Winter Woes: What does home insurance cover?
Article originally sourced from The Morning Call
"Mother Nature can be brutal in winter, serving up sub-zero temperatures, ice, wind and snow. When she knocks on your door, your home could become victim to frozen pipes, ice dams and roofs that collapse under the weight of snow. Not to mention that as a homeowner, you are responsible if someone slips and falls on your property.
As winter settles in, Pennsylvania’s Acting Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman says people should review their homeowners insurance policies and take precautions to protect themselves and their homes.
“While some Pennsylvanians have already experienced dangerous winter weather, the months of January and February often bring the most treacherous and long-lasting severe weather conditions across the state, like sub-freezing temperatures, snow, ice and sleet, so it’s important to be prepared,” Altman says in a statement. “Individuals should take proper precautions and review their homeowners and auto insurance policies in the event of a weather-related incident.”
For homeowners insurance, there are five different levels of coverage, each level offering progressively more coverage, according to John Yurconic, president of the John Yurconic Agency in Allentown. “The policy form you purchase dictates the kind of coverage you have,” he says, adding that most of the homes in the Lehigh Valley and elsewhere are covered by HO3 policies — the midrange level of insurance coverage.
Most standard homeowners policies do provide coverage for cold weather-related damage in even the lowest level coverage; however, taking steps to prepare your home may help stop some of these issues before they arise.
When the temperature drops below freezing, water in pipes has the potential to freeze and break the pipes. Broken plumbing and water damage can be costly to fix.
The average insurance claim for burst pipes in Pennsylvania was more than $22,000 last year, says State Farm spokesman Dave Phillips. State Farm logged 215 claims for frozen pipes in 2017 in Pennsylvania, with a total cost of $4.7 million.
Some ways to prevent frozen pipes include insulating pipes in the house’s crawl spaces and attic, where they are more susceptible to temperature changes and sealing leaks that allow cold air inside the house — such as gaps around dryer vents, pipes and electrical wiring. Also disconnect garden hoses, and shut off and drain pipes leading to outside faucets.
Phillips also recommends not letting the house’s temperature dip below 65 degrees F.
According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, there could be costly ramifications: A frozen pipes claim might not be covered if the insurer deems the homeowner failed to keep the house warm enough.
Yurconic says some policies also might exclude burst pipes, depending on the age of the house and its pipe work.
Melting snow on roofs that refreezes when the water hits the colder eaves can cause water to back up under shingles, potentially leaking into the attic and walls.
While those icicles hanging from the roof and glittering in the sun may look pretty, they can actually do serious damage to a house by pulling off gutters and other things. Phillips says to pay particular attention to any ice damming that forms around the chimney, where the flashing is less secure.
Exhaust fans and dryer vents should never discharge into the attic, but should lead to outside. State Farm says keeping the attic below freezing when the outside temperature is in the low 20s can reduce the occurrence of ice dams on the roof.
While damage to attics and walls from ice dams may be covered, if the ice dam is on a creek or river and causes flooding, that property damage is not covered by a typical policy. A homeowner would need to get a separate flood policy for those incidents.
Critters cause damage, too, as they look for food or a place to nest, from bears and raccoons clawing siding to ripping open trash cans and sheds. Usually this type of damage is covered by the homeowners’ policy.
But don’t set out a picnic basket for Yogi and Boo Boo or encourage Bambi to move into the yard with a shelter and food. “Providing shelter for wild animals might not be covered,” Phillips says.
HOMEMADE ICE SKATING RINKS
It may seem like a good idea to flood the backyard with water and let it freeze into an ice rink, but it could be more trouble than it’s worth.
While a homemade rink might inspire a future Stanley Cup hopeful, homeowners are liable for any injuries or falls on the property. The Allstate Corp. warns that while most policies do include liability coverage, it might be a minimal amount and not enough to cover a claim — leaving the homeowner on the hook.
Both Phillips and Yurconic recommended talking with your insurance agent before installing a rink.
Snow can get weighty, especially if it’s a wet snow. Roof structures that are in good condition can support roughly 20 pounds per square foot, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. The nonprofit group says that number is equal to about 4 feet of new snow before a roof will become stressed.
That might seem like far more than the Valley usually sees, but since just 6 inches of wet snow is equal to about 38 inches of dry, fluffy snow, says House Logic. Snow can pull down tree branches, too, which can damage the house or attached structures like decks. Rest assured, this kind of property damage is usually covered.
OTHER SAFETY ISSUES
Snow, ice and debris can pile up and block off house vents to fireplaces and heaters which can potentially create a carbon monoxide hazard. “Make sure the exhaust vents are kept clear,” Phillips says.
Candles can pose a potential danger, too, during a power outage and should be used with care — never leave a burning candle unattended."