Filed Under:Markets, Commercial Lines

Hurricane Irma's top 5 property losses

...and what to do about them

Claims experts suggest that policyholders call their insurance company or agent just as soon as they see that damage has occurred. (Photo: AP Images)
Claims experts suggest that policyholders call their insurance company or agent just as soon as they see that damage has occurred. (Photo: AP Images)

With each major hurricane, we learn more about how to minimize and prevent loss.

This year, we have had more than enough opportunity to learn from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate.

Related: Top 10 costliest hurricanes in the U.S.

After Irma, my claims team and I had the chance to survey from the air and at ground level the damage caused by the storm. We rode along with our field adjusting team and met directly with agents and clients.

Related: Hurricane Irma’s commercial property damage & how prep helped limit losses

The resilience of the people and communities affected by the storm impressed us greatly. Our visit and the incoming claims data allow us to make the following observations about the top five losses from the recent storms, and how to prevent them going forward:

Hurricane Irma spurred many claims for roof shingles that were blown off, especially on corners. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Hurricane Irma spurred many claims for roof shingles that were blown off, especially on corners. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

No. 5: Roof damage from wind


In the worst cases of roof damage, not only the shingles but the protective layers underneath were compromised, allowing water to soak the wood and insulation. Flat rolled roofs had similar issues when the wind got under edges and caused peeling or bubbling, or scoured off the gravel surface.

Related: Hurricanes and homeowners' insurance deductibles

Preventative steps:

        • Have the roof inspected every five years at a minimum by a professional.
        • Look for signs of damage after strong winds, snow and hail storms, and repair promptly.
        • For shingled roofs, replace or recement shingles showing any sign of potential lifting. For flat rolled roofs, look closely at loose fascia and edge flashing.
        • Use shingles rated for at least 110 mph wind resistance. Some communities require shingles rated for 150 mph winds. It is best to check local building ordinances to learn what is required.
        • Make sure that corners and edges are double fastened at the base and protected by additional edging if you live in a wind zone.
        • Ensure all roof attachments, such as solar panels, dish antennas, etc., are secured and will not be damaged or dislodged by strong winds.

We have also noticed that metal roofs survived the storms better than other roof types. Consider converting to a metal roof during a major renovation or using one for new construction.

Irma downed many trees and large limbs that often punched holes in roofs or walls, crushed fences and parked autos, and knocked over power lines. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Irma downed many trees and large limbs that often punched holes in roofs or walls, crushed fences and parked autos, and knocked over power lines. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

No. 4: Fallen trees and large limbs


Studies show that many of the trees or limbs that fall due to high winds have health issues.

Preventative steps:

        • Have an arborist annually check the health of trees.
        • Trim large limbs (8 inches or more in diameter) overhanging homes or detached structures.
        • Watch for signs of an unhealthy condition
        • Soil that is shallow and overly damp, which inhibits growth of a strong root system. The roots should have ample room to spread out from the tree. The wider and deeper the root system is, the more the tree will be able to survive strong winds.
        • Mushrooms and moss on the ground covering the roots. Certain strains can cause rot.
        • Deadening in the crown of the tree — an early sign of root problems.
        • A gradual increase in the lean of the tree and cracking in the trunk or large limbs.

Even if they are healthy, certain types of trees such as willows, white pine, some palms and others have shallow root systems that don’t secure the tree during high winds. Consideration should be made with an arborist to remove and replace these types with sturdier ones.

Related: Is insurance coverage on when the power goes off

Making sure gutters and downspouts are clear is one step that can prevent damage during a severe weather event. This resident's property in Missouri City, Texas sustained damage during Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Making sure gutters and downspouts are clear is one step that can prevent damage during a severe weather event. This resident's property in Missouri City, Texas sustained damage during Hurricane Harvey. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

No. 3: Rain penetration through roof (not caused by hole)


We have seen many cases in which roof gutters were clogged or unable to handle the high water volume. The overflow backed up underneath shingles and entered the walls and ceilings of the homes. These conditions — known as water dams — can go unnoticed until the roof and walls begin to decay. Roof valleys and depressions also caused problems when water couldn’t drain quickly enough.

