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Winter Weather Home Prep Tips to Prevent Loss

Claudia Wetteland - Vice President - Ironshore Private Client Group

Winter officially arrived on December 21st. Now is the time for homeowners to take precautionary steps to avoid potential losses related to the threats of the winter season. By understanding exposure to risks that could trigger a claim event and involve costly repairs, homeowners can take action to winter-proof their home and property. Preventive measures taken early can help mitigate against the risk of damage and financial loss.

Most of the country faces low temperatures during the winter months to varying degrees based on geographic weather patterns. Winterizing and water maintenance go hand in hand as weather-related water damage is the most common cause of home losses, primarily resulting from frozen pipes. Homeowner losses from water damage and freezing rank third in terms of claims severity, behind fire/lighting damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Of total homeowner losses where 97% is related to property damage, water damage caused by frozen pipe bursts and resultant flooding is reportedly the second most frequently filed insurance claim.

Second home properties are especially at risk for losses from exposure to winter weather activity. Water detection systems are particularly valuable when the home is closed for the season. Similarly, newly developed smart technology apps and monitoring devices can alert the insurer to a loss occurrence on vacation away from the primary residence. When closing second homes, the insured should drain the water lines and check back up power systems in basement sump pumps.

The American Insurance Association (AIA) has reported that “water damage claims have been growing faster than any other component of homeowners insurance.” Helpful tips to manage the risk of winter damage from water leaks, frozen pipes and flooding are recommended below.

* Gutters should be kept clean of leaves to avert clogged drainage.

* In-ground lawn watering systems should be disconnected.

* Exterior air conditioning units should be properly covered to shield against ice and snow infiltration.

* Foundation cracks should be patched where melting snow or ice could seep into the home.

* Outdoor pools and patio hot tubs should be winterized, according to the manufacturer’s instructions and professional pool operators.

* During extremely cold weather, the homeowner should let cold water drip from a faucet served by exterior pipes.

* Home heating thermostats should be set to the same temperature during the day and at night.



Once a storm hits, snow and ice buildup should be removed from the roof. While hanging icicles can be a beautiful image within a wintery landscape, they are a warning signal that water could be seeping into the house. Many high value homeowners have installed heaters in gutter lines to prevent ice accumulation and potential property damage, as well as heating systems in driveway and sidewalk pavement to avoid slip and fall liability risk.

Power outages have become increasingly common as ice and heavy snowfall can uproot trees in wet ground, snap tree branches, and cause downed power lines or flooded utility grids. Installed generators and portable generators should be run on a regular basis, based on an electrician's advice and manufacturer operating guidelines to avoid malfunctioning when power is lost. 

An often overlooked winter risk is damage caused by fire due to fireplace incidents. Chimney fires are caused by creosote buildup, which is the result of burning wood. Annual cleaning by a professional chimney sweep is advised. Homes should also be equipped with up-to-date smoke and carbon dioxide detectors.

Smart home technology has become more sophisticated to address factors surrounding winter weather exposure. The AIA has stated that 93% of property losses could be avoided with detection systems. Installation of detection systems, monitoring devices and automatic shut off values, among other tools, can curtail an unexpected loss occurrence. The trend toward insuring a “loss proof” home reflects a shift in thinking from post-loss compensation to pre-loss prevention. Insurance companies are encouraging owners of high value homes to leverage available solutions with the installation of technologically-driven systems often in exchange for homeowner’s insurance policy premium discounts and credits. 

Winter loss prevention is informed risk mitigation. As winter takes hold, it is not too late for owners of high value homes to evaluate potential exposure to risk and take action to manage unforeseen property damage loss.

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