Does Your Homeowners Insurance Cover Ice Damage?
Every season has its own unique challenges for homeowners. During the winter, unfortunately the cold can bring a host of risks for our houses, with one of the most dangerous and costly being ice damage. But does your homeowners insurance cover ice damage? It’s an important question that you should take time to investigate because you don’t want to be caught in a situation where you’re holding a bill that you assumed your insurer would handle. Below are some helpful tips for asking the right questions and taking the most helpful steps if and when ice damage occurs. We’ll also share important tips on how to avoid ice damage in the first place, which will increase your home’s safety and your peace of mind for the cold winter months.
First things first: how can ice damage occur? There are many ways, but the most common one involves freezing pipes that leak or explode. Another issue is an “ice dam” which forms on your gutters when water on the higher part of your roof is heated while the lower parts stay below freezing. Over time, this causes ice to form and it prevents water from properly draining in your gutters -- and eventually, the water finds its way inside your house instead, or the weight of the ice can cause damage to your roof and gutters (or to anything else lying below it when it falls).
Insurers all differ on what they cover, and every policy also has unique coverages; that’s why it’s so important to take some time to look over your policy, or call your insurer to ask specifically about coverage for ice damage if it’s not clear. If the ice damage originated from an indoor or ground water source, then your policy might exclude these situations from coverage. Some insurers might only cover part of ice damage, such as the cost of repairing the damage to your roof, with you as the homeowner being responsible for removing the actual ice dam. Again, it all depends on your policy, so we recommend doing some research to confirm your coverage.
Regardless of your policy, your insurance company is most likely going to expect you to have taken every due precaution for preventing the ice damage in the first place. So that’s why we’re going to spend the rest of this article helping you take simple preventive measures to keep it from happening. Here are some simple steps to help you avoid the headache of ice damage:
Clean your gutters.
This can be a pain, of course, but it’s a lot less of a hassle than it will be when an ice dam forms more easily because you gave it a foothold. Proper drainage is the first step to keeping ice off your roof, so take the time to clean out your gutters. Just make sure you do this safely and don’t rush to failure while you’re on a ladder or on your roof -- because failure in this case can mean serious injury or death!
Check attic insulation.
Make sure there aren’t gaps in your insulation which can result in spots where more heat is escaping up to the higher part of your roof. Investing in proper insulation for your attic will make a big difference not just in preventing ice damage, but also in saving valuable energy and money throughout the year.
Trim trees near your house.
If your insurance company sees that you didn’t remove the branches that fell on your house when they froze and caused damage to your roof, they might be inclined to deny your claim. If it’s a neighbor’s tree, things can get more complex, but take all the precautions you can by minimizing risks wherever possible.
Watch for ice dams when it snows.
Keep an eye on your roof when it snows and if you see an ice dam forming, you can get rid of it before water collects and gets into your home. But once again: safety first, especially during a slippery snowstorm! Better to hire a local company to remove your ice dam than risk injuring yourself or causing additional damage. If you do find damage, call your insurer as soon as possible to file a claim (unless it’s minor enough that you’ll be able to fix it for less than your deductible). And remember that ice damage left unchecked can result in leaks throughout your home, which can lead in turn to costly water damage, mold issues, and serious expenses.
Be nice to your insurance adjuster and agent.
If you do file a claim, you’re probably aware of the human element in determining how much compensation you’ll receive. Don’t be over the top and phony about it, but simply show a genuine concern for your insurance representatives as people. They’re probably used to angry homeowners who make demands for payments, so if you’re simply kind and courteous, and if you have your paperwork and hot coffee ready for their visits, it could go a long way. If you’ve been with a company for a long time, it could also impact the amount they’re willing to give you on a claim. Also, be ready to show them how you’ve been taking proactive steps to avoid ice damage, like keeping your roof and gutters clear of debris and snow.
Keep your heat on in the winter.
Even if you leave your home for an extended period, don’t turn off the heat completely because it can cause your pipes to freeze and burst. Turn your thermostat down to a lower level to save on heating costs, but keep it at least set at 55 degrees. Frozen pipes due to your negligence could result in denial of a claim.
More info? For information on preparing your home for winter, read one of our other posts: HOW TO GET YOUR CAR AND HOME READY FOR WINTER