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Winter weather can create a witch’s brew of damage to homes. Freezing pipes, strong gales, and roof leaks are just some of the damages caused by the season. These cold temperatures and their associated insurance claims account for more than 50% of all insurance claims. On average, about 1 in 15 insured homes wind up filing a winter damage claim by the end of the year.
So, what are the statistics?
In the first half of 2021 alone, winter storms caused $15.1 billion in insured losses. Wind and hail were responsible for 34% of that, and 29% was attributed to water damage from freezing. And that’s not all. Trees fall, branches break off, and flying debris all accompany winter weather.
Ice dams are created when winter weather is in full swing; they often form on the edge of your roof and prevent snow from falling away. As the temperature rises and falls, these ice dams slightly melt only to refreeze. This can cause ice to form under shingles, creating bulges that can leak.
An ice dam can prevent water from draining from your roof. As the trapped water remains on your roof going through melting and refreezing cycles, it undergoes a process of expansion and contraction. Essentially, first the water gets under your shingles and into every crack and cranny it can find. Then, it freezes and expands. During the expansion, parts of your roof will take damage, and some components may slowly deteriorate or stop serving their intended function entirely. These ice dams prevent your gutters and roof from working as intended; so now you have both a large amount of water stuck on your roof and that same water is damaging the integrity of your roof. In the absolute worst-case scenarios, the encased moisture may trigger mold growth, collapse ceilings, cause water to run down walls and damage electrics.
Can I do anything to prevent this?
There are two major things that you can do.
- Preventatively speaking, you can clear out your gutters. Remove any debris, sticks, leaves, and pine needles to reduce the likelihood of clogging and damming.
- Post snowfall, you can clear out some of the trouble areas on your roof. This is especially effective against winter weather if you can get a ladder up there and clear out while the snow is melting.
Does my insurance cover this?
Unfortunately, this is contingent on your policy. In most cases, if you can trace the formation of an ice dam and damage to a single storm or winter weather event, the insurance company will cover the claim. However, some insurance companies can be fickle, and if your policy doesn’t explicitly cover ice dams you may find yourself with a denial.
Roof and siding damage
The wintery mix of ice, snow, wind, debris, and chaos can do a number to weigh down a roof. This is a problem only exacerbated by time; the older the building, the more likely winter weather damage will find its way in. You know now about the dangers of ice dams, but damage can come just from wear and neglect.
So, inspect your roof! Every fall, in order to brace for winter, pull the ladder out of the garage and repair or replace any loose or missing shingles. In the event of a major hailstorm, you should take the time to inspect your roof. This is important because insurance companies are more likely to cover your claim if you can point to a specific storm or winter weather event that caused your damage.
The same wintery mix that can do a number on your roof can also send siding flying off for the same reasons — water turning to ice, expanding and contracting, wind ripping off siding, and debris falling on your home.
Just like your roof, you can do a seasonal once-over of your entire home. Make sure siding is secured and not visibly detaching anywhere. If you find any damaged pieces, make sure to replace them before winter weather rolls around.
Losses from falling trees and limbs
So the storm has come and gone, but in its wake you find debris has fallen upon your home. Perhaps it’s just a tree branch and the damage is small. Or, if you are unlucky enough, maybe a full tree has embedded itself into your attic. These losses, and what you should do about them, often depend on the scale that they occur.
Am I covered?
Well, that depends. If the damage was done as a result of winter weather and a specific storm, that damage is often covered by insurance. This is important because it shows to the insurance company that it happened as a result of storm X on date Y and not due to negligence.
Now whether or not you personally are covered will depend on your policy. If you have an all-risk policy, then that covers more possible events. So make sure to read the fine print!
Another thing to consider is whether or not it is worth the amount of your deductible. For claims such as these you will often have to pay your insurance deductible. For smaller winter weather damage, it may actually be cheaper to get your home repaired independently instead of paying the deductible. Now, if a tree split your house in half, obviously your insurance (assuming it is covered) will be the route to take, but if it is just a tree branch, do what makes fiscal sense.
So the damage is covered, but there is still a tree in my yard; what should I do?
The dust has settled and your home has been repaired, but you still have a large tree lying across your front lawn. Most homeowner’s insurance plans offer limited coverage to remove fallen trees and other winter weather storm related debris. The key word here is limited. Make sure you know what your insurance company will cover and what will have to be an out of pocket expense.
Frozen pipes can be everything from a nuisance to an exceedingly expensive insurance claim. During extreme cold, the water inside your pipes can freeze, the frozen water expands and may cause your pipes to burst! This can create water damage all throughout your home, damaging carpets, floorboards, drywalls, paint, personal belongings, and electronics. Pipes freezing account for almost 20% of all home water damage claims. The average claim was around $18,000 dollars.
What can I do to prevent this?
Keep your home toasty! 65F+ would be optimal, but make sure to not drop the temperature below 55F+ even when you’re not home. If the cold becomes increasingly extreme, open the cabinet doors under your sinks and apply heat tape to any exposed vulnerable pipes.
We know what you’re thinking. It is 0 degrees outside. No way my house can catch fire. Wrong! House fires can happen year-round. Most of the time house fires find their genesis at a secondary heating source. An oven left on, a space heater left on while sleeping, a cigarette not properly put out. Something often not considered is for people living in apartments or condos; your neighbors and their fire safety affect your fire safety. You may want to adjust your coverage to cover you in the event of a neighbor’s negligence.
What can I do to prepare my home for winter?
- Clear out gutters and downspouts – This is absolutely essential if you want to prevent the formation of ice dams. It will help protect your roof by making sure your drainage system is working properly.
- Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – A lot can happen during a single winter. With everything else you’re worried about, why not just check this one off the list in the fall. Make sure you and your family are protected.
- Trim tree branches – Properly maintained trees mean that your family is less likely to wake up Christmas morning to find a tree branch buried into your shingles. Proactive tree care can save you big down the line.
- Insulate your windows – This can be done in a number of ways, from getting new windows on the extreme end to simple V seal weather stripping, rope caulk or shrink film. This helps keep your energy costs down during the demanding winter.
- Inspect your fireplace – Inspect inside and out! On the inside of your home, make sure the flue damper opens and closes properly with a proper seal and that all the bricks that comprise your fireplace are in good shape and not cracking or missing mortar. And on the outside, make sure your flashing is tight to prevent leaks, the mortar and bricks are in good working order, that your chimney cap is where you left it, and that there is no debris clogging the chimney.
Make sure you have a good homeowners insurance policy
The final thing you can do to protect yourself from the weary winter woes is to make sure you have a good homeowners insurance policy. Read the fine print. Know what your deductible is, know what’s covered and what isn’t. Be active. If a storm comes, check your home for damage. If there is damage, then file your claim with your homeowners insurance immediately. Do not wait!