By: Julie Rock-Chatellier
As property owners we’re often faced with the tougher realities of the changing seasons. A heavy snowfall doesn’t just mean a day off of school or work; it can also mean an overworked furnace, a power outage, damage to a roof, and even burst pipes. All of these situations cause damage to our homes or business, then in-turn create a call to an insurance agent or company to file a claim.
Let’s also not forget about rising energy costs: According to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, Americans spend almost twice as much of their income on energy as they did a decade ago. From the Northern Pacific, down to the Gulf Coast, and back north to the New England state – our wallets are all taking a hard hit to stay warm and to protect our property from damages. It’s a necessary evil we all face!
While we can’t always predict what Old Man Winter will send our way, we can take a few precautions to ensure we spend less time cleaning up weather-induced messes, filing insurance claims, and fretting over utility bills and more time building sledding ramps & snowmen in the back yard.
Below are 8 of the top things you can do to protect your property investment from damage during the winter months. A little time and/or money spent up front can eliminate your need to call upon your insurance provider as a result of damage. Remember, wear and tear is NOT a covered cause of loss!
Tune Up Your Heating System
Before winter arrives, the most important thing you need to do for yourself, your family and your employees is to ensure that your furnace is operational, safe, and as energy-efficient as you can make it. For about $100, a technician can inspect your boiler, furnace or heat pump ensuring the system is clean, working properly, and that it can achieve its manufacturer-rated efficiency. The inspection will also measure carbon-monoxide leakage. Side note: Do you have carbon-monoxide detectors in addition to your smoke detectors installed?
By scheduling that inspection now, you’ll minimize the chance of being 100th caller in line for repairs on the coldest day of the year. Look for a heating and air-conditioning contractor that belongs to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America and technicians certified by the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) program.
Hit the Roof
Grab a ladder and take to the roof – or, if you are terrified of heights like I am, break out the binoculars and give it a good look. Look for damaged, loose or missing shingles that may leak during winter’s storms or from melting snow.
“Roof deficiencies are the most common problem reported by home inspection associations,” says the National Roof Certification and Inspection Association. “Thirty percent of real estate inspection claims are due to roof leaks and water penetration,” the group says. “Thirty nine percent of homeowner’s insurance claims are because of roof problems.”
A simple cleaning with a broom or blower is all that is generally necessary. If your roof is flat and surfaced with asphalt and pebbles, rake or blow off fall leaves and pine needles, which hold moisture. If need be, hire a handyman to repair a few shingles or a roofer for a larger section. Be sure to check and repair breaks in the flashing seals around vent stacks and chimneys.
Clean the Gutters
Every winter there are billions of dollars in insured losses due to burst pipes, frozen gutters and other weather-related disasters. If your gutters are full of debris, water can back up against the house and damage roofing, siding and wood trim – plus cause leaks and ice dams.
If you have a low-sloped roof, even a leaf protection system cannot prevent debris from accumulating on your roof, so with or without a leaf protection system, roof maintenance is required. Remove leaves, acorns, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. Also look for missing or damaged gutters and fascia boards and repair them.
If you choose to call in a professional maintenance service, you’ll typically pay $70 to $225 to clean gutters on a single-story house, depending on its size and your geographical location.
Call a Chimney Sweep
Proper chimney preparations will not only help to cut your energy costs but will also help to keep you and your family safer. Besides – who likes to see a dirty looking chimney?
Before you put the first log in for the winter, make sure your fireplace, chimney and vents are clean and are in no need of repair. This will prevent chimney fires and prevent carbon monoxide from creeping into your home.
Just like with any other “seasonal” type service provider, as the weather turns cooler chimney sweeps start booking up. Search for a sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America to ensure your service provider is the best available. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps are regularly tested on their understanding of the complexities of chimney and venting system. You can expect to pay $50 to $90 for an inspection to see if you need a cleaning, and $100 to $300 for the cleaning. Source: Costowl.com
Clean chimneys don’t catch fire. Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires, which damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. If you’re wondering how often you should have your chimney cleaned, a good rule of thumb is every three to five cords of wood that you burn. It depends on the size of your fireplace or wood stove though.
