For much of the country, winter started slowly – but in the past week or so, winter has made a dramatic entrance from coast-to-coast. ‘Winter is coming’ quickly became ‘winter is here’ and it doesn’t look to be leaving anytime soon.
Whenever we face extreme cold temperatures, anywhere across the country, our Consumer Information Centre receives an influx of calls regarding insurance coverage for damages caused by frigid temperatures. Specifically, we receive questions and hear about claims regarding frozen and burst pipes.
Nobody wants water damage in their home – especially in winter. The good news is that damage to your home during periods of extreme cold are typically covered.
However, to confirm and clarify before we talk about pipes or wind: an insurance policy does not change in winter, or with specific temperatures. Instead, insurance covers various perils outlined in your policy. That means that rather than having ‘winter’ or ‘cold temperature’ coverage, your policy will outline perils that may occur as a result of these temperatures (i.e.: damage caused by freezing).
Perils like water damage from burst pipes, wind, hail or fire are typically covered in standard home insurance policies.
Here are some things to note when it comes to frozen and burst pipes:
Standard home insurance policies cover the resulting damage caused by freezing and burst pipes, provided the pipes are in the heated portion of your home and reasonable steps are taken to maintain heat.
If your furnace or heat pump breaks down and results in frozen pipes, a home insurance policy covers resulting damage, but not the cost to repair the furnace or heat pump. A broken furnace or heat pump is commonly a maintenance issue. Some commercial insurance policies do cover equipment breakdown, however this is not generally available in a home insurance policy. Insurance covers unexpected and accidental events – not ones that result in a lack of maintenance and therefore expected (i.e.: over time, a furnace will wear out and eventually break down, just as your roof cover and/or wooden fences will deteriorate over time – these are maintenance issues and are a part of home ownership. These expected circumstances are not insurable.)
If your furnace or heat pump breaks, you should shut off the water supply and drain the pipes to help prevent freezing. You should look for ways to heat your house, safely, as soon as you can and while your furnace or heat pump are being repaired or replaced. This could include using your fireplace, space heaters, or other temporary heat sources.
If your home is vacant, you should shut off the water supply and drain the lines, to prevent frozen pipes.
If you plan on being away from home, check your insurance policy first. Most policies outline specific details on how often your home must be checked by a competent person to ensure heat is being maintained. Most insurance policies exclude frozen pipes/water damage if your home is vacant, even if you have permission for vacancy.
If your power goes out or furnace breaks down, take action immediately and do what you can to maintain warm temperatures in your home to help prevent pipes from freezing.
Before temperatures drop, take steps to help prevent pipes from freezing; consider pipe insulation, especially for lines near outside walls, basements and crawl spaces. Prevent drafts, seal cracks and openings around windows and doors and know where the water shut offs are located.
Most insurers have 24/7 claims reporting, so if you do have frozen and/or burst pipes, call your insurance provider right away to start the claims process.
High winds in the winter are another concern and can cause extensive damage to your home or vehicle. Similar to frozen pipes, damage caused by wind is typically covered in your home insurance policy.
Here are a few points on wind:
Most home insurance policies cover wind damage, including:
Damage caused by flying debris (broken branches, trees, etc.).
Damage to your home and contents if water or snow enters through openings caused by wind or hail.
Homeowners, in some circumstances, who can’t return to their home as a result of insured damage may be entitled to additional living expenses.
For vehicles: damage from wind, hail, ice or water is covered if comprehensive or all-perils auto insurance coverage has been purchased. These coverages are not mandatory, so check your policy.
Canadian winters are tough and seem to be getting even tougher given our changing climate. Do what you can to help protect yourself, each other and your most-valuable assets by winterizing your home, avoiding slips and falls, and being a good winter driver.