Winter Storm damage and insurance concerns


Winter Storm damage and insurance concerns:

As a homeowner in NY (many homeowners in the Northeast or snow exposed parts of the country could also confirm), there are many other concerns about Winter Storms, more important than the amount of snow shoveling, road conditions, getting to the supermarket, etc.  These other concerns are the focus of this article specifically on winter storm damage and insurance related concerns to your home.  It should be more concerning than the shoveling or “Bread and Milk” chaos.  Vic Dibitetto did a great job highlighting the misaligned priorities of society, a clip is below.

 

 

Winter Storms

Winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind only hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Home insurance covers most property damage claims from winter storms, except flooding from a river, stream or other body of water. That type of flooding is covered only through a separate flood insurance policy, available through the National Flood Insurance Program.

 

Homeowners Insurance

Whether or not winter storm damage is covered by your homeowners insurance policy will depend on the type of policy you have and the type of damage that occurs.

The Insurance Services Office (ISO) standard Homeowners forms list the weight of ice, sleet and snow as a named peril–which means that damage from the weight of ice, snow or sleet to a building or property contained in a building is covered. However, loss to awnings, fences, patios, pavements, swimming pool, foundations, retaining walls, piers, wharves or docks are typically excluded.

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for winter-related storm damage that occurs as a result of wind, snow, ice, freezing rain, and severe temperatures.

Customers should review their homeowners policy to find out which winter storm perils are specifically covered.

 

Unattended properties

If you have a vacation home or property that isn’t your primary residence and that home suffers damage while you leave it unattended during the winter, you’ll have some additional issues to consider.

For example, certain homeowners policies have exclusions for damages that result from a home not being properly winterized (e.g., not shutting off the water and draining the pipes) or a home being left unoccupied for a long period of time (e.g., more than 30 days).  While your insurance may provide some coverage for winter storm damage, the best option is to take steps to prevent winter-related damage from occurring in the first place (see below).

Knock on wood, but I haven’t had a winter storm damage scenario at my primary residence.  A few years ago, early in my ownership of this rental property, one rental property had a small leak due to extended snow/on the roof.  The roof has a significant pitch but the assumption that the snow and water would run off without an issue was quickly proven wrong.  See below about snow removal and gutter cleaning prevention methods.

As it turns out, I chose not to file a claim as it was small damage and more related to issues to the roofing installation around the skylight, but if it was larger damage (above my deductible), I would have certainly sought insurance coverage to help.

 

Roof collapse

The weight of snow can cause roof to collapse.  Bob Villa discussed the tips, warning signs and how to remove the snow.

If personal property inside a building is damaged because the roof caves in under the weight of the snow, then coverage for damage from a collapse is triggered on a homeowners policy.

The weight of ice or snow may cause a roof to sag (which is not considered a “collapse” under the homeowners forms) or gutters to pull away from the roof, leading to damage to personal property, which also would be covered.

 

Other Common types of Winter storm damage

Besides roof collapse from snow, other common types of winter storm damage that generally would be covered under a standard home insurance policy include:

