The past seven weeks of wintry weather resulted in a dramatic increase in auto and property insurance claims in Michigan, according to the Insurance Institute of Michigan.
"Wind, ice and cold weather contributed to an increase in auto crashes, bursting pipes and fires compared to the previous year," said Pete Kuhnmuench, executive director, Insurance Institute of Michigan. "Residents are encouraged to take extra precautions to minimize damages from this winter's blast."
While the number of claims has increased, it is too early to determine the impact on Michigan consumers' insurance premiums. Insurance companies review past trends (generally 3 to 5 years) to set premiums, according to the insurance industry spokesperson.
Standard homeowners policies generally cover damage that result from a freeze.
For example, if house pipes freeze and burst or if ice forms in gutters and causes water to back up under roof shingles and seep into the house. You would also be covered if the weight of snow or ice damages your house.
However, most policies do not cover backups in sewers and drains or flood damage, which can also happen in winter.
To be covered for flooding, you need a policy from the National Flood Insurance Program, while coverage for sewers and drains is generally offered as an endorsement to a standard homeowners insurance policy.
Here are some tips and steps you can take to keep your home safe and make insurance losses less likely during extended severe weather.
- Insulate pipes in crawl spaces and attics, the ones most susceptible to freezing. Remember: the more insulation, the better protected your pipes will be.
- Heat Tape or thermostatically-controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Use only products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories, and only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturer's installation and operating instructions.
- Seal leaks that allow cold air inside, especially near the location of pipes. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep cold air out and the heat in. With severe wind chill, a tiny opening can let enough cold air inside to cause a pipe to freeze.
- Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of the pipe just inside the house.
- A trickle of water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
- Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.
- Clean all leaves, sticks, and other debris from rain gutters and down spouts. This allows melting roof snow to flow into gutters and through down spouts.
- Keep snow on your roof to a minimum. Long-handled devices called "roof rakes" let you stand on the ground and pull the snow off the roof. Keeping heavy snow loads off your roof reduces the chances for both ice dam formation and roof failure due to the weight.
- Keep gutters and down spouts clear of snow and icicles all winter.
- Evaluate the insulation and ventilation in your attic. Most experts agree attic insulation should have an R-value of at least R-30 (R-38 is preferable in northern climates). In addition, good airflow from under the eaves or soffit area along the underside of the roof and out through the roof vents is essential. The insulation prevents heat loss from the interior of the home. The venting allows the attic air to stay cold enough to prevent or minimize the freeze/thaw cycle on the roof. Consult a reputable roofing and/or insulation contractor about these improvements.
It is important to note that not all policies are the same. It is good to read and understand your specific policy and address any questions you have with your agent.
The Insurance Institute of Michigan is the state's largest government affairs and public information association. For more information, visit www.iiminfo.org.