Prevent Ice Dams
An ice dam can damage both your roof and the inside of your home and will also put gutters and downspouts at risk of collapsing under the weight. Insurance claim waiting to happen, right?
My grandmother always said “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, and if you have ever experienced an ice dam on your roof you are likely shaking your head in agreement on that statement. What do you do to prevent an ice dam? Well — Be sure to have a professional inspect and seal all areas where warm air may leak from inside your home/busines going into the spaces immediately below the roof sheathing. Insulating the living or work area and venting the space between the insulation and the roof sheathing (so any heat that does leak through is carried away) are also essential elements to preventing ice dams from forming.
A weatherization contractor can identify and fix air leaks and inadequate insulation in your home’s attic that can lead to ice dams. If you have the work done before December 31, you can claim the federal energy-efficiency tax credit for 10% of the cost (excluding installation), up to $500. Your state or utility may offer a rebate, too.
If your home had lots of icicles last winter – or worse, ice dams, which can cause meltwater to back up and flow into your house – take steps now to prevent potential damage this year.
Caulk Around Windows and Doors
With the rising cost of heating, who wants to let their money float out through the cracks? If the gaps between siding and window or door frames are bigger than the width of a nickel, you need to reapply exterior caulk.
Silicone caulk is best for exterior use because it won’t shrink and it’s impervious to the elements. Try using a “rain ready” silicone caulk for best results. Check window-glazing putty, too (which seals glass into the window frame). Add weatherstripping as needed around doors, making sure you cannot see any daylight from inside your home.
Of course, if your windows are older than 10 years or are single-paned glass, you probably should think about replacing them for the energy-efficient ones currently on the market. Windows are not cheap, though, so you might have to replace them over a period of time – unless your last name is Rockefeller or Gates.
Exposed Exterior Water Sources
Property owners are encouraged to take precautions to winterize their outdoor pipes to save time, money, and water. According to sources at the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, most in-ground pipes will be OK during the winter, since typically only the top two inches of ground will freeze in Georgia. Source: http://www.hcwsa.com
Undrained water in pipes can freeze, which will cause pipes to burst as the ice expands. Start by disconnecting all garden hoses and draining the water that remains in faucets. If you leave your garden hose attached to the faucet, you’re asking for trouble.
Determine if your faucet is frost-free or not. To know for sure whether a faucet is frost-free or not, look up inside the spout. On a frost-free faucet, all you’ll be able to see is a metal stem. On a faucet that isn’t frost free, you’ll be able to see the valve components open and close when the handle is turned. If you don’t have frost-proof faucets (homes more than ten to 15 years old typically do not), turn off the shut-off valve inside your home.
Drain Your Lawn-Irrigation System
Every year, before the first freeze, the ritual of irrigation “blow out” becomes the priority for all irrigation systems in regions located where the frost level extends below the depth of installed piping.
Even if you have drained the water out of your irrigation system, some water remains and can freeze, expand, and crack PVC piping. To minimize the risk of freeze damage, you’ll need to winterize your irrigation system. In areas where winterization is mandatory, irrigation systems are installed using one of three types of water removal: manual drain, auto drain, or blowout. If you don’t know your system type, it is best to use the blowout method.
But, to be on the safe side, this is one area of winterization that it is always best to call in a professionals to do the job. Your sprinkler service will charge $50 to $150, depending on the size of the system.
Insurance shouldn’t be looked at as a maintenance policy and property owners should do all they can do to avoid damage. Likewise, once damage does occur, it is the property owners’ responsibility to prevent any further damage to the best of their ability.
Depending on which insurance you have, you could be financially responsible for the roof destruction caused by winter storms. Every insurance company is different and property owners’ need to know completely what their policy states.
About Julie Rock-Chatellier
As Claim Manager and adjuster for Provencher & Company, Julie assures the claims process transpires smoothly and timely with both our adjusters and clients throughout the course of managing our claim assignments; overseeing the claims support staff, examiners and trainers in our National Claim Center.
Julie also serves as the claim system administrator and website & social media coordinator for Provencher & Company. Having over 18 years experience in office management, bookkeeping and customer account management, she has served in staff and management assignments in various industries, gaining a working, practical knowledge of marketing & account administration.