Does Your Home Insurance Cover Weather and Water Damage?
Winter Storms, spring thaws, water damage and other losses caused by weather variations are often covered by your home insurance.
Consider that in 2015 Winter storms caused an estimated $3.5 billion in insured losses according to Munich Re. As weather patterns change bringing harsh conditions to areas that traditionally do not see such heavy winter activity, claims due to winter storm damage will likely rise.
Insurance for Winter Storm or Water Damage
Fortunately, many homeowners are insured and can make a claim if they sustain damage from a winter storm, spring thaw or cold snap. Depending on the type of policy you have, several types of risks and damage arising from the weather, heavy snowfall, thaws or cold snaps that may be covered and you may be able to get help and compensation for losses from your insurance company.
Weather-Related Damage Covered by Insurance
The most common causes of a winter storm or weather damage include:
- Hail Damage
- Roof Damage
- Water Damage
- Sewer Back Up
- Freezing Pipes
- Fallen Trees - There are many reasons a tree might fall, and whether or not it caused damage to property becomes important for the purpose of paying a claim. Different policies offer different types of coverage.
- Ice dams forming on the roof
- Weight of snow and ice on the roof causing damage
- Wind damage (which can include fallen trees and shingles or bricks flying off buildings and roofs)
- Loss or displacement due to power failure (which may include food loss, depending on your type of policy)
- Flooding due to melting snow, a sudden thaw, or excessive rainfall
- Water infiltration into the home. This may or may not be covered depending on how the damage is happening. Always call to find out what you might be eligible for.
Although not all damages are covered by standard insurance, most of the above items are.
The major exception to most policies is flood damage. Flood damage is not usually covered by the home insurance company in the United States; you can find out more about national flood insurance on the FEMA website.
Winter Weather Can Also Put You at Risk of Being Sued: Liability Claims
We often think about the risks of damage to our own homes, but there is also a significant risk that if you do not maintain your property, other people could get injured and hold you responsible. Your home insurance covers liability.
The first step anyone should take is to contact their own insurance company, even if you think the damage or injury is not your fault. The insurance company can help give advice on the next steps and get involved to help you.
Insurance companies help with this legal aspect and legal defense costs if needed as part of the liability portion of your insurance in many cases as well. Take advantage of their services, this is what you pay an insurance company for, to help you!
The Insurance Agreement for Claims and Your Responsibility
In entering into a contract with the insurance company, also known as your policy, you've agreed to keep them aware of circumstances that might impact liability. Do not try and solve the issue by yourself, in doing so you may create a problem for your own insurance coverage. Your insurance representative is in the best position to explain how you are covered and what they will do to help you in the situation.
Examples of Winter Liability Risks and Claims
- Property damage to others. For example, a tree falls on your neighbor's fence or home.
- Personal injury: the mailman comes to deliver a package and slips on ice on your walkway. You have to do your best during storms to keep walkways de-iced and clear of snow to avoid injury to yourself and others.
- Snow or ice on the roof of your home suddenly crashes down on a parked car, or a person walking along your property and injures them. This is a very dangerous risk, which is why it is important to pay attention to accumulation on your roof and take preventative measures following a storm.
What to Do If You Have Winter Storm Damage to Make a Claim
Don't wait if you notice damage to your home, call your insurance company as soon as possible. Most insurance companies have 24-hour claims numbers that can help you in an emergency.
Insurance does not cover gradual damage, so leaving things until later could cost you a lot of money, and may even cause further damage that would not be covered and you claim could be denied.
Water Coming Into Your Home? Call Your Insurance Company!
Normally if you have damage happening, like water coming into your home, the insurance company can be really useful because as soon as they become alerted they may send an emergency crew out to help you prevent further damage. Take advantage of all the advice and services your insurance company can offer during a claim. You don't need to go through the situation alone.
In many cases, because of the insurer's experience with claims, and the established relationships insurance companies have with emergency contractors and service providers, going through your insurance company will get you help immediately. If you try and contact contractors on your own or after hours, you may not be on the top of their list. Give your insurance company the opportunity to get things resolved by experienced professionals as quickly as possible.
Preventing Further Damage
While you wait for the insurance company, you are responsible to prevent further damage. In this process, you might be tempted to take things and throw them away, or move things. Before you do this take a few minutes to document what is happening. It could become very important when the insurance company reviews the claim.
- Take photos or video as soon as you notice damage, so you have these on record.
- If you need to take immediate action to prevent further damage, keep any receipts and records of any money you spend.
How to Make a Claim and Get Paid for Winter Storm and Water Damage
Regardless of the situation, anytime you notice damage to your property or home, or you get accused of being responsible for damage to others, you should contact your insurance representative immediately. They will guide you through the process to protect your best interests and let you know what is covered.
Find out what coverage is available to protect yourself and if you do not have it, make the necessary changes to your home policy to get the best homeowner coverage possible for the future. With changing weather patterns you may be at risk for extensive damages that you may not have been subject to before.
With a few adjustments and a good plan for home winter maintenance and prevention, you should be able to keep your home safe from storm damage, and if you do have a claim, get the help you need from the insurance company so you don't lose money and come out on top.
Example: 'My Neighbor's Tree Fell on My Fence, or My House! What Do I Do'?
A very common issue among neighbors is when damage occurs across property lines. The example of the tree is very common. Branches can fall and hit a neighbor's home, fence, or garage. Sometimes trees fall over driveways and hit the neighbor's cars.
Contact your insurance company right away so that they can help you determine if you can recover damages from your neighbor using the proper channels. You do not need to handle these issues alone. They will be able to help you take care of the situation and get you back on track.
Damages to Your Roof
For homes that are connected or semi-detached, damages on the roof or within the walls can also cross property lines. The help of experts in these situations, like those of your insurance company, is in your best interest. You have a responsibility as part of your insurance contract to make them aware of any issues or potential claims being brought against you.
What to Do If You Aren't Sure Who Is Responsible in a Claim
In the scenario above, for example, your neighbor needs to contact their insurance company and you need to contact yours. This will facilitate the situation for you. You're not alone in these situations.
Anytime you have a claim brought against you, you should call your insurance company so they can help, that's why you have liability coverage.