Winter weather is a major cause of home insurance claims, and is the third-largest cause of catastrophic losses after hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
And with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and severe, winter-related insurance claims are rising. U.S. insurers paid out close to $3 billion in winter-related insurance claims in 2015, a 26% increase over 2014.
Here are some of the most common causes of winter insurance claims, and how to prevent them.
Frozen/burst pipes: Water damage from pipes that have frozen then burst are the largest source of home or building damage. Though water damage from burst pipes is probably covered under your insurance, it’s easily preventable if you follow these recommendations:
- Keep the thermostat at 55°F or higher, even when you’re not home
- Drain and disconnect exterior hoses and cover outdoor faucets
- Drain sprinkler and pool supply lines
- Insulate pipes located along exterior walls or in unheated spaces like basements, attics, garages, and inside cabinets
- Keep doors and windows closed
- Invest in a back-up power source to keep your home warm in the event of an electrical outage
- Identify any drafts and seal any that are near pipes
- If your pipes are prone to freezing, leave a faucet slightly open dripping lukewarm water
Ice dams: That pretty snow covering your roof can turn ugly fast when it melts and refreezes, forming ice on your gutters that can prevent proper drainage and allow water to seep under the shingles and eventually into your ceilings and walls, causing stains, peeling paint, and rot. The best way to prevent ice dams is to keep the snow on your roof from melting until the sun does the job.
- Make sure your home is adequately insulated so the heat doesn’t escape through the ceiling
- Clear gutters of leaves, sticks, pine needles, dirt, and other debris
- Keep your attic cold by sealing any gaps between the attic and the house (check cracks in the drywall and spaces around pipes, chimneys and light fixtures)
- Add roof and soffit vents to the outside
- After a heavy snowfall (6 inches or more), remove the snow from your roof (or at least the overhangs) using a snow rake. This will also help prevent your roof from collapsing from excess weight
Slip and falls: You are financially liable for accidents or injuries that occur on your property, so make sure you’ve taken all the necessary steps to keep your home or business safe for guests.
- Clear snow from sidewalks, driveways and stairs and treat surfaces with ice melt, sand or salt
- Check sidewalks, steps, porches, patios and decks for any cracks or loose bricks, stones or tiles
- Make sure stair railings are sturdy and secure
- Monitor changing weather conditions and inspect and treat areas of potential hazard frequently
- Install ample lighting so guests aren’t navigating slippery walkways in the dark