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Don't Underestimate Winter Storm Concerns

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Don't Underestimate Winter Storm Concerns

© www.istockphoto.com

© www.istockphoto.com

Winter brings property damage concerns unlike any other season. While we can see a hurricane coming with a path charted in advance and understand its force and well-documented destruction, winter blizzards can sneak up on us more easily.

Ice Dams

Perhaps the biggest issue that can come as a big surprise are ice dams causing major home damage.

An ice dam is essentially a frozen barrier that forms against the lower edge of your roof due to a temperature variance between the higher and lower sections of the structure. The lower portions of the structure's roof are more likely to be cooler than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the freezing point. The ridge of ice forms on the lower areas of the roof and prevents the melted snow that’s accumulated on the higher, warmer areas of the roof to run off of the structure.

The trapped snow and water pools on the roof and may leak into the building. Damage from ice dams includes shingle damage as well as mildew, both on the exterior and interior of the building—and water leakage within the walls as well.

Frozen Pipes

Frozen pipes across the northern tier of the U.S. can also cause plenty of damage to walls, floors, etc. Do your clients understand these concerns?

Frozen Pipe Prevention Tips:

  • Clients can insulate pipes in basements, crawl spaces and the attic where the temperatures might drop below freezing.
  • Seal any openings that allow cold air inside — like those around dryer vents, electrical wiring or pipes.
  • In areas of potential freezing, have the water drip into the sink to keep the flow moving. Consider insulating pipes for further protection.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks and closets where pipes are located, and keep doors ajar between heated and unheated rooms.
  • If on vacation, keep home heated at no lower than 55 degrees.

Blizzard Damages

Then there are the storm damages incurring right now in Alaska after some towns were buried by 15 feet of snow. Not only have they had ice dams, but caved in roofs are the rule in Alaska.

The town of Valdez got 66.9 inches of snow between Jan. 1 and 9. That's 99 percent of the town's normal snowfall for the whole month of January. The greatest snow depth was close to 7 feet of snow on Jan. 8. The town has received 18 feet of snow since Dec. 1.

And back in November the Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo village of 700, built on a large gravel spit, suffered damage from a huge blizzard that packed hurricane strength winds and busted water lines and flooded some homes. It also knocked down power poles and lines, including one pole that was cut in half by an old shack that had been sent flying.

Then there's the ever-present danger of winter auto accidents due to slippery road conditions. Two years ago I was hit by a semi during a two-inch snowfall when another semi jack-knifed in front of our vehicles. Totaled my minivan.

One of the worst blizzards occurred back in March 2003 in Colorado. It still ranks as the most expensive winter storm from snow and ice damage in Colorado history. The estimated price tag was at least $93.3 million from more than 28,000 claims filed ($110.6 million in 2010 dollars). Most of the larger carriers activated their emergency catastrophe teams who specialize in handling disaster claims. This estimate is for damage to homes and automobiles but does exclude the large commercial building losses resulting from the blizzard.

The largest portion of the damage was the result of wet, heavy snow causing collapses to roofs, porches, awnings, carports and outbuildings. There was also significant damage from downed trees and limbs, along with claims for wind, snow melt leakage, food spoilage and out-of-pocket living expenses for people forced out of their home due to storm damage. Most of the vehicle damage was due to being crushed rather than weather-related accidents.

"One of the biggest factors that had impacted the high insurance price tag of this storm is the rising cost to fix and rebuild homes in the building market at the time," said Carole Walker, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association. "The average cost per homeowner insurance claim was more than $3,500 and many homes were completely destroyed due to roof collapses and structural damage."

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