  • Damage caused by snow or freezing rain that gets into the home because of wind damage.
  • Burst pipes caused by freezing temperatures due to power failure.  Under the homeowner forms, in almost all situations—vacant, occupied or unoccupied—there is no coverage for freezing plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protection or of a household appliance unless the named insured has taken precautions to maintain heat in the building, or shut off and drained systems and appliances.
    • This is often a problem with “snowbirds” or vacation properties when owners want to save on utility bills while they’re away. Generally keeping a thermostat set at around 55 degrees during the winter months should prevent your pipes from freezing, but the furnace may break down or there may be an extended power failure.
    • Technology has helped tremendously when it comes to managing assets from a far.  Although it’s not a 100% Smart home…I have a NestThermostat, security system with fire sensors, and security and video cameras at my vacation property to control a number of items including heat, report break-ins or fire, and view my property.  
    • If your home is going to be unoccupied for a long time, and you don’t want to keep the heat on or go to the same lengths as me, be sure to shut off the water supply and drain the system and appliances of water to avoid frozen pipes. Even better: have someone you trust check on the property, especially when the temperature has been extremely low for several days.
  • Damage caused by “ice dams” which prevent water from draining properly through gutters. Water then can run into the house and damage ceilings and walls.  Ice damming—caused by the weight or mass of snow that has compacted and turned to ice—often causes water to back up under shingles or flow under eaves from clogged gutters.
    • If the water stains walls and damages ceilings, there is coverage for the damage to the building because there is no exclusion for thawing.
    • In addition, water damage to contents should be covered because the language of the policy covers the weight of the ice, snow or sleet that causes damage. The scope of the coverage may be broadened to the weight of ice as a proximate, not necessarily a direct, cause of loss.
  • Damage from fallen trees.
    • If a tree fell on your home or detached garage, home insurance would pay for repairing the structure and for removing the tree (up to a certain dollar limit).  Generally, trees, shrubs, plants and lawns aren’t covered for damage by wind, hail, the weight of ice or snow, or any unnamed peril that would be covered under open perils coverage. If the tree or the branch falls on your house or garage, however, damage to the structure is covered.
    • However, there is usually no coverage for removal if the tree did not fall on an insured structure.
  • Installation issues
    • In some cases, the weight of the ice might cause roof or siding shingles to dislocate just enough to allow water to enter the house. If the leak is because the roof or flashing wasn’t installed properly or the roof is worn, your policy may not cover the cost to repair the roof. It may only cover the damage to the interior of the house and contents. Remember that with named perils coverage, it’s left to the insured to prove that a covered peril was the cause of the loss. If you have a comprehensive homeowners policy instead of a broad form or special form policy, it’s up to the insurer to prove that the loss is excluded.
  • Power failure from winter storm
    • In many parts of the Northeast winter storms can cause power failures that lasted for several days. Your homeowners policy may cover the cost of the food in your refrigerator and freezer, up to certain dollar limits, usually $500.
    • If you can’t stay in your home because of the power failure, some policies provide coverage for the expenses of a hotel and the cost of meals.

 

Steps to prevent winter damage

The following are some tips to help protect your home from harsh winter weather:

  • Clean your gutters and downspouts so that melting snow can flow freely away from your home
  • Insulating attics prevents too much heat from escaping through the roof, which can cause snow to melt too fast–the water then refreezes, causing even more snow and ice to build up, which can lead to a collapsed roof.
  • Inspect and repair roof shingles and flashing to prevent water damage
  • Trim tree branches on your property
  • Apply weather stripping and caulking around doors and windows and inspect storm doors and windows for broken glass
  • Drain water from pipes leading to exterior faucets and remove garden hoses
  • Insulate pipes that are susceptible to freezing
  • Have your heating system cleaned and inspected

 

While ice and hail damage are typically covered by homeowners insurance — up to the limits stated in your policy — coverage for water damage varies, depending on the cause.

Please note, homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, whether it’s caused by a rain storm or overflowing river.

Review your coverage before any major storms and at the time of purchase to see what your policy covers, and talk with your agent or broker about whether flood insurance, which is sold separately, makes sense for you.

 

Thoughts

Preparation is key.  Protect your house physically and through insurance protection.

Although home insurance covers most winter-weather damage, regular home maintenance helps prevent many of those disasters from happening in the first place and will save you money in the long run.  Time of year and home damage are not limited to winter, whether it’s a thunderstorm in the spring or a roof covered in ice, water can damage a home.

If you’re worried about too much snow on the roof, don’t climb up there yourself. Too many people have died or have been seriously injured from slipping off their roofs.  Hire a professional to help if it is dangerous.  If you can do so safely, shovel large accumulations of snow off your roof and unclog gutters. If you can’t do so yourself, you may be able to find a contractor to remove the snow for you.

Again, it is important to note that standard homeowners insurance policies do not provide coverage for flood damage. So if your home has suffered damage from winter-related flooding (e.g., a heavy snow melt), you generally won’t be covered unless you have a separate flood insurance policy in place.

Review your homeowners policy to be sure you understand your coverage, and take precautions.

Think positive: Don’t fall into the Phil Collins of Groundhog Day way of thinking “There is no way that this winter is ever going to end as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.

Spring comes sooner than you think.

 

 

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