Homeowners Coverage and Winter Storms

Wouldn’t it be nice if your home could be contained in a stadium with a retractable dome? Homeowners Coverage and Winter Storms; TJ Woods Insurance Agency; Worcester, MassachusettsOne hint of winter storms and swoosh, the dome is closed overhead and you have no worries.  Maybe even a system of insulating blankets, controlled by ropes and pulleys, could hug your house and protect it from the ice and wind damage of a winter storm.  Until a brilliant home protection invention comes along, though, winter storms will always be a concern for home owners.

It’s not just New England that has seen crazy winter weather this year.  Winter storms have impacted about 2/3 of the country, and Mother Nature isn’t ready for spring just yet. (Although Punxsutawney Phil says it will be here sooner rather than later, and, well, who doesn’t trust a groundhog weatherman?) We can’t predict the future, so we can’t say how many winter storms may still be in store for us.  We can say with certainty, though, that the better informed you are, the better your peace of mind when the forecast calls for another winter storm.

Familiarizing yourself with your homeowners insurance policy is always a good idea, winter storm or not.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  This means that it’s not enough to know what your policy will cover, should something be damaged in the winter storm.  What’s most important is to do everything you can to prevent winter storm damage from happening in the first place.  The following article from Bankrate.com reviews what is usually covered by homeowners insurance and offers some sound advice about how to prepare for a winter storm.


Snow-covered? Home insurance and blizzards

Children eager for get-out-of-school snow days may get giddy over blizzards. But homeowners face the more sobering reality that the winter storms can cause expensive damage and disruptions.

In 2011, the $2 billion in insured losses from winter storms outranked every natural disaster in the U.S. except for severe thunderstorms (a category that includes tornadoes) and hurricanes, according to Munich Re, a German firm that insures insurance companies.

Your homeowners insurance generally will cover the punishment that severe storms and blizzards can inflict on a home, including roof collapses, wind damage, and water leakage resulting from pipes bursting or gutters becoming clogged with ice, says the trade group Insurance Information Institute.

But roof damage and burst pipes raise specific issues you need to know about, factors that could jeopardize a home insurance claim.

A blizzard can ravage your roof

Your roof damage or collapse may result in a much different insurance payout than your neighbor’s — even if you have the same insurer.

“Each roof-damage case comes with its own set of unique factual circumstances to consider,” says Loretta Worters, a vice president with the Insurance Information Institute.

Those include:

  • Evidence that the roof was indeed harmed by an insured peril. If wind gusts during the blizzard pushed a tree onto your roof, take photos, Worters advises. “Insurers are concerned that people will say they had storm damage when they really didn’t,” she says.
  • Age and condition of the roof. Your claim may be denied or you may get very little back if you didn’t maintain your roof or replace it when it was old, Worters says.
  • Type of roof material.
  • Available maintenance records.

Be aware that insurers are on the lookout for fraudulent claims stemming from roofing contractors who go through neighborhoods after a blizzard and tell homeowners they need a new roof, Worters warns.

Those contractors sometimes intentionally damage the roof, or there may be no damage at all, she says.

“It’s just a way to get the insurer to pay for a new roof,” Worters says. “This has been a huge problem in Texas and North Carolina.”

Check with your state insurance department or the Better Business Bureau for complaints against a particular contractor. If you suspect you’re being duped, Worters recommends contacting the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Your pipes need protecting

Frozen pipes that burst and leak water are one of the most common problems of blizzards and winter storms, says Bob Blume, a State Farm claims team manager in Colorado.

The root cause is a lack of heat. That can be from cold air finding entry into your house through openings from the outside. Or, it can happen when the furnace malfunctions or stops working during a power outage, he says.

State Farm’s policies require homeowners to take reasonable steps to try to prevent pipe freeze-ups if they will be away from home.

Why do insurers care so much about your pipes? Because water can cause even more extensive damage than fire, says Blume.

State Farm tells its home insurance policyholders to maintain heat in the house or shut off the water supply if they go away during winter storm season. If you do shut off the water, be sure to drain the lines because the remaining water still can freeze, Blume says.

“If they don’t take reasonable steps (and damage occurs), it becomes an exclusion,” he says. Meaning, your insurance won’t cover the damage.

“If you left and intentionally turned off the furnace but didn’t turn off the water, that (resulting damage) would probably not be covered,” Blume says.

If you’re going away for a while, keep the heat on, but turn it down. Blume says a chilly 50 to 55 degrees in the house is warm enough to keep pipes from freezing.

Leave doors open on kitchen and bathroom cabinets where the plumbing enters through the wall. That allows heat to circulate, he advises.

Have someone keep an eye on the place

For good measure, have a neighbor or relative check your house when you’re gone, particularly during blizzards and winter storms, advises emergency management expert John Lindsay, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. Lindsay says he has someone visit his home every two days when he’s away.

State Farm also recommends that you have someone check on your home but doesn’t require that for homeowners insurance, Blume says.

When you know a winter storm is approaching, take inventory of what’s in your home.  If you’d even like to go so far as to record video of the condition of your home and property, it would be a wise choice.  Winter storm damage can be unpredictable, so having documentation to prove the “before” to go with the “after” will only help your case.  It’s not always just pipes and roofs that are affected by winter storms.

At TJ Woods Insurance Agency in Worcester, Massachusetts, we make sure you are properly matched with the coverage that best works for you and takes into consideration the weather conditions where you live.  Contact us to review your existing coverage or to expand what you already have.  Winter storms are only one of many possible causes of damage to consider.

We’d love to hear your winter storm stories.  How do you prepare?  And what sort of damage have you seen or experienced because of winter storms?