. And then there’s the company’s attitude toward the customer: If it’s a “friendly” company, the adjuster has the freedom to be “friendly.”
A word on lying about your claim
Don’t do it. They call it insurance fraud. Insurance fraud can be prosecuted in a court.
And at least some of your history follows you forever. A cautionary tale… My dad once had a weekend place in the woods. He rented it to some people and they caught place on fire. It wasn’t a huge claim, but 20 years later when he went to get insurance for a rental house in a different state, the old fire came up before the underwriters. He did get insurance, but his name seems to be forever flagged as a person to watch.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked to falsify what I see to the insurance company. There was no chimney fire, but if I say there was a fire, the insurance company will probably believe it. I get the job and the homeowner doesn’t pay; no victim- right? Wrong. The insurance may have more money than you and I have, but my desire for someone else’s goods do not give me title to them. It’s not my money and taking it by lying is wrong. Don’t do it.
How to fight a denial of a claim
Hopefully you won’t get into an adversarial relationship with your insurance company. But if you do for some reason, and you know you have the law on your side, there is no reason why you should lose.
The first line of defense is just to dig in and say NO. As an internal matter, they don’t want claims open for a long time. They don’t want bad PR. Most companies are perfectly reasonable, but you can get unreasonable adjusters, or adjusters who don’t know what they are doing yet. Just sticking with it will get results over 50% of the time.
If that’s not getting the job done, you can call the insurance commissioner’s office. They do not want complaints, and the especially don’t want to be reprimanded for denying legitimate claims.
You can get a lawyer, though it shouldn’t be necessary. Only if it’s a big claim and you think it needs a judge to interpret the policy.
You can get a public adjuster to represent you, assuming you have a large enough claim. Remember I said there are technically three types of adjusters? This is the third type and they are different in that they represent you. They do this for a fee. And my experience they are worth their fee many times over. This is not for the small claim. However if half your house burns down, call the fire department first, your insurance company second, and an independent adjuster third. Don’t waste time; get them in from day-one.
I had an employee who set my business on fire once. The place did not burn down, but the computers were ruined etc. lots of damage. I assumed my insurance company would take good care of me, but I found out that they are not so friendly when there is A LOT of money involved. They didn’t want to pay anything until it was established that I didn’t set the fire myself. Understandable I guess, but I was going to go out of business waiting on the process.
I’ll skip the middle of the story, but suffice to say I wound up with the services of an independent adjuster company. They knew more about my policy than I did and got me way more money (all of which I legitimately had coming) than I’d ever have gotten because I would not have known enough to ask for it. My experience was that the hard-nosed insurance company folded and got real cooperative the instant I had representation. For what it’s worth… and I hope you never need that wisdom.
Can I use my contractor or do I have to use theirs?
You can use yours. They can’t force you to have someone in your home you don’t want there. And mostly they are not going to try to force you into anything. While I mention problems in this article, most of the time you are dealing with reasonable people who just want to help you get whole again.
So said, insurance companies surely do have people they like to work with. In fact, I use to have several adjusters who would call me to go inspect chimneys that were being claimed on. The adjusters that called me did so because over time they’d come to trust me. As a result I did get a lot of work.
Conversely, that worked against me the days when somebody else held that same edge. I was careful to explain to my customer that it was her home and she didn’t have to have anybody do work there she didn’t want; she could insist on having me do the repair if that’s what she wanted. If my customer liked me well enough, I still got the job 😉 You get my point.
Why is that important? Because the criteria for being an adjuster’s favorite vary. In my case I had guys who liked me because I was honest (i.e. I wouldn’t stick them with a claim that wasn’t a fire just to get the work). But for some adjusters, it’s all about price. There are even guys who never do any repair at all; they just look at chimneys and say there’s no problem and get paid for the service call.
You may be asked to get three estimates, and they’ll pay the lowest one. Don’t fall for that. Best advice is to figure out which contractor you want in your home and insist on hiring that one.
What to do? Understand your policy and trust your contractor. And insist on having people you trust in your house. Even if the proposal is more it’ll go. If the price is ridiculously high there will be lots of discussion and hassle, but as long as it’s in range, they will pay the higher price.