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It’s Snow Joke – Insurance is Different in the Winter

“Canadians are fond of a good disaster, especially if it has ice, water, or snow in it.” – Margaret Atwood

I wonder how many insurance brokers Margaret Atwood knows. Unlike our compatriots, perhaps, we do not like disasters. We do not like them at all. She is right about the nature of Canadian disasters, though – ice, water and snow all feature prominently in our winter problems.

In the colder months, many of the home insurance claims that arise are different than they are during the rest of the year.

In part, the difference in risks is due to our changed behaviors: we may travel more, or for longer periods of time; we may entertain guests during the holiday season, breaking our normal seclusion; we may utilize the fireplace that goes unused the rest of the year.

If you’re travelling for more than a few days:

  • Ensure the heating is maintained in your home.
  • Arm your alarm (if you have one).
  • Have someone you trust visit the home every day or two. In addition to feeding your cat and watering your plants, they may act as a deterrent to burglars, and could notice if the heat fails, or a pipe starts leaking.

(And don’t just protect your home, protect yourself – make sure to purchase travel insurance before you depart. For a quick overview on why it’s important to have travel medical coverage in place, particularly in Mexico, click here.)

If you are home through the holidays and entertaining guests, your liability risk increases. Ensure your home is properly maintained to help minimize the risk of injury (e.g. no loose flooring that someone could trip on). If you serve alcohol, provide accommodation, or alternate transportation home, for your guests.

Once your guests are gone, and you snuggle up by the fireplace, the risk of damage changes again. According to the Government of Canada’s Guide to Residential Wood Heating, a maintenance check should be performed by a chimney sweep every year.  Even if you hardly use your fireplace, critters might (a bird’s nest in a chimney, can be bad for the birds and bad for the homeowner if neither knows what the other is up to). Also… open the flue!

While all these factors can play a role in increased home insurance claims during the winter, largely, it is due to the change in weather.

The obvious culprit is freezing temperatures. It brings us:

  • Snow – the damage can be extensive if snow accumulates on a home’s roof and causes collapse. (The most purely Canadian moment of my childhood was watching my father clear the snow off our roof with a hockey stick during a blizzard.)
  • Ice – it can cause water to back-up into homes, and is a major liability hazard as well.
  • Frozen pipes – water expands 9% when it freezes, so the pipes burst. It’s never good when they burst.

And then, when the temperature rises, everything melts and there is too much water!

Fortunately, most standard home insurance policies cover damage caused by collapse of a roof due to the weight of snow, as well as water damage to the home from the accumulation of snow on a roof.

Damage caused by frozen pipes is usually excluded if you have been away from the home for more than a few days, unless you have taken precautionary measures, like maintaining the heat, having someone check on the home, or draining the pipes.

In Victoria, we don’t usually have to worry about snow and ice damming and freezing pipes, like the rest of the country, but we do have to contend with rain and windstorms. These events bring their own slew of problems, like trees falling on houses, flooding, and power outages.

The core coverages of typical home insurance policies include damage caused by some weather-related issues – windstorm is specifically listed as being covered; trees and branches falling on buildings are covered as well – and most policies also include some coverage (often capped at a few thousand dollars) for food that spoils due to the interruption of power to a freezer.

Freshwater flooding is not automatically covered through most home insurance policies, but is usually available for purchase. (The premium varies dramatically by geographical area, and by insurance company, but it is worth asking your broker for a quote.)

To find out what winter coverages your home insurance policy has, talk to your broker.

For more information on how to prevent winter damage, check out the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Ten Tips for Winterizing Your Home.

Morgan Thomas,
Administration Coordinator & Personal Insurance Trainer

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