How to minimize cold weather damage to your property

winter-storm-damage

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With winter weather suddenly upon us–and forecasts calling for snow and high wind advisories in effect–the possibility of storm-related insurance claims increases exponentially. While the beautiful Pacific Northwest isn’t as prone to damaging hail storms (the second costliest winter weather claim) as other parts of the U.S., our neck of the woods is especially susceptible to fallen tree-related claims (third costliest, nationwide), with claims often exceeding $10,000—more than twice the dollar amount of those in other areas of the country.

Insurance claims for damage related to frozen pipes are the costliest cold weather claim, averaging around $18,000 per incident. If a pipe does freeze, it can split open or separate at the fittings. Once it thaws, extensive water damage can ensue.

Prevention is always your first line of defense. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Find out where your residence’s water shut-off is before disaster strikes; you’ll need to know how to stop the flow of excess water once pipes thaw if they do freeze.
  • Make sure pipes that are susceptible to freezing are properly insulated, including those connected to the washing machine drain. Disconnect and drain all seasonally-used hoses before storing. Protect outdoor spigots with a cover made specifically for that purpose.
  • For additional peace of mind, try leaving cabinet doors under sinks open slightly to allow warm air from the room to reach pipes.
  • Keep an eye on your water heater. Check the tank for bending, bulging, cracks, or other imperfections; for any signs of leaking that could lead to serious water damage to floors and walls; and for rust in your water that could be a portent of impending calamity. A licensed plumber can tell you whether your water heater can be fixed, or if it would be more cost-effective to invest in a new energy-efficient model. And if it is located in an unheated area, be sure to wrap it with insulation meant for water heaters.
  • Be prepared for the next storm before it hits. Have snow shovels, snow melt, and other winter-related supplies on hand; don’t wait until the last minute and risk having stores run out of what you need.
  • When the forecast calls for high winds or heavy snowfall, park vehicles away from large trees and shrubbery if at all possible.
  • Follow the guidelines put forth by the National Safety Council; tips specific to different types of emergencies are available at http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/safety-at-home-emergency-preparedness.aspx

If you do have to file a claim, The Hartford (one of the companies we broker with) recommends contacting your insurance agent as soon as possible. Remember, you may not be the only one needing to file a claim, so expect agents—and adjusters, who often are responsible for a large geographical area–to be extra busy after a major storm or other emergency situation. It is also a good idea to document damage before disposing of ruined items by taking inventory (better yet, by taking photos or a video), and to try to mitigate further damage while you wait for an adjuster (which typically takes 24-36 hours on a normal day, and likely more after a major atmospheric event).

For information on whether (or to what extent) your homeowners or renters insurance covers weather-related damage, consult your policy. If you’re still unsure, ask your agent.

While we can’t control Mother Nature, a little planning can go a long way towards weathering the storm.