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Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Damage from Ice Damming on a Flat Roof?

Homeowners in cold, wet climates face plenty of headaches during the winter. From commonplace inconveniences like shoveling out sidewalks, walkways and driveways after a snowfall to more serious hazards like excessive loads of snow on aging roofs, winter weather presents a unique set of challenges that can be costly or catastrophic when managed improperly.

Often overlooked until they suddenly appear in mid-winter, rooftop and gutter-side ice dams can cause serious damage to homes' roofing, siding and windows. In fact, most homes in temperate or cold climates are built with sloping roofs to mitigate the potential for snow build-up and ice damming. Sloping roofs protect homeowners against winter weather in two principal ways. First, they work with gravity to dispose of built-up snow and ice as the weather warms and the frozen deposits slowly loosen their grip on the roof's material.

Secondly, sloping roofs' ample surface area and generally dark coloring boosts the melting power of the sun's warming rays and discourages excessive snow and ice buildup. Of course, melting that is repeatedly interrupted and re-initiated by daily heating and cooling cycles can quickly create massive ice dams that present immediate risks for homeowners. If left untreated, ice dams that form in or around a gutter may become heavy enough to crack or break it. In the worst case, falling ice and metal can damage the home's siding, break windows and cause interior flooding.

Compared to sloping roofs, flat roofs don't dispose of frozen or liquid moisture very well. In particularly snowy areas, the sheer weight of accumulated snowfall may be enough to puncture or destroy flat roofs over the course of a winter. Flat-roofed commercial buildings typically boast structural reinforcements to lessen the probability of a roof collapse. They may also use heating vents coupled with street-level gutters to drain melted snow and slush as quickly as possible. They're typically colored black to maximize their capacity for passive heat absorption.

Flat-roofed single-family residences may not have these protections. For this reason, most homeowner's insurance doesn't cover ice dam damage to flat-roofed residences. The most expensive and comprehensive form of homeowner's insurance, known as HO3, may cover the cost of repairs associated with this type of damage. However, it won't cover the cost of removing the ice dam itself. In some particularly snowy areas, it may be difficult for the owner of a flat-roofed home to secure homeowner's insurance at all.

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