Winter Storms can Be a Threat to Homes, Businesses and Cars

Jan 21, 2010, 16:09 ET from Insurance Information Institute

Winter-Related Damage Covered Under Standard Homeowner Policies

NEW YORK, Jan. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Heavy rain and strong winds are expected to continue hitting the southwestern and southeastern parts of the U.S. this week, making more winter weather-related insurance losses likely, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

Winter storms in 2008, including those involving heavy snowfall, were the third-largest cause of property damage, accounting for 7.6 percent of all U.S. catastrophe losses, according to ISO's Property Claims Service unit.  Hurricanes and tropical storms (47 percent) and tornadoes (27 percent) were the only natural disasters ranking higher as the causes of insured property damage losses.

Standard homeowners and business insurance policies provide coverage for a wide range of winter-related disasters such as losses incurred due to burst pipes, wind damage and wind-driven rain, as well as damage or power outages caused by downed trees, limbs or other falling objects. Moreover, home and business insurance policies typically cover insured losses emanating from "ice damming"—a condition where water is unable to drain properly through the gutters and seeps into a house, damaging ceilings and walls.

"With temperatures approaching record lows in many places, it is important to avoid freezing pipes by keeping your home heated to at least 65 degrees," said Michael Barry, vice president, Media Relations at the I.I.I." The temperature inside the walls where pipes are located is substantially colder than the walls themselves.

"Everyone should also know how to shut off their home's water system. If water freezes and pipes burst, time is of the essence to keep damage to a minimum."

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) offer the following tips to homeowners who are concerned about the threats posed by frozen or burst pipes, poorly maintained fireplaces, and external conditions adjoining their home:

Inside Your Home

  • Open hot and cold faucets enough to let them drip slowly. Keeping water moving within the pipes prevents freezing.
  • If you use wood-burning fireplaces and wood stoves, make sure they are working properly. Wood-burning fireplaces and wood stoves should be checked annually for any cracks. Wood-burning fireplaces should also be cleaned annually to prevent build-up of creosotes and soot. For gas and propane
  • fireplaces, they too must be inspected and cleaned annually by a trained professional from your gas or utility company. This includes fan operation, pilot and burners, gas pilot safety system and thermostat. Remember to close the flue in your fireplace when not using it. For electric heaters, make sure wires are not frayed.

Outside Your Home

  • Keep sidewalks and entrances to your home free from snow and ice.
  • Keep gutters free of leaves and debris so melting snow and ice can flow freely to prevent ice damming.
  • If your garage is attached to your house, keep the garage doors closed. The door leading to the house is probably not as well-insulated as an exterior door.
  • If ice forms on tree limbs, watch for dead, damaged or dangerous branches that could break and fall because of wind or the weight of ice and snow; these branches could damage your house, a car or injure someone walking near your property.
  • If you haven't already done so, make sure all hoses are disconnected from outside spigots. If you plan to be away for an extended period of time, have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting.

Damage to homes caused by flooding is excluded from standard homeowner policies. Flood insurance is available from the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program.

Automobile accidents resulting from slippery weather, however, are covered under a standard auto insurance policy. Damage to autos from falling branches or other debris is covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy.

"Homeowners, business owners or motorists who have suffered losses need to contact their insurance company or agent as soon as possible to start the claims filing process," Barry added.



SOURCE Insurance Information Institute