According to the Insurance Information Institute, severe winter weather is the 3rd-largest cause of insured catastrophe losses. Luckily, many of the types of damage caused by winter hazards are covered by standard home and auto policies.

What winter hazards do homeowners policies typically cover?

  • One of the messiest and most costly home repairs is fixing a burst, frozen pipe. Luckily, freezing conditions such as burst pipes or ice dams are covered. However, you must prove that you took reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining pipes, drains and gutters. Here are tips to keep your pipes from freezing in your home.
  • Tree limbs that fall on a house or other insured structure on the property would be covered for both the damage the tree inflicts on the house and the cost of removing the tree, generally up to about $500.
  • Ice or other objects that fall on the home are also covered. Damage to the house (collapse) caused by heavy snow or ice is also covered.

What winter hazards do auto insurance policies typically cover?

  • If you cause damage to someone else’s property (structure or another car) due to icy roads, the property damage liability portion of your auto policy would provide coverage.
  • Collision coverage pays for damage to your car if you hit another vehicle, property, or object. It also covers pothole damage.
  • Comprehensive coverage pays for physical damage to a car caused by heavy wind, flooding, fallen ice or tree limbs.

Liability Concerns to Consider

Extreme winter weather not only has the potential to damage your home, but it can also create serious liability concerns. During the winter season, walkways, stairs and driveways can become slip and trip hazards as snow falls and ice forms. Should someone injure themselves on your property, you could be held liable for medical costs as well as any other damages, particularly if you didn’t take the appropriate precautions following adverse weather.

To adequately protect yourself from such liability concerns, consider doing the following:

  1. Shovel and de-ice—It’s very common for someone to slip on ice during the winter and injure themselves. In order to keep you and members of the public safe, ensure driveways, stairs and sidewalks around your property are clear of ice and snow. To create an adequate walkway, be sure to clear all or as much snow away as possible. Once you’ve removed snow, use anti-ice material on walkways and stairs to make them less slippery. Commonly used products include commercial-grade salt and sand. You should always shovel and remove ice after a storm in a timely manner.
  2. Inspect your stairs—During the winter, a slip or fall on your outdoor stairs could lead to serious injuries. In addition to clearing snow and ice from your stairs, it’s important to inspect them and ensure they are in good condition and equipped with handrails. Stairs should be free of tripping hazards and cracks. Handrails should be installed by a professional to ensure they are sturdy and built to code. For additional protection, provide adequate exterior lighting around your stairs.
  3. Trim your trees—You may not realize it, but snow and ice accumulation can cause tree branches to snap and fall. When this happens, the branches can strike passersby or property below, potentially causing significant injury or property damage. To prevent this from happening, trim your trees back, focusing on any branches that overhang your driveway, walkways or your neighbors’ property.

Weather-related risks can affect your home unexpectedly, often leading to major property damage, costly repairs, and liability concerns. While you can’t always predict when a pipe will burst or heavy snow will affect the integrity of your roof, the proper insurance can go a long way toward protecting your finances. Let us know if you have coverage questions about your specific homeowners insurance and auto insurance policies.

Information from Insurance Information Institute.