Blizzard aftermath: Five insurance items to put on your checklist before snow falls again
The Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 won’t soon be forgotten. This massive winter storm shut down much of the country, causing destruction in 30 states. AIR Worldwide, a catastrophe modeling company, estimates that losses from the blizzard will result in $790 million to $1.4 billion worth of insurance claims.
If your home or car was damaged by this blizzard, chances are good your insurance policy had you covered. “Homeowner’s insurance covers most perils from storms,” says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
When it comes to your vehicles, the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy provides financial protection against winter-related disasters, such a tree or chunk of ice that falls on your car, or a lightning strike that may be part of a winter weather phenomenon known as “thunder snow.”
|The massive blizzard of 2011 serves as a reminder to get your wintertime insurance needs in order before another big storm hits.|
But insurance coverage varies widely. It’s your call to make sure adequate coverage is in place. Here are five items you can take up with your insurance agent or do yourself — before severe winter weather strikes again.
1. Don’t dam it.
An ice dam typically occurs when snow on a roof melts and runs down the slope on your roof. When it hits the colder eaves, it freezes again. Over a few days, the snowmelt builds and forms an ice dam; water ponds behind it can leak into your attic or along exterior walls.
“Ice dams can lead to serious water damage,” says Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.
Curb ice dams through preventive maintenance:
• Clean your roof’s gutters before winter hits.
• Make sure your attic is properly insulated so that heat doesn’t escape from your living areas into the attic; heat in the attic promotes freezing and thawing on your roof.
• Look at whether your roof is well-ventilated. The freeze-thaw process that creates ice dams is less apt to happen on a roof that is ventilated properly.
2. Warm up your pipes.
Insulate your pipes before winter. A 3-millimeter crack in a pipe caused by frigid temperatures can result in the loss of 250 gallons of water each day.
When you’re in the midst of a stretch of freezing weather, consider running a trickle of hot and cold water; run the hot water all night. That may be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Linda Allen, a State Farm agent in Fort Worth, Texas, advises her clients to wrap outside faucets with towels.
3. Guard against slips and falls.
If the driveway, steps or sidewalks on your property are even the slightest bit slick with ice, you, your children or your visitors could take a tumble. Before a mishap like that happens, it’s a good idea to check your liability coverage in case someone is injured in a slip or fall at your home.
“The liability portion of a homeowner’s … policy only goes to a certain limit,” Luedke says. “The limit you might be sued for? Well, there is no limit.”
People with significant assets should consider an umbrella liability policy to cover lawsuits that can sometimes amount to millions of dollars in damages. For about $150 to $300 a year, you can buy a $1 million personal umbrella liability policy. The next $1 million will cost about $75.
4. Review replacement cost of your home.
Look into whether homeowner’s insurance policy covers the replacement cost or the actual cash value, says Zach Bartness, an Allstate agent in Travelers Rest, S.C.
If you have replacement-cost coverage, your insurance company will supply the amount of money you need to rebuild your home or repair damage. With cash-value coverage, your insurer will depreciate the value of the property to determine how much it pays you for damage or destruction.
“If your roof collapses from snow and you don’t have the replacement-cost coverage, you’ll only get paid the depreciated amount of the damage,” Bartness says.
Bartness recommends replacement-cost coverage for your personal possessions as well.
5. Check your vehicle coverage.
Worters, the Insurance Information Institute executive, says that once vehicles reach a certain age, it’s common for policyholders to drop collision and comprehensive coverage. If you’ve discontinued collision coverage, for example, you probably can’t file a claim for damage from a winter-deepened pothole. If you’ve let your comprehensive coverage lapse, you probably can’t recover damages from an ice-laden tree limb that crushes your car.
Depending on your circumstances, it may be worth exploring collision and comprehensive coverage for your car.