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Top winter home insurance claims and tips to reduce homeowner costs

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With the winter season upon us, many homeowners are bracing themselves for the impact that cold temperatures and harsh storms will have on their homes. In 2021, a record $15.1 billion in insured losses were caused by winter storms, with many experiencing events like power outages and water damage from burst pipes. This year, proper home maintenance should be a priority for all homeowners facing winter weather advisories and the extreme effects of climate change.

Expensive damage from snow, wind, ice or water can lead to costly home insurance claims that raise your overall premium, so we’ve outlined the most common insurance claims that homeowners file and ways to avoid them this winter. Feel free to jump to the infographic for some important stats and tips for preventing winter home damage.

What does home insurance cover in the winter?

Most home insurance policies cover standard types of damages when it comes to snow, wind, rain or ice. If your house ever becomes uninhabitable due to damages and you need somewhere to stay, like a hotel, while repairs are made, your insurance will also cover these additional living expenses. Take a look at the different types of damage covered by standard homeowners insurance below.

What home insurance covers in winter:

  • Damage from falling snow
  • Damage from freezing rain or wind-driven snow
  • Damage from the weight of accumulated snow on your house, its contents or other insured structure(s)
  • Damage to your house, roof or other insured structures resulting from wind
  • Damage from fallen tree limbs
  • Ice damage
  • Frozen or burst pipes
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What isn’t covered by home insurance in the winter?

Flood damage, from melting snow or heavy rain for example, is not covered by standard home insurance policies. To get flood insurance coverage, check out FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Certain policies also exclude cosmetic damages caused by wind and hail from coverage as well. However, any damage to your home’s functionality or structure would be covered. Check your policy for any hail or wind exclusions to see if you’re covered.

Finally, damage that occurs due to homeowner negligence or failure of the homeowner to properly maintain or protect their property is never covered under your home insurance. Claims may be denied if you weren’t living at the property when the damage occurred or if you didn’t exercise reasonable care to prevent the damage in the first place.

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Most common home insurance claims in the winter

Although most home insurance claims that are filed during the winter occur because of damage from winter weather, some are associated with heating your home or incidents from the holiday season. We’ve provided a summary of the most common winter home insurance claims to help you become more aware as a homeowner.

Frozen pipes

Frozen water inside of a pipe can cause the entire pipe to burst and result in extensive water damage and even mold in your flooring, drywall or household appliances. Burst pipes from 2021 winter storms cost insurers an estimated $18 billion in home and business damages.

Average individual claims for water damage due to burst or frozen pipes are costly and can range from $10,000 to $20,000. Homeowners in the top five states for frozen pipe losses should take appropriate precautions to keep this damage from occurring in their homes.

Top states for frozen pipe damage:

  • Illinois
  • New York
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Pennsylvania


Snow and ice damage

In 2019, water damage and freezing made up 29% of home insurance losses, and the average claim cost about $11,100. Damage from snow and ice to your home can come in many forms during the winter. For example, ice buildup can occur on your roof after a rapid thaw and freeze cycle, and the weight of the buildup can cause structural damage to your roof.

Another destructive form of damage is ice dams, which happen when a buildup of ice along your roof’s edge disrupts the proper drainage of water. Ice dams typically form when melted snow runs down your roof but freezes before draining off the edge. These dams can retain water on your roof that eventually becomes heavy ice buildup or can cause mold problems in your walls and ceiling.

House fires

Winter hosts many holidays that are notorious for starting house fires. For example, Thanksgiving is the leading holiday for cooking fires with Christmas Day and Christmas Eve following close behind. Additionally, Christmas Day is the optimal day for candle fires, with the chances of starting one 2.5 times greater on this day than average. Whether it’s festive cooking or a lone candle, all homeowners should exercise caution and vigilance around open flames.

Home heating and lighting are also common culprits when it comes to house fires. Things like space heaters and holiday lights are known to be potential house fire sources. Make sure to keep flammable materials away from heaters, lights and radiators, and to always shut off electrical appliances after a certain amount of time.

