Winter Storm Season: How to Prep and Avoid Home Insurance Claims
Prior to winter storm season, it’s important to prep your home in the early fall—before the risk of inclement weather arrives. Performing regular maintenance can help you avoid costly home insurance claims during the winter months.
Learn about some of the top winter home insurance claims and what you can do to prevent them before they occur.
Frozen pipes make up about 20% of all home water damage claims.1 This messy, and costly, disaster happens when water inside of your plumbing’s pipes freezes, causing the pipe to burst. The end result? Water gets into your home, often damaging your carpeting, floors, appliances and furniture. It’s a headache and can be expensive to remedy. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost of cleaning up and repairing water damage from a frozen pipe is $10,849.2
You may be more at risk for frozen pipes if your home has:3
- Pipes that are exposed to severe cold (for example, a water sprinkler or pool supply lines).
- Pipes that are in unheated parts of your house, such as a basement or crawl space.
- Pipes that are placed next to walls with little or no insulation.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent this disaster before it happens. Before the winter months (in the late summer to early fall), consider these maintenance steps:3
Insulate areas of your home where pipes are located.
Check your garage, basement, kitchen and bathrooms for unheated areas where pipes are more at-risk.
Drain water from outside hoses.
Then store them inside. Make sure to close the inside valves for outdoor hose faucets and then leave the outside valve open so leftover water can expand.
At the end of the season, winterize your pool and outdoor sprinkler system.
Whether you have an in-ground or above-ground pool, you should drain the water to about 6 inches below the skimmer. This can help prevent outdoor lines from freezing and bursting.
Add a pipe sleeve or heat tape (heat cable) to pipes that are more at-risk.
This extra step may help if there is extreme cold.
Once the temperature goes down and you’re heading into winter months: 3
Keep your garage door closed.
This can help keep the space warmer and prevent pipes in the garage from freezing.
Open your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors during a freeze.
This can help circulate warm air around the pipes.
Be mindful of your thermostat’s temperature setting, especially if you aren’t home.
Make sure your home’s temperature is no lower than 55° F.
Keep the water on and let it drip.
If the temperature drops to extreme lows, you may want to let your water run just a little. When water is running, it can help prevent a pipe from freezing.
The key is to stay aware of the forecast, know the location of your home’s pipes and to do everything possible to prevent freezing—whether it’s adding insulation or even keeping the water on during a cold night.
Ice dams happen when ice builds up along the edge of your roof. As a result, water from melting snow is unable to drain off the side. Then, often it freezes again and forms a dam on the side of your roof. This pattern of thaw and freeze can do a number on your roof. It quickly tears apart your roof’s materials and can cause water damage to your ceiling and walls.1
The Insurance Information Institute says the average claim for repairing ice dams is $5,531.4 With costs that high, you probably want to do all that you can to help prevent ice dams from occurring. Here are a few steps you can take:5
Insulate the attic.
It may be worth calling and hiring a professional to evaluate your attic’s insulation. Proper insulation can help keep your roof’s temperature similar to outside, so snow is less likely to melt and run off.
Close parts of the ceiling that expose the attic.
About one-third of a home’s heat is lost by escaping through the ceiling to the attic. Look for air leaks around lighting, in dry wall, pipes and the chimney. You’ll want to plug these leaks with foam and caulk.
Ensure your attic is properly ventilated.
Look at your attic’s vents and make sure the opening is the right size for your space. In general, you’ll want an 8-inch by 16-inch vent under the overhang (soffit) in every other rafter. When in doubt, call a professional to get an evaluation. You’ll want to make sure you have enough cold air coming into your attic, so snow is less likely to melt over and over.
If ice starts to build up on your roof, call a roofing professional right away. You’ll want to take care of its removal before damage occurs. Removing ice on your own usually isn’t safe unless you’re truly an expert.4
Damage from trees and limbs
Blizzards, sleet, ice storms and freezing rain can wreak havoc in the winter months. Blizzards in the U.S. have become four times more common since the mid-20th century, which means many homes built during that time are at risk for storm damage.6
When the wind kicks up during a blizzard or another type of winter storm, trees and their limbs can fall and cause damage. If large tree limbs are near your roof, siding or deck, consider hiring a professional to take a look at your home during the warm months of the year. A certified arborist should walk your property and identify what maintenance work needs to be done before winter arrives.7
Ideally, an arborist will check for:8
- Tree branches that touch wires. This is especially dangerous as electricity can run through a tree’s branches.
