Property Loss Research
Liability Insurance Research Bureau
Contact: Hugh Strawn
Date: November 1, 2011
Prepare Your Property to Mitigate Winter Storm Damage
NOAA Forecasts Potential Above-Average Winter Conditions
The latest winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts the possibility of above-average winter storm conditions in the northern tier states. "Winter storms cause significant property damage every winter season," said Hugh Strawn, Vice President, Catastrophe Services, Property Loss Research Bureau, "but there are some easy-to-do measures that can help mitigate those damages."
The ice-dam is the most common cause of property damage during the winter months. "Losses from damage caused by ice dams are typically covered under Homeowners, Farm Owners, Business Owners, and Commercial Multi-Peril insurance policies," noted Strawn. Other common winter storm damages include frozen and burst water pipes, roofing and siding damage from high wind, collapse from the weight of ice and snow, falling trees and tree limbs, severed utility connections, and heating appliance fires.
Another peril that can damage property during and/or after a winter storm is flooding. Sewer back up can cause water damage to a property and is often described as a "flood." "While water is damaging property and contents as the sewer backs up, it certainly appears to be a flood to the property owner," said Strawn, "but technically a flood has a different definition that involves water entering the building from an outside source, such as an overflowing stream." Some limited sewer back up coverage is available under most property policies as an endorsement to the primary policy. An additional premium is typically assessed for the coverage.
"Flooding is not typically covered under property insurance policies," noted Strawn. "There are some exceptions and a check of the policy or a call to the agent will answer questions about flood coverage." Flood coverage is available for most properties through the National Flood Insurance Program, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Winter Loss Mitigation Tips
Ice dams may be prevented by cleaning the gutters and storm drains of leaves and debris before the first snowfall. After a heavy snowfall the prevention effort could include pulling the snow away from the edge of the roof, where ice dams form. The best prevention of the ice dam is to ensure that the attic above a residence or the space above a commercial plenum is property insulated to control the loss of heat through the roof.
Frozen pipes may be prevented by sealing cracks, even really tiny openings, in the walls and foundation of a structure. Cold air pushed by a steady wind through such cracks and openings can cause a pipe to freeze and burst. When the temperature warms and the pipe thaws water will begin pouring through the burst pipe. Also, keep the interior of the structure at no lower than 65 degrees Fahrenheit, which will help keep the voids where pipes are normally located above freezing. In extreme freezing conditions opening a faucet and letting water trickle through plumbing system will prevent the pipes from freezing.
Heating appliance-caused fires are common during the winter months, especially fires associated with wood burning stoves and fire places. "Regular annual cleaning of the flue by a knowledgeable chimney sweep is the best way to control this risk," noted Strawn. "The sweep will remove the buildup of combustible soot, as well as check the flue for damage that could allow super heated air and gasses to escape into a wall or the attic and ignite a structural fire." Additional information on wood burning stove and fireplace safety is available from the U. S. Fire Administration Fireplace and Home Fire Safety page.
Smoke detectors should be tested at least monthly, and cleaned and tested prior to the winter season. "The National Fire Protection Association Smoke Alarm Safety Tips Webpage recommends changing the batteries in smoke detectors at least once a year, such as each fall when the country shifts from Daylight savings time to standard time," Strawn said. "Cleaning can be accomplished with a vacuum or the can of compressed air you use to clean the dust and dirt out of your personal computer." Strawn also noted that smoke detectors have a life expectancy and should be replaced on the scheduled recommended by the manufacturer. "Smoke detectors are like any other machine, they wear out," Strawn continued, "and lose their sensitivity. They need to be periodically replaced with new equipment."
A comprehensive list of winter loss mitigation suggestions is available on the Website of the Institute of Business and Home Safety (IBHS).
The Property Loss Research Bureau and the Liability Insurance Research Bureau are not-for-profit associations of property and casualty insurance companies. They are located in Downers Grove, Illinois.