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Winter hazards can result in expensive homeowner's insurance claims. Here's how to protect against common winter damages that total nearly $27,000 on average.

winter homeowner insurance claim

Winter is just around the corner.

The season brings many wonderful things like cold nights by the fire, hot chocolate, holidays and waking up to snow-covered views. But in addition to the good, for many, winter brings its share of bad in the form of home damages from winter storms, high winds, freezing temperatures and even house fires.

In 2019, the Insurance Information Institute reported $2.1 billion in insured losses caused by winter storms. Overall winter-related damages in 2019, including those insured and uninsured, were $7.4 million.

If you are unsure whether your home insurance covers all the possible winter-related home damages, now is the time to brush up on your policy. We’re here to help you make sure you’re covered.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Water damage from freezing pipes is covered by your homeowners insurance dwelling coverage.
  • Standard homeowners insurance policy’s dwelling coverage protects against hail and wind damages, and it also cover damages caused ice and snow.
  • If you live in an area prone to high winds, be sure to check your policy or ask the insurance company if they cover this.
  • Accidental fires can cause serious damage to your home, but if you have a homeowner's insurance policy then it will cover the damages.

Winter weather damage: what does homeowners insurance cover?

To help you get prepared for the upcoming winter, we've covered some of the most common winter-related home damages, how to avoid them and whether your home insurance policy covers them.

Are frozen pipes covered by home insurance?

Frozen pipe

“Water damage from freezing pipes is the most significant source of home damage,” says Tim Shaw, president of Tim Shaw Insurance in Fort Myers, Florida. "Not fire, not hurricane, but water loss because of a broken pipe."

The reason that freezing pipes are such a significant issue is that the busted pipe's repair is only the tip of the iceberg. A pipe that freezes and bursts can lead to substantial water damage and mold issues. Water damage and freezing is the second most common home insurance claim.

This kind of loss is generally covered by your homeowners insurance dwelling coverage. However, because this may be a preventable problem, you could be on the hook for the repairs if your insurer concludes that your negligence caused the damage.

Take these steps now to reduce your frozen pipe risk:

  • Drain and disconnect hoses
  • Drain sprinkler supply lines
  • Insulate pipes located in unheated spaces like basements, crawl spaces, attics and garages.
  • Apply pipe sleeves or heat tape to the most vulnerable pipes.
  • Keep the home warm. If you leave town, set the thermostat at 65 degrees F or higher.
  • Leave garage doors closed.
  • When it's very cold, let cold water drip from the faucet.

It's a good idea to learn where your water shut off is located so you can minimize damage if your pipes still freeze, despite your best efforts

Is hail damage covered by home insurance?

hail damage

Hail happens, even in the winter, and when it does, roof and siding damage can be expensive. In a 2019 analysis, major insurer State Farm reported paying out more than $2.7 billion in hail damage claims for automobiles and homes.

Wind and hail damage are the most common home insurance claims. Of course, you can't prevent hail storms, but you can prepare for them.

Hail damage is covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy’s dwelling coverage unless there is a hail and wind exclusion. If you live in an area prone to hail storms, be sure to check your policy or ask your insurer if you are covered.

Inspect your roof every fall and repair or replace loose or missing shingles.

If hail is a frequent concern, consider installing hail-resistant asphalt shingles with a Class Four rating from the Underwriter's Laboratories.

Understand your homeowner's insurance coverage and any hail and wind exclusion that may apply. After a hail storm, inspect your roof for damage, and (if necessary) file your claims promptly. In many cases, homeowners don't notice hail damage until their roofs start leaking months after the storm. At that point, it may be too late to file a claim with their homeowner's insurance company.

Is wind damage covered by home insurance?

wind damage

Wind damage is most common in the country's mid-section and is covered under a standard home insurance policy unless there is a hail and wind exclusion.

If you live in an area prone to high winds, be sure to check your policy or ask your insurer if you are covered.