Related: 4 things to know about power surges from hurricane-force winds

Preventative steps:

        • Make sure gutters and downspouts are clear, have adequate capacity and discharge to an open area downgradient.
        • Have roof inspectors focus on areas near the gutters to assure that structural damage is not occurring.
        • Look for roof depressions. They are not only a source of water pooling in storms but can indicate a weakened roof support structure. Have them inspected for structural damage and repaired to achieve a well-supported and level roof surface.
        • Ensure roof valleys and architectural features on the roof (e.g., chimneys, dormers, roof vents) have adequate flashing and waterproofing and can withstand strong winds.

Due to Irma, many basement drains became fountains. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Due to Irma, many basement drains became fountains. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

No. 2: Water backup through basement drains


In some cases, Hurricane Irma's rain raised the water table above the basement floor and the drain acted like a hole in a boat. In other cases, overwhelmed municipal drainage systems sent water back up connected drains. Finally, sump pumps couldn’t keep up with the water coming in, or they stopped due to a power outage.

Related: 5 things to know about insurance coverage after Hurricane Harvey

Preventative steps:

        • Have a basement waterproofing specialist assess the potential for water damage and recommend how to manage it.
        • Seal pavement/cement around the home's perimeter.
        • Consider getting a sump pump in the basement if one is not present.
        • Sump pumps should never empty into sewer lines, either municipal or septic systems. They should empty into an open area away and downhill from the building.
        • Set up emergency generators to power sump pumps during power outages. Battery backup may not last for the duration of a major storm.
        • Make sure roof gutters drain far away and downhill from the home. If the property site slopes toward the home, consider a French-drain system. 
        • Install backflow valves, especially in case of municipal sewer backup.
        • Move possessions off the floor, including furniture.

Related: Identifying water-damaged HVAC systems after a hurricane

This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, shows the Pelican Cove Resort and Marina undergoing renovations due to Hurricane Irma, in Islamorada, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

This photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, shows the Pelican Cove Resort and Marina undergoing renovations due to Hurricane Irma, in Islamorada, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

No. 1: Surface water flooding


Thankfully, the storm surge from Irma did not meet early predictions, but it still caused widespread damage. Overflowing rivers and streams did plenty of damage on their own.

Preventative steps:

        • Make sure the seals under exterior doors are tight. Seals degrade over time, so pay extra attention to older doors.
        • Move as much personal property as possible to upper floors. Rooms upstairs with no windows are the safest.
        • Use sandbags around the entire building — or at least doors, other ground-level openings and the sides of the building with the lowest elevation.
        • Move vehicles to higher ground.

Related: 5 client takeaways from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Recovery tips


Always put safety as the top priority.
Heed directions from local officials about when you can regain access to your home or business. If the structure looks compromised, wait until an engineer has certified that the building is safe to enter. Beware of gas leaks. Do not use a candle to access dark areas. Turn flashlights on before you enter because switching them on can cause a spark. Watch out for live electrical wires and be especially cautious about walking in pooled water. It might be electrified.

Call your insurance company or agent as soon you see damage has occurred. The sooner you report your claim, the sooner the insurance company can arrange an inspection and send cleanup experts.

Related: Staying safe: A Hurricane Harvey survival guide for claim adjusters

Take emergency measures to prevent further loss, such as putting a tarp over holes in the roof or patching broken windows. Dry out flooded and rain-soaked areas as soon as possible to minimize the potential for mold. Scrubbing walls and floors with a bleach solution can help prevent mold.

Take plenty of pictures of the damage before emergency repairs start and save the receipts.

Finally, beware of unscrupulous contractors and other service providers. Do not pay service providers large upfront fees. Check their status with the Better Business Bureau or a similar agency before agreeing to a contract. Also, be wary of assignment of benefit contracts, which are available in some states. In such agreements, you sign away your insurance claim rights. The other party can even make repair decisions without your involvement. To make a more informed decision, read this consumer protections message from the Florida Division of Consumer Services.

Dan Franzetti is chief claims officer at QBE North America. He has more than 25 years of experience in insurance claims. He has held leadership roles in the North American market and the Australian market, giving him an international perspective on catastrophic claims.

See also:

Here's why some water damage claims aren't covered

Summer weather safety risks & preparation

A millennial's guide to surviving a hurricane

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