Wind and hail damage

Wind and hail are forces to be reckoned with, and while you can take shelter inside your home to escape these elements, your house will always take the brunt of the force. After a hailstorm, it’s wise to inspect your roof and home for damages and file a claim promptly. Waiting for any damage to make itself known (e.g., a leaky roof) may prevent you from being paid for your claim.

Hail and wind claims made up 34% of home insurance losses, with the average claim costing about $10,800. Your coverage may include wind or hail exclusions, so make sure to check your policy to see if you’re covered for these damages.

Personal injury liability

The presence of ice on your property can mean a liability risk for you and anyone who visits your home. An icy stairway, sidewalk or driveway can be hazardous for anyone coming and going, and you’d be liable for any personal injuries that occur on your property.

Other hazards like falling debris or even icicles can also lead to potential injuries and lawsuits. Your typical home insurance policy will cover the costs of medical expenses and any liability expenses that arise from lawsuits.

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Nine tips to avoid filing a claim this winter

When damage occurs to your home in the winter, you can file a home insurance claim to help you afford the cost of expensive repairs. Keep in mind, if you file a costly claim, this may cause your home insurance premium to go up. To avoid a hike in your premium, follow these tips to avoid filing a claim this winter.

1. Run your water

If outside temperatures fall below 20º Fahrenheit, frozen pipes may become a common occurrence, so it’s important to keep your water running to prevent this. It’s best to drip both hot and cold water lines to prevent freezing and also relieve pressure in your pipes.

2. Insulate your pipes and circulate air

Another tip to prevent frozen pipes is to make sure they are well-insulated, especially in spaces that aren’t typically heated in your home like the garage, attic or basement. Also, remember to circulate warm air around your house to prevent freezing and open up cabinet doors in your kitchen and any bathrooms to allow the air to reach the pipes.

3. Use water monitoring or leak detection technology

Water damage can be a nightmare for you and your wallet. Ensure that the smallest leaks are found by investing in leak detection technology or a water monitoring system. These will alert you if and when a leak appears so that you can shut off your water or get it repaired before damage occurs.

4. Weatherproof your house

Warm air rises and any leaking out of your house can make its way to your roof. The warmth can then cause any snow or ice to melt and refreeze quickly, and this can lead to heavy ice buildup or even destructive ice dams. Inspect all openings in your house and make sure every window and door is weathertight.

5. Keep a consistent indoor temperature

If you plan to be away from your house for long periods of time, you’ll want to remember to set your thermostat to a consistent temperature anywhere between 55º and 65º Fahrenheit. This will prevent unwanted freezing of pipes or anything else in your home.

6. Inspect chimneys and heating appliances

Before you fire up the heater or light your first fire of the season, it’s important to inspect your chimney and heating system. An inspection can reveal any problems that may cause a house fire. Inspections should happen annually, and the best time to do it is in the autumn.

7. Clean your gutters

No one looks forward to spending the day cleaning out leaves and other debris from their gutters, but you’ll thank yourself for doing it later. When water can properly drain through an unblocked gutter, you’ll be less likely to experience ice buildup or ice dams.

8. Maintain safe walkways

Keep the outside of your home safe for any person or animal that walks through it by melting the ice on walkways, stairways and driveways. You can use a mixture of salt and warm water to melt any ice, or you can try making your own natural deicer with rubbing alcohol, dish soap and hot water.

9. Trim heavy branches

Tree branches in the winter pose a risk to both you and your home when they become heavy with snow or get thrown around in a storm. Trim them back to prevent injuries or property damage from falling branches.

When the cold weather comes, your house will be there to protect you from the elements. As a responsible and savvy homeowner, you should also take steps to protect your home with home insurance and proper maintenance. With all your diligent winter home preparation, you’ll be ready whether a winter storm rolls through or an accident happens over the holidays.

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