- Large, dead branches, which are at risk for breaking and landing on your property.
- Split or cracked tree branches, which are already on their way to breaking.
- A decayed or hollowed trunk. When a tree is already weakened, it’s more likely to come down with wind.
- Heaving soil around a tree. This is an upward swelling of soil around a tree and signifies when a tree’s root system is no longer absorbing water.
- Peeling bark on trees, which can also mean the tree is damaged and more likely to fall.
- A tree that has already fallen and is propped on another tree. The added pressure can cause both trees to fall down together.
Remember, it’s safest to call a professional for tree maintenance work. Not only can an arborist help you discover issues before they occur, but they can also walk your property year after year to help ensure your home is safe.10
Slips and falls on icy driveways
Snow days call for sledding, but you have to clear the driveway first. When you don’t properly care for your driveway and walkways after a snowstorm, you may end up with an icy entrance that’s dangerous to visitors and yourself. After all, just one, small patch of ice can lead to a costly slip and fall claim on your homeowners policy.9
The best thing to do is be prepared ahead of a storm. If you see snow in the forecast, make sure you have products on-hand to de-ice your driveway and walkways. Here are a few items that can melt snow and ice:10
- Rock salt. It’s affordable and easy to find. However, it also contains cyanide and chloride, which can be dangerous to pets and other animals. Try to find an option with pet and human friendly ingredients.
- Calcium magnesium acetate. This environmentally friendly option may be a better option, but it only melts ice at 26.6°F or warmer.
- Sand. This low-cost option is also easy to find, but it can be messy too. Plus, when sand piles up near your storm drains, it can cause clogs.
- Shoveling often. It takes a bit of work, but the best way to prevent ice from forming is to shovel your driveway and walkways often—and even throughout a storm.
Remember, ice can form fast and create slippery conditions. Your best bet is to keep your driveway and walkways clear of snow.
Major storms can cause power outages. But before you reach for the candles, consider that according to the National Fire Protection Association, candles, on average, cause 21 home fires each day. These fires peak in December and January, in the midst of the holidays and winter storm season. If you experience a power outage, in lieu of candles, have battery-powered lighting and flashlights readily available.11
If you rely on space heaters and fireplaces to help warm up your home, use caution. Space heaters contribute to nearly half of all home fires .12 And chimneys and fireplaces can be incredibly dangerous too if they’re not properly maintained.13 To help stay safe, follow these tips:13
- Keep all flammable items at least three feet away from fireplaces, furnaces, wood stoves or space heaters.
- Place a screen in front of all fireplaces to prevent sparks from landing on your carpet or furniture.
- After your fire is out and embers are cool to the touch, place cool ashes in a metal container. Then store it at a safe distance outside your home.
- Every month, test your smoke alarms to make sure they’re property working.
- Hire professionals to install water heaters, central heaters and other heating equipment—and ensure it’s up to code.
- Have heating equipment, chimneys and fireplaces inspected every year by a professional.
Remember, regular home maintenance can go a long way in protecting your home during a winter storm. Follow these steps to prep early and stay safe. If damage happens to your home or property during a winter storm, get in touch with your home insurance provider right away. This is also a good time to make sure you have adequate coverage for the future. After all, it’s important to get the coverage you need. Your home and your valued possessions are worth it.
- Top Winter Home Insurance Claims, moneygeek, 2019.
- Facts + Statistics: Homeowners and Renters insurance, Insurance Information Institute, n.d.
- Frozen Pipes, American Red Cross, n.d.
- How to Prevent Ice Dams, houselogic, n.d.
- How to Prevent Ice Dams, Family Handyman, 2020.
- Blizzards Are Becoming More Common in the U.S., Study Says, Weather.com, 2021.
- Interview with Stephen Norsek, Sr. Property Claims Supervisor at Amica, 2021.
- Storm Damage, Tree Care Tips, 2015.
- 3 Fixes for an Icy Walk and Driveway, Bob Vila, n.d.
- 5 Effective Ways to De-Ice Your Driveway, Reader’s Digest, 2021.
- Winter Holiday Fire Facts, National Fire Protection Association, n.d.
- How to Not Burn Your House Down With a Space Heater, NY Times, 2020.
- Heating Safety, National Fire Protection Association, 2017.