Roof leaks, insurance, and chimneys
April 3, 2021 1:45 PM   Subscribe

The flashing around the chimney on my 100-year-old three-story house has apparently been leaking for some time, resulting in a bunch of interior damage. Two questions below the fold: (1) what should I know about working with USAA home insurance, as far as what work gets done and who pays for it? (2) Should I remove or repair the chimney?

Question one:

I reported the leak to USAA. This is my first homeowners insurance claim and I'm wondering if there's anything I should do to minimize what we end up owing. Details:

USAA said that internal damage from the leak will be covered (above a deductible, which is def blown here), and external damage to the roof will be covered if it's the result of accidental damage, but repairing ordinary wear and tear to the roof will not be covered. I'm predicting external repairs are not covered. They offered to have a general contractor evaluate the cause of the damage and start remediation, and I agreed.

What's happened since:

* The GC's water remediation team sealed off the moldy area and set up dehumidifiers. They're going to recommend replacing a couple of ceilings but need to wait for asbestos testing.
* The GC's roofing team said that the roof looks "beat up" and should be replaced but the source of the leak is the flashing around the chimney. Water got in and ran down the inside of the roof to a couple of different places. Roofers don't do chimneys so they're going to tell the GC to send a chimney team.
* I got a second opinion from another roofer who said (from ground level) that the roof looks OK to him but the chimney is visibly in bad shape and should be repointed, not just have the flashing fixed, or else it will leak anyway. He predicted it will be expensive to hire a mason because of the need to get staging three stories up. I told him the chimney isn't in use and he said it would be much cheaper to just remove it.

I'm afraid that if I just nod along to whatever the GC wants to do, I'll end up on the hook for a ton of work that ends up not being covered. Is there anything I should do to avoid that?

Question two:

So do I keep the chimney?
  • There's a fireplace on the first floor, but it's a shallow fireplace originally intended for holding a bucket of hot coals from a basement furnace. (The cast iron poker for the furnace is still down there!) Since the fireplace wasn't suitable for wood we never had the chimney looked at to see if it's safe to use.
  • On the second and third floors the chimney is just a mysterious bump out on a couple of walls -- not really in the way but not helping anything either.
  • The basement has a recent gas furnace and gas water heater that are side vented, so nothing's going through the chimney anymore.
What should we consider? I've never really thought about this -- open to esthetic or logistical or financial or structural arguments.
posted by john hadron collider to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know when I've gotten auto repairs paid by insurance, the repair co had a process to submit the invoice and get the repairs approved in advance of the work. Ask the GC if they have similar process so everyone knows what is going to be paid by insurance and what will be your responsibility.
posted by metahawk at 1:53 PM on April 3

Ah yeah, I do think that's what happens next -- the GC tells USAA the cause of damage and provides an estimate, USAA reviews the claim and tells me what part will be covered, and then I can choose to approve the part that isn't covered, or find someone else to do that part of the work.

I guess I'm looking for advice on anywhere in that process I might have to be ready to advocate for myself instead of just going with the flow.
posted by john hadron collider at 2:11 PM on April 3

We filed a claim with USAA and they ended up being very easy to work with, when you get bids you should get them itemized in to a few sections both in terms of damage and repair work and access to fix things they will cover.

I'd call them up and have a conversation about it as their policies are usually written as all perils with exclusions (at least ours was). For us it was a failed waste line in the basement and they ended up covering everything but the actual plumbers time including removal of the carpet, jackhammering the floor, pouring new concrete and replacing everything - concrete, carpet, drywall - all about 15k of work. We ended up doing other work on top of what USAA covered because it was adjacent to it and it made sense to do (replaced all the carpet in the basement for other rooms that were not damaged).

With USAA because of covid they were not going to send an adjuster out and we just submitted the bids of the company we selected and they cut a check to us within a day or so, there was no direct invoicing or anything else.

Honestly they were really easy to work with, surprisingly so. Once we knew what they would and wouldn't cover it was very easy - I asked them lots of questions on what they would cover and the extent of it, they were forthcoming and helpful with answers. I did a couple of rough diagrams of the area of damage and took some pictures and that was it.

I'd get all the roof work done if it really needs it - and probably consider gas inserts. The roof is just one of those things you really want to make sure has a good 10 years left in it at minimum at all times.
posted by iamabot at 3:48 PM on April 3 [1 favorite]

I would get a chimney sweep / chimney specialist with experience in old homes to take a look, just to be absolutely sure it's not a Rumford Fireplace, which is extremely shallow compared to most fireplaces, has angled sides, and a very skinny flue. I had a Rumford in my ~140 year old house and it was an excellent fireplace, drawing well and actuall a good source of heat unlike most open wood fireplaces, once you got used to building a fire vertically.

If it is a Rumford and you can possibly get the fireplace back in working order I'd keep the chimney, if it's not cost prohibitive. Even though you'd be on the hook for paying for it, you'll probably be able to get a better deal by packaging it in the work with the rest than you would going it alone, and a working Rumford fireplace will be an asset both esthetically and for any future resale. If the chimney isn't useful I don't see a reason to keep it.
posted by true at 3:48 PM on April 3 [2 favorites]

Oof. I was under the impression that for homeowners' insurance to cover water damage, the water leak has to be "sudden and accidental," which would rule out damage caused by gradual water leaks over time. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I thought I should mention it just in case.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 5:03 PM on April 3

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