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5 Winter Weather Insurance Concerns

Thursday, February 28, 2019
Written By

If you’re not careful, winter weather can wreak havoc on your home. In 2018, winter weather storms caused $3 billion in insured losses, according to Munich Re.

Don’t let your clients and their employees become a statistic. Share these winter weather insurance tips with clients and prospects to make sure they stay safe this winter and avoid unexpected costly bills.

5 Insurance Considerations for Winter Weather

1. Frozen Pipes

One of the biggest and most expensive winter repairs for homeowners is fixing a burst frozen pipe. Because water expands as it freezes, cold temperatures can put significant pressure on metal or plastic pipes. Burst frozen pipes can cost homeowners anywhere from $2,000-$10,000 (and possibly more), depending on how much damage occurs. A crack as small as 1/8-inch can leak up to 250 gallons of water per day.

Frozen water pipes can occur as soon as temperatures drop below 31° F. Pipes that are most at risk include outdoor hose bibs, those in basements or attics, swimming pool supply lines and water sprinkler lines.

To avoid a burst frozen pipe, follow these tips to prepare your home:

  • Wrap pipes in heat tape and insulate pipes in unheated areas, such as attics or crawl spaces.
  • Open cabinet and basement doors to expose pipes to warmer areas.
  • Disconnect any outdoor items such as hoses and faucets. At the end of fall, shut off these valves completely using an indoor valve.
  • When frigid temperatures hit, trickle a little water out of your faucets periodically to prevent freezing.

If you turn on your faucet and no water comes out, your pipes may already be frozen. To thaw your pipes, turn off your main water valve and keep the faucet on. Apply heat to pipes by using a hair dryer, or wrap the pipe in towels soaked in hot water. Continue to apply heat until water begins to flow. If this doesn’t help, contact a licensed plumber for assistance.

2. Ice Dams

While icicles may be pretty to look at, if you see them on your house, it could mean something is wrong. Ice dams are caused by uneven heat loss from your house, which causes snow to melt and then refreeze before it reaches the roof’s edge. Water can then back up under your shingles, causing interior damage to your walls and ceiling, which can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to fix.

Avoid a hefty repair bill by being proactive about ice dams this season. Here are a few tips to prevent ice dams:

  • Use a roof rake to clear the snow above your gutter. Ideally, you should clear as much as 3-4 feet above the gutter to help water drain more easily.
  • Keep your attic floor well-insulated (between 16-22 inches of insulation) to lower the amount of heat rising into the attic from below.
  • Make sure your attic is well-ventilated. The Department of Energy recommends one square foot of free ventilation opening for every 150 square feet of attic space.
  • When putting on a new roof, consider adding a layer of ice shield under your shingles.
  • If ice dams do form, use a melting compound to help break up the ice. Special roof melting compounds can be found at hardware stores. Avoid using traditional rock salt, however, as this can deteriorate your gutters.

3. Heavy Snow

When you see a big winter storm in the forecast, your first concern may be the messy roads. But don’t forget to think about the weight of heavy snow on your roof. Repeated heavy snowfall can cause damage to your roof and even lead to roof collapses in extreme cases.

Most residential roofs can support about 20 pounds per square foot of snow. When snow accumulations start to exceed 20 pounds per square foot, that’s when you might start seeing issues. Here’s how to protect your home from heavy snow:

  • Hire a roofing professional to safely and carefully remove snow from your roof.
  • Fix minor damages and leaks before more major damage can occur.
  • If roof damage does occur, take pictures to record evidence of damage for your insurer.
  • Before winter hits, trim trees to make sure there are no overhanging branches that could damage your home (or your neighbor’s) if they snap under the weight of the snow. If your tree falls and causes property damage to a neighbor’s house, they could file a claim with your insurance company, which, in turn, could increase your rates.

4. Slips and Trips

In many cities, it is your responsibility as a homeowner to make sure the sidewalk in front of your home is clear of ice and snow. Failing to remove snow and ice could to slips, trips and falls from pedestrians or neighbors. While your homeowners policy may provide some coverage, liability costs and medical payments to injured parties can add up quickly.

Here are some tips for keeping your sidewalk safe this winter:

  • Shovel snow accumulations after every snowfall. Remember, fresh powdery snow is lighter and easier to shovel than wet, compact snow. Make sure to use proper form and safety precautions to avoid injuries when shoveling.
  • De-ice your sidewalk with rock salt or by mixing ice melt with sand. Ice melt with calcium chloride can help melt ice in temperatures as low as -25° F.

Remember, requirements may vary by city or county. For instance, some cities may require you to remove snow after a set number of hours (for example, 24 hours). Make sure to review your local laws to determine what rules affect your property.

5. Fireplace Safety

In the winter months, there’s nothing better than sitting around a warm fireplace. However, if not properly maintained, fireplaces can pose a significant risk to your home. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, there are over 25,000 chimney fires each year in the United States, resulting in more than $125 million dollars in property damage.

Keep you and your family safe this winter by following these tips:

  • Clear any ash and debris from your fireplace, and keep all flammable items away at a safe distance at all times.
  • Start your fire safely. Never burn charcoal or use lighter fluid when starting a fire in your home, as they can cause dangerous fumes or the potential for explosion.
  • Extinguish fires before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Make sure your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm is in working order.
  • Have your chimney inspected each year by a certified professional.

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