News and Articles
November 5, 2019
Property owners face many risks throughout the year. Claims for property damage can occur for any number of reasons, and it is important to understand that some arise during the winter months. Winter weather can wreak havoc on commercial and residential properties alike; deferred maintenance issues may suddenly cause significant damage as the temperature drops. Severe weather, including ice and heavy snow, may also cause unforeseen damage that isn’t likely in warmer weather. U.S. Risk Underwriters, a leading provider of specialty insurance products, understands that insurance agents should be on the lookout for certain winter-related property insurance claims. By becoming aware of these winter-oriented problems, agents can better prepare their clients, no matter what Mother Nature dishes out.
Common Cold-Weather Insurance Claims Related to Snow/Ice
Freezing winter weather can bring with it the potential for serious property damage. Snow accumulation is perhaps the most common risk property owners may face in winter, and its potential for damage cannot be overlooked. Roof failure is a common occurrence after winter snow storms; snow may appear light and fluffy, but in actuality produces substantial strain on roof surfaces. According to an article published in USA Today, a 10-inch snow accumulation equals about five pounds per square foot of roof surface. The average building roof can support about four feet of fresh snow. If the roof already has significant snow accumulation, if there is ice present, or if the total snowfall exceeds the capacity of the roof, it can and will fail.
Ice is even heavier, and an ice storm can coat roofs and surrounding structures with a heavy layer. A common failure point is when wet snow and rain freezes when the needle drops; water expands as it freezes, opening up cracks in masonry, roofing surfaces, and structural supports. Ice can also block off drainage systems, resulting in “ice dams” that force water into the interior of buildings via ceilings and walls.
Snow and ice accumulation on overhanging trees often leads to winter-related damage claims. Trees may break or fall onto building roofs, causing significant damage. This is especially true when trees surrounding a structure are in poor health or have not been pruned by qualified tree professionals.
Insurance Claims Related to Freezing Temperatures
Snow and ice are not the only perils that may lead to an increase in property insurance claims. U.S. Risk Underwriters and many other insurance providers know that freezing temperatures contribute to damage while also raising the possibility of personal injury.
Freezing temperatures can burst pipes, creating situations that may damage or destroy significant interior portions of buildings and their contents through flooding. A burst pipe in an unoccupied structure, or over a weekend, can be especially devastating. This risk is compounded by failures in heating systems; if a building’s heating system is not working, the potential for frozen or burst pipes rises.
Frost heave, or the condition where water seeps into small cracks and expands as it freezes, is yet another risk factor that may lead to an increase in property damage claims. Frost heave can damage walls, foundations, and building supports, leading to unsafe conditions. If frost heave damages sidewalks, tripping hazards may result in visitors to a property being injured. Claims against property insurance may occur if someone is injured.
Preparing for the Worst in Winter Weather
Insurance agents can help their property clients prepare for the winter months by recommending preventative measures to reduce the instances of insurance claims. These measures include:
- Insulating pipes from freezing.
- Ensuring heating systems are working correctly to prevent freeze damage.
- Removing accumulations of snow and ice from roofs as needed.
- Pruning or removing dead trees around the property.
- Checking that insurance coverage is adequate to protect against expensive property damage claims.
With these steps, property owners are better prepared to face the perils that only winter weather can bring. ◼
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