Winter is here. Are your homeowner insurance clients ready?Winter has arrived, and for insurance agents, that means helping their homeowner clients protect their houses from cold weather catastrophes such as heavy ice and snow, strong winds, and freezing temperatures. While winter storms don’t cause quite as much destruction as other natural disasters, they can nevertheless leave homeowners with some costly repairs. Indeed, the Insurance Information Institute estimated that 6.7% of insured losses from natural catastrophes between 1997 and 2016 were due to winter storms. Before winter belts parts of the U.S. in full force, agents should discuss with their clients ways to protect their home’s heating and water systems against cold weather damage.
Furnaces and Boilers
When cold temperatures hit, homeowners turn up their furnaces or boilers to warm the air in their homes. Sometimes, however, these heating appliances malfunction and cause what is known as a “puffback,” or a discharge of smoke or soot from the ignition or combustion chamber where oil and gas vapors build up. If enough fuel buildup accumulate, it can lead to a minor explosion. Since puffbacks aren’t covered by every policy, they pose a serious financial risk to clients if left unaddressed.
Puffbacks occur more frequently in oil-fired furnaces and boilers that require more regular upkeep than gas-fueled heaters, but both systems are susceptible still to them. A leak in the combustion chamber, a fuel clog in the chimney, exhaust, or burner, an impaired oil fuel nozzle, or repeated resettings of the heating system could all result in a puffback, leaving the home it heats at greater risk of damage. As a result, your clients should properly maintain their heating throughout the year to prevent these common damages or hire an HVAC professional to detect the source of a puffback.
A 2014 study from The Hartford attributed most winter storm-related claims to frozen pipes, with an average payout of $18,000 for damage created by them. Pipes in unheated parts of the house are at the greatest risk, since they can harbor freezing water that eventually breaks through the pipe’s exterior and floods the home.
Homeowners can take several measures to prevent pipes from bursting. Insulating pipes, for example, lessens the chance of a crack by warming the water within them, while keeping the entire house above 55 degrees has a similar effect. Absent homeowners can also drain the water system before leaving for the winter.
To ease pressure in the home’s plumbing system, homeowners can install an emergency pressure release valve to keep pipes from bursting. Homeowners noticing any freezing pipes should immediately shut off the water to hinder further damage.
Prevention Is Key
As we head into the even colder winter months, stress to your clients the importance of regular household maintenance. Boilers, furnaces, and water pipes should be inspected annually to uncover any cracks that could lead to a costly and lengthy repair, especially in older homes. You should also discuss with your clients what their homeowner policy covers. A blog on Insurance.com points out that while damage from freezing pipes typically falls under homeowner insurance, an insurance adjuster may determine that homeowner negligence caused the problem, denying them a payout in the process.