It sounds funny, but there is such a thing as “winterizing” your insurance. This means preparing yourself and your loved ones for the additional risks that can abound as winter approaches.
According to the New York Times, you can expect the unexpected when it comes to winter weather. In March 1947, a heavy winter snow followed quickly by warmer temperatures and torrential rain over a two-week period in England and Wales led to the destruction of over 27,000 homes and businesses. This was one of the worst natural disasters in British history. If that same storm were to happen today, it would cost the insurance industry over $24 billion.
In december 2013, snow and freezing rain hit the east coast of the U.S. from Ohio to Maine causing flight cancellations and dangerous roads. Though emergency officials warned drivers to avoid travelling, people still took to the roads. On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, icy highways resulted in over 50 cars damaged in a series of accidents throughout the day, including some that were fatal.
One year prior, Connecticut saw heavy amounts of snow and not everyone was prepared for it. According to Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Thomas B. Leonardi, “The most recent winter was one for the books as Connecticut residents coped with one of the snowiest winters on record, and the property damage was extensive. That is why it is extremely important to understand your policies and your coverage needs as we head into another winter storm season.”
With the unpredictable weather due to global climate changes, it can be hard to know how to prepare yourself and your property. According to Emily Delbridge of About.com, “Weather related damage often occurs in the coldest months. Insurance is one of those things that needs to be thought of ahead of time. All too often people are caught after damage occurs without the proper coverage.” Thankfully, we’ve created a list, broken up into categories to help you to plan for the worst.
Review your car insurance before the winter months begin. Think about the risks involved in winter driving and review your policy to make sure you are fully covered.
- Roadside assistance: Even if you have a four-wheel drive SUV, you still may end up in the ditch, either because of bad weather and poor decisions or because you were in the pathway of another driver’s chaotic driving habits. Either way, it may be helpful to purchase inexpensive roadside assistance instead of paying a hefty towing bill out of pocket.
- Comprehensive coverage: This will protect you if you are unable to park your car in a covered area and your car is exposed to storm damage.
- Collision coverage: The worst thing about driving in the winter is black ice. You can’t see it, and you may not be sure that it’s there. If it is, you may be at risk for sliding off the road or into another car. Having collision coverage will help to protect your car against physical damage.
If you own a car that is only suitable for winter driving and you put it in storage for several months at a time, think about reducing your coverage during this time. It may save you hundreds of dollars per year. For example, only covering your part-time vehicle with a comprehensive policy may be the best bet because it will still protect you against those events that occur when the car is parked: theft, fire, vandalism, and storm damage.
Much like your fancy sports car (or in my case, the one I hope to have some day), you probably won’t be getting much use out of your motorcycle during the winter months. Therefore, you should take advantage of the motorcycle insurance options available to you in order to save on costs.
- If you are not driving your motorcycle for a few months at a time, your risk of damage is probably smaller. Therefore, you may want to consider raising your deductible. This would lower your monthly payments.
- Remove your medical coverage. Again, if you’re not riding your motorcycle, then you’re probably not running the risk of injury.
- If your insurance still has a comprehensive-only plan (many don’t anymore), then consider this as an option. You would still have some coverage against storms, theft, vandalism, and fire while your vehicle is in storage, but your overall costs would be lower.
- You can also cancel your motorcycle insurance all together, but this is only an option if you only carry liability insurance in the summer months and nothing else.
Remember: just like your sports car, remember to change your insurance back to your regular policy once you’re able to drive it again.
Boat and RV
More likely than not, your boat and/or RV are not seeing much action during the winter months. If you store your toys for the winter, but are still concerned about fire and theft, then it is recommended that you still keep your insurance. However, you may cancel it as well, if you feel like taking on the risk.
In addition, you always have the option to raise your deductible and lower your overall coverage to save on costs.
During the winter, it is recommended that you be aware of the amount of snow and ice that have hit your area in order to keep a close eye on how it is affecting your home. There are certain tasks that you can do to prevent damage:
- Winterizing: make sure to prepare your home before winter starts. This involves cleaning your gutters, blocking leaks around your home, insulating, checking your furnace and air ducts, install storm windows, clean your chimney, and double check your fire and carbon monoxide alarms. Insurance companies don’t cover negligence.
- Snow Removal: remove as much snow as possible from your roof throughout the winter. This will prevent it from collapsing under the added weight of a heavy snowfall. Usually, if the roof collapse is sudden or accidental, it will be covered under your homeowners policy. However, if your roof has prior damage or hasn’t been replaced for years, the collapse may not be covered. Also, be careful when removing the snow because your homeowners insurance will not cover any physical harm you incur if you fall off! If you hire a snow removal company, they will have their own liability policies.
- Renter’s Insurance: if you don’t own the home that you are living in, be sure to get protection against your property. The landlord should hopefully have insurance on the building, but if the roof collapses, his coverage will not pay for your damaged personal items.
During the winter, a snowy roof isn’t the only issue to look out for. Other unexpected problems can arise, some of which are covered by homeowner’s insurance, and some of which are not.
- Ice dams: Usually, the cost of removing an ice dam from your roof will not be covered by insurance, but the damage caused (both inside and out) by one is.
- Frozen pipes: Determining what will be covered in the event of damage caused by frozen pipes is directly affected by whether or not you winterized your home and its contents. If you failed to winterize, turned off your furnace for the winter, and then had your pipes freeze, your insurance probably won’t cover the damage. So don’t set your thermostat lower than 55 degrees if you are gone for an extended period of time. If you did winterize and still experience this issue, the repair of the pipes themselves won’t be covered, but the damage will be.
- Storm power outage: Speak with your insurance agent on the details of your homeowners policy. Sometimes, even the smallest items, like spoiled food in your refrigerator will be covered if there is a power outage. Additionally, if the storm had a direct effect on your home, you may be covered for temporary living expenses while your home is repaired.
During the winter months, both your employees, customers, and visitors may be directly affected by the weather. Having an icy walkway or roadway can be dangerous to those entering or exiting the building. Be sure to remove all snow and ice as soon as possible. To protect yourself, follow the protocol below:
- Much like your home, your business needs to be winterized, so make sure that the HVAC is running properly, leaks are sealed, and alarms are working.
- Document the time and day of each snow removal effort.
- Sand or salt as frequently as needed.
- Send out reminders to everyone involved in your business to be extra careful while traversing the slippery terrain.
- Inspect the premises regularly.
- Monitor the weather forecast.
- Keep a list of your property in the event of building damage.
- Be consistent with your protocol!
Make sure you are prepared this winter. Follow the steps below to make sure you minimize your insurance claims.
Fill out the winter weather checklistfor your home and/or small business. This will help you to develop the type of comprehensive plan you need to minimize losses that can result from winter weather. Any items checked as “No” need to be addressed as soon as possible.
For your car, purchase snow tires or chains, new wiper blades, antifreeze, and an emergency road kit. Always have a full tank of gas.
- If you don’t need to drive, the stay where you are.
- In the attic, insulate the floor and make sure it’s well ventilated and cool to prevent ice dams.
- Keep the kitchen and bathroom cabinets to let the warm air in your home circulate around the pipes.
- If the pipes freeze, let them thaw naturally to prevent them from bursting.
- If you are going to purchase a space heater, be sure it comes with safety controlslike flame supervision. Also, prepare the area intended for the space heater so that it doesn’t come in contact with flammable material.
- In a power outage, don’t leave candles unattended and don’t bring your power generator indoors.
As always, contact your local insurance agent to have your specific questions answered regarding your vehicle, home, and small business insurance to make sure that you are covered against everything this winter may bring.