Home Insurance for Flat Roofs


UPDATED: NOV 2019 | 1 MIN READ

Flat roofs are a staple of contemporary residential architecture. They can provide homeowners with additional outdoor living space or amenities like a rooftop garden. Despite their growing popularity, homebuyers are hesitant to purchase properties with flat roofs. They’re also hesitant to build additions to their homes that include flat roofs. Why? They’re worried that their homeowners insurance won’t cover it or they’ll see a significant rise in premiums. 

Flat roofs do present a challenge, but not an impossible one. Here’s everything you need to know: 

How is a flat roof different from a sloped one?

The difference is not just aesthetic and includes these key factors:

  • Drainage ability – It takes much longer for water to drain on a flat roof than a slanted one. You are much more dependent on environmental factors like temperature and humidity for the melting of snow/ice and the evaporation of water. 
  • Materials – Flat roofs are commonly constructed out of tar and gravel to create a monolithic surface, in contrast to shingling on sloped roofs. 
  • Cost – The up-front cost of a flat roof is usually less than a sloped roof. The reasons for this include materials costs and less intensive labor. 

Is there an ideal climate for a flat roof?

A location that receives very little precipitation is the best place for a home with a flat roof. In this climate, you can take advantage of low up-front installation costs in addition to a lower cost of maintenance.

Maintenance tips for flat roofs

Even if you don’t live in an ideal climate for flat roofs, it’s not impossible to maintain them over the course of their lifetime (usually 10-20 years).

Here’s what you can do:

  • Keep drains clean – This is probably the single most important thing you can do to maintain the quality of your roof. Keep drains and gutters clear of anything that could hinder them from doing their job. Standing water is a major cause of leaks and roof damage. 
  • Check the roof on a regular schedule – Unlike slanted roofs, you can’t just look up at a flat roof to see if any repairs need to be done. You (or someone you hire) will need to physically go up to the roof to look for damage and wear. You can make a routine out of this (monthly or quarterly) similar to how you would take care of any other part of your home. 
  • Keep debris from piling up – Because of its orientation, a flat roof can become home to a lot of drifting junk and debris. Be on the lookout for leaves and items like animal nests. If you have any trees growing near the residence, trim them back to prevent twigs and branches from piling up. 
  • Patch minor tears immediately – Performing simple repairs as soon as problems arise can save you money. Make sure to have a professional investigate if there are any other underlying issues that you need to deal with. 

How does homeowners insurance treat flat roofs?

Having a flat roof does not automatically disqualify you from an affordable homeowners insurance policy. Insurance companies tend to consider the following when pricing policies for homes with flat roofs: 

  • Proportion that is actually flat – If only a small portion of your home has a flat roof (e.g., a recent addition to the house), insuring your home may not be an issue at all. Insurers have different thresholds for what they consider to be a flat roof, so be sure to ask when you are shopping for policies. 
  • Exact incline (if any) of the roof – Just because a roof looks flat doesn’t mean that it’s actually flat. A slope of just a few degrees can be enough to let water fall to the ground more easily. Keep in mind however that these “low sloped” roofs often need to be constructed with specific materials to be effective.
  • Roof materials – While tar and gravel are the most common components of flat roofs, there are variations in construction methods that result in different levels of quality. You should ask your insurance carrier more about methods like singly-ply, built-up, or modified bitumen roofing.
  • Age of roof – Newer roofs are more sturdy and have undergone less wear and tear. It’s also likely that newer roofs are still under the manufacturer’s warranty. Insurance companies may see this as an additional means to spread out risk.

If you file a claim with your homeowner’s insurance, they will be taking all of the above points into consideration when deciding whether or not to accept your claim. Another point to keep in mind is how well you maintained the roof. Your policy will not cover damage that is ultimately the result of negligence. Hail damage on a brand new roof that had been kept clean is very different from water damage because you didn’t have a proper drainage system. Maintenance is key if you choose to have a flat roof.

Sources: This Old HouseSF Gate | The Spruce | SF Gate | Irish Times
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