The best preparation for winter wind storms includes:

  • Remove anything outside that isn't nailed down, such as children's play items, garden gnomes, outdoor furniture or shade umbrellas.
  • Inspect your home's exterior for anything loose, such as gutters and shutters.
  • Trim the trees around your house before branches fly when the wind kicks up.
  • Keep an electric saw on hand and learn how to use it safely. Ensure that you can remove a fallen tree that blocks access to your driveway after a big wind storm.

Are snow and ice covered by home insurance?

snow and ice damage

Heavy snow accumulations and ice can damage gutters, roofs, decks and down trees.

Standard homeowners insurance policies cover damage caused by snow and ice.

However, if ice forms on your gutters and prevents runoff from draining properly, it can cause water to build up and seep into your home. Damages resulting from water seeping into your home may not be covered, depending on whether the insurer deems you responsible for negligence.

To prevent ice dams, you'll want to minimize snow melt on your roof.

That means:

  • Insulate adequately so your home's heat doesn't escape through the ceiling.
  • Seal any gaps that let warm air leak from the house into the attic.
  • Make sure your attic is ventilated so that cold air from outside can enter that space. You don't want it too warm up there because that causes snow on the roof to melt, and when it contacts the cold eaves, it refreezes, forming a dam.

Heavy ice or snow may also cause trees or tree limbs to fall on your home. This damage is also covered under the dwelling portion of your home insurance policy. However, if the insurer discovers the tree was dead and should have previously been removed, they may determine you were negligent and deny the claim.

Are fires covered by home insurance?

Are fires covered by home insurance

As the weather becomes frigid, it is common for homeowners to use space heaters or fireplaces to warm up. But that warmth doesn’t come without risk.

Between 2012 and 2016, space heaters were the cause of 44% of fires in the U.S. Fireplaces and chimneys were responsible for another 32%. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) fire departments respond to around 250,000 fires each year.

If your home is damaged by accidental fire, your home insurance policy will have you covered. However, if the fire is deemed intentional, you will be left holding the bag on repair costs.

To prevent heater and fireplace fires, here are some tips:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use of the heating equipment.
  • Keep any heating device at least 36 inches from anything that can catch fire. This includes furniture, clothing, people, pets, and more.
  • Have a professional clean and inspect your chimney prior to the start of every heating seasons.
  • Do not leave heaters unattended or with unsupervised children.

Are slips and falls at my home covered by home insurance?

Are slips and falls at my home covered by home insurance

If you’ve ever slipped on an icy sidewalk, you know how painful the landing can be. If you’re lucky, you bounce right back up and walk away but not everyone gets that lucky.

If someone is visiting your home and is injured from a fall, the standard home insurance policy will cover their medical expenses up to coverage limits, under the medical payments portion of the policy. These coverage limits typically run between $1,000 and $5,000.

If your visitors expenses exceed what your insurance will pay out under medical payment coverage it raises the potential for lawsuit. In the event your visitor sues you for their injury, your homeowners insurance policy will cover you, typically up to $100,000, under the liability portion of your policy. Experts recommend increasing the standard liability coverage to at least $300,000.

Be sure to keep your sidewalks, patios, porches and outdoor steps clear of snow and ice during the winter.

Home insurance is a winter must

prevent home insurance claims

Don’t let winter weather catch you off guard and uncovered.

Compare home insurance policies and take steps now to protect your home.

Even though the hazards described above are usually covered by insurance, filing a homeowner's claim should not be your go-to answer for all winter weather problems. Be sure you have a basic understanding of homeowners insurance and think carefully before filing a claim.

According to III, a single claim could cause your insurance rates to increase by an average of 9 percent. Filing two or more claims within a short timeframe can result in even higher premium increases or potential policy non-renewal. Still, some winter hazards can pose a real danger to you and your family and it may be safest to use insurance funds to have items professionally repaired.

Preventing winter homeowner's claims before they occur is likely to be your lowest-cost option but having adequate homeowners insurance coverage might just save you from financial crisis.

As you prepare for Old Man Winter to make his visit, speak with your insurance company to make sure you’ve got all the coverage you need. We also recommend shopping around before every policy renewal period to compare quotes and make sure you’ve got the best coverage at the best price.

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