Are You Winterized? What Could Go Wrong — and What It Means for Your Insurance

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For much of the US, fall is in full swing. You wake daily to discover that each morning is colder yet. You’ve unearthed your warmer slippers, fuzzy robe, and winter sweaters, so you’re feeling ready. But what about your home? Is your house ready to withstand the cold of the coming winter weather?

Your home needs more than a cozy sweater or pair of slippers. Your home needs… winterizing.

Why is it important to winterize your home? Winterizing isn’t only about ensuring winter-long warmth and comfort. Winterizing is also how you protect your home from the potential damage winter weather can cause. Damage from winter’s unforgiving storms and freezing temperatures can be not only inconvenient and costly — but also dangerous.

Before We Jump In… How to Winterize a House!

Winterizing your home isn’t hard. You can absolutely do it yourself; we’ve spelled out the basic steps in “Winterizing 101 — How to Tuck Your House in for a Long Winter’s Nap.” There, you’ll find how-to information to help you reduce your risk for many of the problems outlined below.

Today, however, we’re here to focus on the risks of NOT winterizing properly. What can go wrong if you don’t winterize? And what are the insurance implications if something does go wrong? Read on.

Interior Pipes Freeze→Burst Pipes

What happens? Remember what you learned way back in middle-school science: When water freezes, it expands. So if your interior pipes are vulnerable to freezing, you could end up with burst pipes. And that could mean water leaking, spraying, or even flooding into your home. At minimum, you could end up with water damage to your furniture or other personal property. In a worst-case scenario, you could end up with structural damage to your home, ruined floors and ceilings, or utterly destroyed plumbing.

What’s covered by my insurance? Most homeowners insurance policies will cover repairs or replacements caused by burst interior pipes and the subsequent water damage. That said, if the burst pipes were caused by homeowner negligence (e.g., you leave for a trip, turn off the heat in your home, and don’t do any preventive maintenance), you may not be entitled to coverage.

Failure to Drain Exterior Plumbing→Burst Pipes

What happens? Think water hoses, exterior taps, and irrigation system hoses. If you don’t drain the water out of your exterior plumbing, any water left inside could freeze and expand. That could mean more burst pipes, a ruined irrigation system, or hoses you’ll need to replace.

What’s covered by my insurance? Again, water damage from burst pipes may be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. But failing to proactively drain these items qualifies as homeowner negligence. That means coverage could be excluded.

Snow, Ice, or Wind Storm→Fallen Trees & Branches

What happens? Trimming tree branches is another important component of fall home maintenance. Why? Because high winds, or the weight of snow and ice, could cause a large tree branch — or even an entire tree — to fall on your home. This could result in damage to your roof, deck, or windows. Naturally, you’d also end up with that tree lying in your yard.

What’s covered by my insurance? For most homeowners, both the tree removal and the property damage will most likely be covered by insurance. That’s true whether it was a tree from your own yard, or a tree from your neighbor’s yard. If your tree falls on a neighbor’s house or car, however, they should file a claim under their own insurance. One caveat: If you live in a hurricane-prone area, it’s most likely that wind damage is either not covered by your homeowners insurance policy — or that it has a separate deductible. (Here’s what to do if you have a claim resulting from a catastrophic winter storm.)

Snow & Ice Accumulation→Roof Leaks or Cave-in

What happens? Snow facts: Snow is HEAVY. Also, when snow melts, that melt water has to go somewhere. This means that, either pre- or post-melting, snow and ice buildup on your roof can create some huge problems. (1) Ice dams can form when warm air in your attic melts the snow on your roof, causing it to run down and re-freeze on the roof’s cooler edges, forming ice dams. These dams can then trap snowmelt, potentially causing it to seep into your roof, walls, and ceilings. (2) Actual roof overload/collapse is less likely. But it’s absolutely possible, and it would be a huge problem requiring significant structural repairs. (Check out “4 Reasons Why It’s Important to Avoid Snow Buildup” for more details on how to prevent and remedy snow buildup.)

What’s covered by my insurance? The resulting water damage may be covered by your homeowners insurance policy. Beware of letting that water damage become mold damage, however. When mold damage is the result of homeowner negligence, most homeowners insurance policies will not cover it. (Mold damage is only one of many common homeowners insurance exclusions. Learn more.)

Clogged Gutters→Water Damage to Ceilings & Walls

What happens? Gutters get clogged with leaves and other debris. Mix in some snow and ice, and you’ve got gutters that can’t drain much of anything. That melt water that can’t drain through the gutters? It could end up flowing into your foundation, siding, walls, and ceilings, causing water damage.

What’s covered by my insurance? This one’s dicey, as failing to maintain your gutters could clearly be viewed as homeowner negligence. So while your homeowners insurance may provide coverage for this type of water damage, it’s nowhere near a certainty.

Neglected Exterior Damage→Higher Maintenance Costs

What happens? Maybe you’ve been ignoring a foreboding-looking crack in your foundation. Or maybe it’s just some smaller stuff, like a couple of minor cracks in the siding or a leaky window frame. The problem is that, if you’re negligent in attending to exterior damage now, you could be in for even bigger issues later. Not only our pal Water Damage, but also his buddies Pest Infestation, Mold Damage, and Structural Damage to Your Foundation.

What’s covered by my insurance? Again, any property damage resulting from homeowner negligence… isn’t covered by your homeowners insurance policy. As a homeowner, you’re expected to perform reasonable maintenance to make sure that the normal wear and tear your home experiences doesn’t turn into a much bigger problem.

Poorly Maintained Fireplace→Increased Fire Risk

What happens? Oh fireplaces. So lovely and warm, and yet so potentially problematic. Indeed, lack of fireplace maintenance poses several risks, including increased risk of chimney fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, or even bodily injury. That’s why, whether or not you plan to use your fireplace this winter, you need to winterize it accordingly.

What’s covered by my insurance? Sorry, but standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover fireplaces. If you have a fireplace, you need to purchase fireplace coverage that can be added to your homeowners insurance policy. That applies even if you don’t use your fireplace.

BONUS: Falling Ice→Body Damage to Your Car

What happens? You may think those giant icicles that form on the trees around your house are awfully pretty. But they can also be awfully dangerous. Try picturing one of the really big ones… landing smack in the middle of the hood of your car. How pretty is that?

What’s covered by my insurance? In this case, it depends on the type of automotive insurance policy you’ve purchased. If you have “comprehensive” coverage, the damage to your hood will most likely be covered.

What’s another great way to protect your home? By making sure you have the right homeowners coverage at the best price, of course! Covered’s expert insurance advisors will be happy to do a free policy review. Give us a call at (833) 487-2683, send us a message, or get a quote today.