There are many health and safety dangers of sub-zero temperatures, blinding snowstorms and inconspicuous ice sheets, but winter weather can also be incredibly dangerous to your home. Heavy snow and ice can cause collapsed roofs, fallen trees and flooded basements. This causes major headaches for homeowners. Depending on your insurance policy, you could be liable.
Winter damage culprits. Snow and ice are the two main causes of home damage in the winter. The weight of snow can collapse a roof or damage a car. When snow melts, it can cause major flooding and problems with home septic systems. Ice, from a homeowner’s legal perspective, can cause slip-and-falls and frozen pipelines. Ice can also accumulate on trees which can cause damage if a tree branch falls on your home — or even worse, your neighbor’s home.
What is generally covered. A homeowners insurance policy typically covers direct damage including trees falling on homes, roof collapse due to snow accumulation, wind damage during a blizzard, displacement due to a major power outage, and frozen or burst pipes (subject to exception).
What is probably not covered: negligence. Homeowner negligence can affect the damage your insurance policy covers. This means neglecting the standard care that allows your home to withstand normal winter weather, including:
- Pipes. You may be denied coverage if the insurance company believes that pipes broke because they were neglected.
- Trees. If a homeowner knows that a tree or its limbs were at risk of falling but took no steps to trim or remove them, the homeowner can be held liable if they do fall and cause damage.
- Snow. If your home is damaged due to melting snow trickling through the roof, and the adjuster concludes that the roof is in poor shape or is improperly installed, you will be paying the bill on your own.
- Ice. Laws vary by location, but there may be rules regarding prompt snow and ice removal.
- Storms. Evidence that a homeowner could have done more to protect the property before or during a storm will be taken into consideration and could result in a denial of coverage.
What is definitely not covered: flood damage. Flooding is not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. If you live in a climate where a major snowstorm occurs followed by warm weather, flood insurance is a must. This often results in overworked drainage systems and flooding which can cause an overburdened septic system to back up into your home, causing raw sewage to flow from the drains. A flood insurance policy will likely cover this scenario, whereas a general homeowners policy will not.
Good neighbors. When damage occurs to a home caused by a tree or flooding from a neighbor’s property, the insurance company will first look into whether the neighbor was negligent or otherwise blamable in the event. If there’s no evidence of negligence, the owner of the damaged structure is then responsible for repair to that structure, but their policy will cover the damage. If the neighbor is found to be blamable in the event, the case may result in a civil lawsuit if the parties can’t reach a workable solution.
Making a claim. You should make a claim to your insurance company as soon as practically possible following a major weather event. This will allow the adjuster the best opportunity to assess the damage and make an accurate determination of whether the issue is covered under your policy. If your damage is minimal, you may want to consider skipping a claim to your insurer since making several claims can raise your premiums. If it seems likely that your issue won’t cost much more than the deductible, it may be wise to complete the repairs on your own.