Don’t let winter’s perils leave you out in the cold. Learn how to avoid costly home insurance claims.
By Barry Bridges
Winter brings many pleasures unique to the season, including holiday get-togethers, warm flannel bedsheets, and football viewing parties. Unfortunately, winter also has its share of perils. Ask anyone who’s ever suffered through the flu or gotten their tongue stuck to a frozen metal pole.
Many homeowners face a particular set of perils in wintertime — potential mishaps that could lead to property damage, insurance claims, and even lawsuits. Take a look at some of the most notorious winter home-insurance claims, then learn how to reduce your risk.
The most common (and costly) claims
As you might expect, weather plays a key role in many winter insurance claims. Frozen precipitation and frigid temperatures can attack a home inside and out.
A 2014 analysis of claims data identified the five most prevalent weather-related claims:
- Water leaks
- Wind damage
- Hail damage
- Frozen pipes
- Roof damage from ice and snow
The analysis also ranked the three most expensive winter weather claims based on average cost:
- Frozen pipes: $18,000
- Hail damage: $10,000
- Tree collapse: $6,000
Across America, the total cost of this frozen fracas typically adds up to billions of dollars in insured losses — $3.5 billion in 2015 and $2.6 billion in 2014.
Prevent common perils
When it comes to things like wind damage and hail damage, homeowners often find themselves at the mercy of nature. But with due diligence and a little forethought, homeowners can improve their chances of avoiding some seasonal misfortunes.
- Keep your roof in good repair. Clean your gutters regularly and replace worn shingles for increased protection against roof damage, which can lead to another common source of home insurance claims: water leaks. Without proper drainage, snow and melted ice have a tendency to seep down into ceilings and walls.
- Take a load off. In cases of heavy accumulation on your roof, waiting for ice or snow to melt may not seem like the safest way to go. If you need to clear your roof quickly, use a long-handled snow rake or hire a professional snow removal service.
- Protect your pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to expensive repair bills. To help keep the water flowing, set your thermostat at 68 degrees or above, and let faucets trickle overnight when temperatures dip below freezing. Water pipes on the outside of your home, including the garage, should be insulated.
- Tend to your trees. High winds, ice, and sleet can send branches — or worse, entire trees — crashing down. Always trim limbs that overhang or touch your house. Regular checkups by an arborist can help identify trees that may need serious pruning or even removal.
Avoid slip-and-fall liability claims
Although they don’t make the list of most common winter home insurance hazards, slip-and-fall lawsuits can — and do — happen. In the winter, such incidents typically involve a guest losing their footing on a walkway slick with ice or snow.
Homeowners have two factors working in their favor. First, liability coverage included in a standard homeowners policy may help protect you if someone suffers an injury on your property and files suit.
Also, some legal experts say slip-and-fall lawsuits involving snow and ice are hard to win, especially in cold-weather states where juries may look at snow and ice as known hazards.
On the other hand, why not be proactive? Keep the walkways to your home, along with the surrounding sidewalk, shoveled and salted. After all, the injury you prevent may be your own.
Stay prepared for what winter may bring
According to Punxsutawney Phil, we’re in for six more weeks of winter. For homeowners, additional cold and snowy weather may require additional vigilance to keep winter home insurance claims at bay.
Take the time to look for potential hazards around your home and try to address them, because responsibility never goes out of season.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.