Home Insurance Quotes
Winter weather and home insurance
Winter can be especially brutal on our homes. Extreme cold can freeze and break pipes, causing significant water damage. High winds in addition to the weight of heavy snow and ice can down trees on top of homes.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that catastrophic storms cause $1.2 billion in insured damages annually in the U.S. Last year, water damage and frozen pipes accounted for 20 percent of all homeowners insurance claims. On average, a home insurance claim for water damage and freezing is more than $5,000. In light of this, now is a good time to review your home insurance policy before winter weather takes a toll on your home.
According to the III, the more information you have about your damaged possessions, the faster your claim can be settled.
"It is always good to have a detailed list of damaged items and it wouldn't hurt to supplement that list with a video tape of the damage," suggests Loretta Worters, spokesperson for the III. "This will help to expedite your claim and will help reduce the time it takes to receive a settlement."
The III offers the following advice to speed the insurance claims settlement process:
- Before you call your agent or insurance company, prepare a thorough description of all of the weather-related damage to your home and belongings. A qualified adjuster will contact you as soon as possible to inspect the damage. Be sure to give your agent or insurance company a telephone number where you can be reached.
- Take photographs of the damaged areas. These will help with your claims process and assist the adjuster in the investigation.
- Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed personal property. Be sure to make two copies — one for yourself and one for the adjuster. Your list should be as complete as possible, and include a description of the items, dates of purchase or approximate age, cost at time of purchase and estimated replacement cost.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners issued a survey in May 2008 shows 48 percent of Americans do not have a home inventory and are unprepared for disasters. Of those consumers who report having a checklist, 32 percent have not taken any pictures and 58 percent have no receipts documenting the cost of their possessions.
Worters recommends having an updated home inventory list. To help you get organized, the III provides home inventory software you can download for free at www.KnowYourStuff.org.
In the event of damage
- Collect canceled checks, invoices, receipts or other papers that will assist the adjuster in determining the value of the destroyed property.
- Make temporary repairs. For instance, cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls to prevent further destruction. Save receipts for supplies and materials you purchase. Your insurance company will reimburse you for reasonable expenses in making temporary repairs.
- Secure a detailed estimate for permanent repairs to your property and give it to the adjuster. The estimate should contain the proposed repairs, repair costs and replacement prices.
- If your home is severely damaged and you need to find other accomodations while repairs are being made, keep records of all incurred expenses. This includes hotel, restaurant and parking receipts. Most homeowners insurance policies provide living expenses when a home is uninhabitable and in need of serious repair.
Your agent will work with you
Even though insurance companies usually assign teams of adjusters to help policyholders in areas ravaged by severe winter weather, it will take time to process the many damage claims being filed. If your home has been destroyed or seriously damaged, your agent will work to make sure you are taken care of.
Consumers with claim filing questions can contact the National Insurance Consumer Helpline at (800) 942-4242. The III also has a free brochure, Settling An Insurance Claim After A Disaster.
A little maintenance goes a long way
Even if your home is not pounded by a severe winter storm, the extreme temperatures and conditions of the season can damage your house. The American Society of Home Inspectors says that wind and inclement weather can cause water damage, wood decay, wear on doors and windows and high energy bills due to drafts. Homeowners should regularly check their doors, window frames and sills to ensure they are weatherproof. The roof, furnace, fireplace, and water pipes should also be properly maintained.
Here are more tips to help you protect your home from winter-related damage:
- Use a roof rake to clear snow from the roof and prevent ice dams from forming.
- Seal all exterior air gaps, especially in older homes. Visible cracks or crumbling mortar are a sign of trouble. When masonry is brittle, it can crack easily when freezing water penetrates the structure. Loose-fitting trim and siding are vulnerable to wind-driven precipitation, which can pool under loose siding and cause extensive damage. Other weather-related damage includes windowsills which may be cracked, split or decayed. Windows in this condition should be recaulked or replaced altogether.
- Move all flammable materials away from the furnace. These include old rags, sawdust, wood scraps and flammable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene and paint.
- Have a professional inspect the chimney and flue at least once a year and clean them if necessary. Carbon monoxide levels can become dangerous if smoke cannot escape from blocked flues or chimneys. Furthermore, a byproduct of burning wood called creosote can build up on the chimney flue and lead to a chimney fire. Also, when hanging decorations (Christmas stockings, garland) from your fireplace mantel, keep in mind that it's possible for a spark to ignite them and cause a fire.
- Change and clean the furnace filter. If the furnace has a built-in humidifier, have the humidifier cleaned. Each month, treat the humidifier to prevent mold growth inside the air system.
- Burn only materials designed for a fireplace: Paper can fly out the chimney, and coal and charcoal release carbon monoxide. If using artificial logs, burn just one at a time. They might produce more heat than the fireplace can withstand. Do not go to bed or leave the house until the fire is completely out.
- Install detectors for smoke and carbon monoxide on every level of the home. Test the alarms periodically and change the batteries at least once a year. If you're a renter and your detectors are provided by your landlord, make sure they are in working order.
- Avoid using space heaters. If you do, place heaters at least 3 feet from any surfaces or materials that burn easily. Check electric heaters for frayed cords or broken filaments.
- While away from home, arrange for a trusted friend or relative to check the home daily. It is important that person make sure the furnace and water supply system are functioning, especially during extreme weather conditions.
- If you want to stay on top of weatherproofing, you can contact a professional inspector to inspect the exterior and interior of the home and make sure all areas of concern are addressed. Inspectors are trained to see things that we may overlook or not even be aware of.
Being prepared for winter will reduce avoidable claims, and avoiding claims keeps your premiums down.