Residents this week were still shoveling out from a rare, early October, winter-like storm that buried some communities in more than two feet of snow in a region from the Great Lakes area to the Northeastern Seaboard.
Wet and heavy, a freaky Friday the 13th storm was blamed for several deaths as it broke branches from trees, toppled power lines and turned out the lights in some 350,000 homes and businesses in western New York State alone.
A potential harbinger of what could be in store this winter, the storm should also serve as a wake up call to be sure your home is adequately insured should a snow storm visit your neighborhood.
Snow is, after all, frozen water and insurers have canceled policies, curtailed coverage and raised rates to beat back the growing numbers of claims paid for water- and moisture-related damage.
Insurers encourage policy holders to do what they can to avoid the need for such claims.
Standard homeowners policies typically cover losses related to bursting pipes, ice dams, wind damage, wind driven moisture damage, damage or collapse caused by the weight of ice or snow and backed-up sewers and drains.
However, when melting snow swells lakes, rivers and other bodies of water to flood stage, coverage for related damage is excluded from standard policies and you'll need a flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program.
Falling icicles, slips or falls or other storm related mishaps on your property, when they trigger court suits, are also covered. However, if you didn't remove snow or ice from your property within a reasonable period -- often including the sidewalk in front of your home -- you could be liable for negligence. Check with your local jurisdiction to determine if there are mandates that require you to remove snow and ice within a given period.
Insurers also consider negligence if you don't maintain your property to prevent damage and injuries.
Here's the insurance industry's recommendations to help you keep from getting snowed under by unpaid insurance claims.
- Clear cutters. Remove leaves, sticks and debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. Otherwise ice damming could occur leaving water unable to drain down the gutters but instead seep into the house. If temperatures drop you could also create a falling objects hazard. Gutter guards are a good investment to ward off debris that interferes with the flow of water.
- Trim trees. Remove dead branches that ice, snow and wind can snap, causing damage to your home or car, and injury to people on your property.
- Watch for snow accumulation on the downwind side of a higher-level roof, where blowing snow collects. Consult with a professional for safe snow removal that won't damage your roof.
- Be sure steps, handrails and related devices are strong and secure. Broken stairs and handrails can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.
- Seal your house. Plug cracks in holes in outside walls and foundations. Use caulking to protect water pipes and make sure that skylights and other roof openings have proper weather stripping to prevent snowmelt seepage.
- Keep the house warm enough to prevent water from freezing in pipes. Set the thermostat for at least 65 degrees. A lower temperature will not keep water flowing through the pipes from freezing. Open your faucets to a slow drip, likewise to help keep water moving and not freezing.
- Insulate. Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Too much heat escaping through the attic causes snow and ice melt. Later, refreezing can cause more snow and ice to build up and collapse the roof. The attic should be five to ten degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes from freezing. You may also consider insulating unfinished rooms such as garages to keep pipes in the walls from freezing and to prevent colder air from entering the home.
- Check pipes. Look closely for cracks and leaks and have the pipes repaired immediately. Wrap exposed pipes with heating tape. Installing an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system can help protect against the increased pressure caused by freezing water and it can help prevent your pipes from bursting.
- Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, the sooner you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have to prevent pipes from bursting.
- Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. If damage is discovered, you can have it repaired immediately rather than waiting for a more severe problem to occur. Seek out ways to prevent water damage resulting from snow-related flooding. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other methods can prevent flood damage to your home and belongings.
- Take care if you plan to be away. Turn the water off and/or have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting. Also, hire someone to check your home on a regular basis or hire a house sitter. Activity at your home will both keep the heat up and reduce the likelihood that it will be burglarized.