With most of the United States in a deep freeze and recordbreaking snow totals in New England, homeowners are beginning tofeel like the residents of the fictional kingdom of Arendelle,stuck in eternal winter, as in the Disney movie "Frozen."

|

If a foot of snow causes your roof to collapse or if extremecold temperatures cause your pipes to freeze, will your insurancepolicy cover the damage? It depends on whether your policy providescoverage for named perils or open perils. Here are some key thingsto know as you review your policy.

|

The Insurance Services Office (ISO) standard Homeowners formsand the equivalent American Association of Insurance Services(AAIS) forms list the weight of ice, sleet and snow as namedperils--which means that damage from the weight of ice, snow orsleet to a building or property contained in a building is covered.Loss to awnings, fences, patios, pavements, swimming pool,foundations, retaining walls, piers, wharves or docks isexcluded.

|

Two men shoveling snow off a roof

|

Roof cave-in

|

If personal property inside a building is damaged because theroof caves in under the weight of the snow, then coverage fordamage from a collapse is triggered. The weight of ice or snow maycause a roof to sag (which is not considered a “collapse” under thehomeowners forms) or gutters to pull away from the roof, leading todamage to personal property, which also would be covered.

|

Ice dam in gutter of house

|

Ice damming and snow melt

|

Ice damming—caused by the weight or mass of snow that hascompacted and turned to ice—often causes water to back up undershingles or flow under eaves from clogged gutters. If the waterstains walls and damages ceilings, there is coverage for the damageto the building because there is no exclusion for thawing. Further,resulting water damage to contents should be covered because thelanguage of the policy covers the weight of the ice, snow or sleetthat causes damage. The scope of the coverage may be broadened tothe weight of ice as a proximate, not necessarily a direct, causeof loss.

|

Water leaking through ceiling

|

Incorrect installation caused theleak

|

In some cases, the weight of the ice might cause roof or sidingshingles to dislocate just enough to allow water to enter thehouse. If the leak is because the roof or flashing wasn’t installedproperly or the roof is worn, your policy may not cover the cost torepair the roof. It may only cover the damage to the interior ofthe house and contents.

|

Remember that with named perils coverage, it’s left to theinsured to prove that a covered peril was the cause of the loss. Ifyou have a comprehensive homeowners policy instead of a broad formor special form policy, it’s up to the insurer to prove that theloss is excluded.

|

|

Copper pipe with water gushing out

|

Frozen pipes burst

|

Under the homeowner forms, in all situations—vacant, occupied orunoccupied—there is no coverage for freezing plumbing, heating, airconditioning or automatic fire protection or of a householdappliance unless the named insured has taken precautions tomaintain heat in the building, or shut off and drained systems andappliances.

|

This is often a problem with snowbirds who want to save onutility bills while they’re away. Generally keeping a thermostatset at around 55 degrees during the winter months should preventyour pipes from freezing, but the furnace may break down or theremay be an extended power failure. If your home is going to beunoccupied for a long time, and you don’t want to keep the heat on,be sure to shut off the water supply and drain the system andappliances of water to avoid frozen pipes. Even better: havesomeone you trust check on the property, especially when thetemperature has been extremely low for several days.

|

House with tree falling on roof

|

Damage from frozen tree branches

|

Generally, trees, shrubs, plants and lawns aren’t covered fordamage by wind, hail, the weight of ice or snow, or any unnamedperil that would be covered under open perils coverage. If the treeor the branch falls on your house or garage, however, damage to thestructure is covered.

|

Open refrigerator with food

|

Power failure from winter storm

|

In many parts of the Northeast during the winter of 2014 stormscaused power failures that lasted for several days. Your homeownerspolicy may cover the cost of the food in your refrigerator andfreezer, up to certain dollar limits, usually $500.

|

If you can’t stay in your home because of the power failure,some policies provide coverage for the expenses of a hotel and thecost of meals.

|

Review your homeowners policy to be sure you understand yourcoverage, and take precautions. If you can do so safely, shovellarge accumulations of snow off your roof and unclog gutters. Ifyou can’t do so yourself, you may be able to find a contractor toremove the snow for you. And think positive: Spring officiallybegins on March 20.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free PropertyCasualty360 Digital Reader

  • All PropertyCasualty360.com news coverage, best practices, and in-depth analysis.
  • Educational webcasts, resources from industry leaders, and informative newsletters.
  • Other award-winning websites including BenefitsPRO.com and ThinkAdvisor.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Rosalie Donlon

Rosalie Donlon is the editor in chief of ALM's insurance and tax publications, including NU Property & Casualty magazine and NU PropertyCasualty360.com. You can contact her at [email protected].