Winter is wonderful… most of the time. But when warm sweaters, hot chocolate, and cozy fireplace scenes turn into frozen pipes, hail damage, and slips and falls, winter’s wonderland can become a scary season.
This is one time of year that you’ll rest easier when you’ve protected yourself with homeowner’s insurance.
In 2019, the Insurance Information Institute reported $2.1 billion in insured losses caused by winter storms alone. Overall winter-related damages in 2019, including those insured and uninsured, were $7.4 million!
Filing a claim isn’t always the best way to handle winter-weather problems, though it can be a relief. So how do you understand your own insurance policy to know what winter damage is covered?
There are a variety of factors that determine whether or not insurance covers any part of the repair costs related to damage caused by snow, ice, or blizzards. If you are unsure whether your home insurance covers all the possible winter-related home damages, now is the time to brush up on your policy.
Here are the most common winter-related home damages, how to avoid them and whether your home insurance policy covers them.
Roof and siding damage as well as vehicle damage are common in hail. This is usually covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy dwelling coverage, though there are sometimes exclusions.
Wind and hail damage are the most common home insurance claims. State Farm reported that in 2019, the insurer paid out more than $2.7 billion in hail damage claims alone for homes and automobiles.
Unlike frozen pipes, you can’t prevent hail storms… but you can prepare for them. Inspect your roof every Fall and repair or replace loose or missing shingles. Also inspect after a hail storm, and, if necessary, file your claims promptly.
Water damage from freezing pipes may actually be the most significant source of winter home damage. Freezing pipes are such a significant issue because busted pipes lead to substantial water damage and mold issues.
This is so prevalent, in fact, that water damage and freezing is the second most common home insurance claim. These losses are generally covered by your dwelling coverage, but beware that you could be liable for the repairs yourself if your insurer determines that your own negligence caused the damage. It is a preventable problem after all!
Here are some simple steps to reduce your risk of busted pipe from freezing:
- Drain and disconnect hoses
- Drain sprinkler supply lines
- Insulate pipes located in unheated spaces like basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages
- Apply pipe sleeves or heat tape to the most vulnerable pipes
- Keep your home warm even if you are leaving town
- Leave garage doors closed
- When it’s very cold, let cold water drip from the faucet
It’s also a good idea to learn where your water shut off is located so you can minimize damage if your pipes still freeze, despite taking the precautions listed.
If you live in an area prone to high winds, you’ll definitely want to be prepared for winter wind storms. Wind damage is common and often covered under a standard home insurance policy (unless there is a hail and wind exclusion).
Among your wind storm preparation, you should:
- Remove anything outside that isn’t nailed down, such as toy and play items, garden gnomes, and outdoor furniture
- Inspect your home’s exterior for anything loose, like gutters or shutters
- Trim the trees around your house before branches fly when the wind kicks up
Keeping tools like an electric saw on hand are also extremely useful after major wind storms. For example, you may need to remove a fallen tree blocking access to your driveway.
Snow and Ice
Standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage caused by snow and ice like the accumulation that can rip off gutters, harm roofs and decks, and fell trees.
But water seeping into your home due to an ice-clogged gutter, for example, may not be covered. Insurers consider you responsible when situations could be prevented. So to prevent ice dams, you’ll want to minimize snow melt on your roof.
Insulate adequately so your home’s heat doesn’t escape through the ceiling. Seal gaps that let warm air leak from the house into the attic. And make sure your attic is ventilated so that cold air from outside can enter that space. Why don’t you want it warm enough to melt the roof snow? When it contacts the cold eaves, it often refreezes, forming a dam.
Cold weather often brings out cozy fires and space heaters. But did you know that space heaters and chimneys are often responsible for house fires?
Home insurance policies cover accidental fires, but if the fire is deemed intentional, these are costly repairs that you are responsible for yourself, so always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of the heating equipment and don’t leave heaters unattended.
Keep any heating device far away from anything that can catch fire, like furniture, clothing, people, and pets.
Also make sure to have a professional clean and inspect your chimney prior to the start of every heating season.
Slips and Falls
Be sure to keep your sidewalks, patios, porches and outdoor steps clear of snow and ice during the winter.
If someone is visiting your home and is injured from a fall, the standard home insurance policy will cover their medical expenses up to coverage limits, under the medical payments portion of the policy. These coverage limits typically run between $1,000 and $5,000.
But if your visitor’s expenses exceed what your insurance will pay out under medical payment coverage, this raises the potential for lawsuit. In the event your visitor sues you for their injury, the liability portion of your homeowners insurance policy could cover you, typically up to $100,000.
So you have homeowner’s insurance and you’re covered, right? Yes… but. Even though the hazards described above are usually covered by insurance, you should probably think carefully before filing a claim.
Some winter hazards can pose a real danger to you and your family and it may be safest to use insurance funds to have items professionally repaired. But know that a single claim could cause your insurance rates to increase by an average of 9 percent. Filing two or more claims within a short timeframe can result in even higher premium increases or potential policy non-renewal.
Preventing winter homeowner’s claims before they occur is likely to be your lowest-cost option but having adequate homeowners insurance coverage is equally important to save you from financial crisis.