November 30, 2011
Homeowners concerned about the damage winter conditions can cause may wish to review their insurance policies to clarify what their coverage applies to and what it does not. Most homeowners' insurance policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), cover water damage caused by melting ice or snow, although if water backs up through the sewers and drains or a genuine flood occurs standard policies may not apply.
Timing and damage
One expert told U.S. News and World Report the worst winter damage often occurs when pipes freeze and burst while the homeowners are away. When that happens, water from the pipes can flow throughout the house and continue to damage it and the households' possessions until their return. Walls, floors and ceilings may all be damaged.
This is particularly problematic because, while that sort of damage is covered by most insurance policies, delaying repairs could invalidate an otherwise solid claim filing, leading to its denial. This is one reason for prompt action, but there is another as well. Water damage can grow worse over time, weakening the structure of the home behind walls and in places that cannot be seen easily, as well as leading to mold. If water damage has occurred, an expert may be needed just to determine how extensive it is.
It is also possible that ice will form on the roof or elsewhere, but the damage caused by freezing may not become apparent until the weather turns warmer and that ice melts.
Repairs and results
If the home suffers a power failure or will be left unattended for some time, it may be wise to turn off the main water source and minimize the amount of water in the pipes. If there is less water, frozen pipes may be less likely to burst. Ideally, pipes would have no water in them and the issue would be avoided entirely.
If the home is being lived in, the III recommends keeping the home's temperature at a minimum of 65 degrees to prevent freezing inside the walls. Homeowners who have not drained the pipes and do not keep the heat on may not have insurance claims approved under some policies.
When pipes freeze, water should be deactivated as soon as possible to stop the flow. This will minimize water damage and stunt mold growth, and drying the home may be necessary to file a claim with certain insurers.