Homeowners Insurance Rights and Responsibilities for Winter Weather Damage
With winter weather in full force, it is a good time to review your homeowners insurance policy to better understand your coverage for damage to your home and property as a result of snow or ice. There are several potential risks that winter weather can bring to your property, including freezing and burst pipes, roof leaks or collapse, falling trees or large pieces of ice, and house fires from increased used of heating devices. You should also know what kind of coverage you have available for liability claims for injuries that occur on your property because of someone slipping, tripping or falling on ice or snow. It’s important to know your responsibilities, as well as those of your homeowners insurance company, before you experience one of these winter property perils.
While your homeowners insurance policy may cover property damage that results from winter weather, you have responsibilities to prevent or mitigate winter weather damage to your house as well. Doing so will help you if you need to file a homeowners insurance claim. Make sure large amounts of snow, ice and water are not accumulating on your roof. This can cause leaks or roof collapse, particularly if your roof is older and with certain styles of roofs. You may need to hire a professional to come and remove snow or ice from the roof if it something you are not able to safely or effectively do yourself, or if the accumulation is very significant. Check your insulation in attics and the top floor of your house, and add extra insulation, if necessary, to prevent ice dams, which can cause leaks and water damage to the interior walls and ceilings of your home. Trim tree branches that hang over the house, porch, deck, garage or anywhere vehicles are commonly parked to prevent frozen or snow-laden branches from snapping off and falling.
House fires are also a risk that accompanies winter weather because of the increased use of heating devices inside the home. Ensure that your home’s heating system is functioning properly and that the house has carbon monoxide detectors throughout in the event of a gas leak. If you have concerns the heating system is malfunctioning, call a professional right away to check it out, as gas leaks and the potential for fire poses a serious and immediate threat. Make sure any other heating devices you are using are in good repair and be extra cautious with the use of space heaters or other portable heating devices to prevent fires. Space heaters should not be left unattended, and should only be placed on a stable, non-flammable surface with sufficient space surrounding the heater so it is away from bedding, curtains, clothing or other household items. When selecting a space heater, look for models that have built-in safety mechanisms such as a timed shut-off or automatic shut-off if the heater tips over. Also, unplug the heater when it is not in use. Make sure fire detectors are placed throughout the house and perform regular tests of batteries and the alarm, and promptly replace any alarm that is not working.
Make sure your house stays at a temperature where pipes are not likely to freeze. Certain areas of the home where pipes are located, such as beneath a kitchen sink, or anywhere close to an exterior wall, may require additional attention to prevent a pipe freeze. Check faucets periodically during the coldest days, and drip faucets if necessary to prevent the pipe from filling with sitting water that could freeze and burst. You may also wrap pipes with insulating materials to further prevent them from freezing.
In the event your home is damaged because of winter weather by no fault of your own, knowing what your homeowners insurance does and does not cover will help you determine whether you should file a claim, and also whether the homeowners insurance company is handling your claim fairly and according to the terms of your policy. If you feel an insurance company has improperly denied your claim for damage from winter weather, you may have legal rights to pursue recovery against the insurance company. Bordas & Bordas has handled many claims against insurance companies who have unfairly denied coverage for damage to houses, including because of winter weather, and will provide you with a free initial consultation to determine your rights under your homeowners insurance policy.