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Corin Cook

By: Corin Cook on October 25th, 2021

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Avoiding Common Winter Home Insurance Claims

Individuals & Families | Home Insurance

It may be in the mid-70s today, but let’s be real. It’s mid-October which means we could experience single-digit weather any day now.

I know, I know, I’m sorry -- you don’t want to think about it. But the truth is, the winter can cause a slew of home issues, so it’s best you start preparing now.

At Berry Insurance, we’ve been working in insurance for 100 winters now, so we’ve unfortunately seen our fair share of winter-weather-related claims and have learned a lot about what causes them, and how to prevent them.

In this article, we’ll go over 7 common winter home insurance claims and how to avoid them.

How to avoid ice dam damage:

An ice dam is an ice buildup forming at the edge of a roof, preventing snow and water from eventually draining off one’s roof. 

Ice dams are ultimately caused by a mix in temperatures. When indoor heating rises into the attic through the ceiling, it begins to warm the roof's surface. Snow located on the heated section of the roof (top and middle) then begins to slide down. The edge of the roof will likely still be frozen due to the non-exposure to the heat – leaving the melting area trapped behind this chunk of ice. This melted puddle partially refreezes as it moves away from the heated area, leading to the dams’ growth.

Ice dams do melt and go away on their own eventually, but while they are present, they can leak into the home, causing damage to your roofing, walls, insulation, flooring, and more.

Preventing ice dam damage:

The best way to avoid ice dam claims is by preventing ice dams in the first place.

While snow and icy weather is occurring, be sure to watch your roof and gutters for any signs of accumulating water or ice dams forming. Clear snow from your roof and correct any blockages causing water to accumulate to prevent damage.

Even dry, fluffy snow can absorb additional sleet and rain and harden, so it should be cleared off if possible.

Keeping heat out of the attic by properly insulating the attic floor and fixing air leaks will also help prevent ice dams. 

Removing ice dams:

If you notice you already have an ice dam, you should remove it as soon as possible. 

Using calcium chloride ice melter is the most effective way to clear an ice dam. One easy trick is to fill a pair of nylons with calcium chloride ice melter. Lay the nylons along the ice dam, ensuring it hangs over the gutter. The calcium chloride will gradually melt the snow, creating a channel for water to escape through. Be sure to never use rock salt or sodium chloride, as these will damage your roof. 

To learn more about ice dams, how to file an ice dam claim, and what’s covered, check out this article: Are Ice Dams Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

How to avoid frozen pipes:

When temperatures drop, especially over an extended period of time, it isn’t uncommon for pipes to freeze.

And when frozen pipes expand and burst, you could have a significant water damage claim on your hands.

The most effective way to avoid frozen pipes is to keep your home warm enough. Even if you’re not going to be home and are trying to save money on heat, we recommend you keep your home at least 65 degrees. Trust us, spending a little extra on heat is better than dealing with water damage.

You should also make sure your home is properly insulated, and specifically insulate pipes in unheated areas like basements, garages, or attics. You can use heat tape or pipe sleeves on pipes susceptible to freezing.

It’s also important you keep the water in the pipes moving to prevent freezing.

If you’re expecting a cold front, you should keep your faucets on a slow cold-water drip.

It’s also important to know where your water shut off is. If your pipes freeze, you should turn off the water to prevent bursting. If they do burst, be sure to turn off the water right away to stop the water flow and reduce damage.

It’s important to note that while pipe bursts are generally covered by insurance, they aren’t always covered if your insurance carrier determines you were negligent. So that’s why it’s important to take these preventative measures, not only to prevent burst pipes, but to also make sure insurance covers any damage if they do burst.

How to avoid roof collapses:

Any of us who have shoveled before knows just how heavy frozen, wet snow is. So just imagine all the stress your roof is under when a few blizzards worth of snow piles on it for several weeks.

To prevent roof collapses, for one, you should have your roof inspected regularly to make sure it is in good health. You should repair or replace any damaged areas to ensure structural integrity of your roof.

As snow piles on your roof, you should also be diligent about clearing it off so your roof isn’t bearing too much weight.

Avoid wind and hail damage:

Winter storms aren’t always just snow. Sometimes wind and hail can be involved.

So before winter hits, it’s a good idea to inspect and secure your property.

Check the exterior of your home and repair any loose or missing shingles, gutters, and shutters.

Remove any loose items from your yard including outdoor furniture, planters and garden decor, landscaping tools, children’s play items, or anything that could be moved by heavy winds.

Avoid tree fall damage:

Between the wind we talked about above and weight from snow, trees are simply more likely to fall in the winter.

But the last thing you want is for a tree to come through your roof, so there are a few steps you should take to prevent tree falls.

You should regularly inspect the trees around your home, especially before the winter comes and tree removal companies can still work on them.

Signs of tree rot include holes or cracks in the bark, dead branches, fungus growth on the bark, leaning or cracks in the ground from uprooting. If you see these signs in any of the trees surrounding your home, you should reach out to a tree removal company to assess the situation.

Keep in mind, if a rotting tree falls on your home, insurance may not cover it since they consider it your responsibility to maintain the trees near your property.

You should also have any large branches hanging over your house removed so they don’t come down on your home in a storm.

For more information, read this article: If a Tree Falls on my Car/House, Whose Insurance Pays?

Avoid winter fires:

Heating is one of the leading causes of house fires, so it’s no surprise that there is a significant increase in fires in the winter months.

That’s why it is important to inspect and prepare heating systems before the temps drop and you need to turn them on. 

Before the start of every season, you should have a professional clean and inspect your chimney.

If you’re using any space heaters or mobile heating equipment, make sure you review the manufacturer’s instructions and follow all their instructions.

Keep any flammable items such as furniture, curtains, rugs, clothing, and more at least a few feet from any heating systems and candles and make sure they are out of the reach of children or pets.

Also, be mindful of your holiday lights. Inspect them before hanging them to make sure there are no cracks in the wires, and never light lights on a dried out Christmas tree.

How to avoid slip and falls:

Another winter scenario that doesn’t involve home damage but certainly involves your home insurance is slip and falls.

If someone falls on your property, your home insurance will cover any injuries they sustain.

But you definitely don’t want to experience any falls on your property in the first place, which why you should make sure your property is safe, especially in the winter.

Make sure all driveways, walkways, and stairs are cleared of snow and ice. Shovel and use ice melter on walking surfaces regularly.

Be prepared if you need to file a claim

Unless you’re new to New England, you don’t need me to tell you the weather can be brutal here.

So no matter how much home preparation you do for the winter weather, you can never 100% guarantee you won’t have a claim.

If you do experience a winter-related claim, we are here for you!

But we know you probably want to be prepared so you know what to expect out of the home insurance claim process. To learn more about how to file a claim, check out this article: Everything You Need to Know About Filing a Home Insurance Claim