Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Winter Storms?
SmartFinancial Offers Unbiased, Fact-based Information. Our fact-checked articles are intended to educate insurance shoppers so they can make the right buying decisions. Learn More
Homeowners insurance typically covers damages to your home’s structure and belongings if the damages were caused by winter storms. Keep reading to learn how winter storm coverage works, the steps to take when you need to file a winter storm claim and tips for preparing your home for the colder seasons.
What Types of Winter Storm Damage Are Covered by Home Insurance?
Damage due to heavy wind or snow will be protected by your homeowners insurance. Read our simple breakdowns for some common coverages included in home insurance for winter storms.
Wind damage is a common covered peril included in a standard homeowners policy. In fact, 39.4% of claims in 2021 were filed due to wind and hail.
When winter weather brings fierce winds, they can tear off shingles, topple fences or send debris flying into your home. Your policy typically covers the costs to repair these damages through your plan’s dwelling or other structures coverage. However, it's crucial to check if your policy has a specific windstorm deductible, which would require you to pay a separate deductible for wind and hail claims.
Frozen Pipes and Plumbing
A standard homeowners policy often includes coverage for damage stemming from frozen plumbing, under the provision that the homeowner has taken reasonable measures to prevent these occurrences, such as maintaining an adequate heating level or properly insulating the pipes. You can rest easy knowing that any damaged furniture or other items are generally protected through the personal property coverage in your home insurance policy.
Roof Damage Caused by Snow
Heavy snowfall can accumulate quickly, exerting significant weight on your home's roof and leading to potential collapse or water leakage. Your insurance policy typically covers the structural damage to your home, including the roof and the interior if snow causes a collapse.
Your homeowners policy may also provide loss of use coverage, which pays for temporary living spaces and associated expenses if your home is uninhabitable while it’s being repaired. It's advisable to understand the specific snow load your roof can handle and whether your insurance considers the age and condition of your roof during claims. If you don’t maintain your roof, your insurance carrier may deny your claim should a collapse or leak occur.
Slips and Falls Due to Icy Conditions
Homeowners insurance policies include liability coverage, which can be a financial safeguard if a guest slips on ice on your property. This coverage can pay for the person’s medical bills, as well as your legal defense fees if they sue you.
Winter storms can cause trees to fall, potentially damaging your home, garage or other structures. Your policy should cover the costs of repairing any damage to your property as long as the tree was healthy and alive at the time it came down (more on this later). Coverage typically includes the structure itself and may extend to cover personal property if the fallen tree damages that as well. Similarly, you should be covered if a branch falls on your property but only if the tree was properly trimmed and maintained.
In addition, the insurer may also cover the cost of removing the tree but only if the winter storm completely uprooted the tree and it damaged your property, such as your house’s siding or a shed.
What Types of Winter Storm Damage Aren’t Covered?
Damage resulting from naturally occurring flooding, a common aftermath of winter storms when snow and ice melt, is typically not covered under standard homeowners insurance policies. Flood insurance is a separate policy that homeowners must purchase through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurer. It should also be noted that should flooding result in mold, your homeowners policy won’t likely cover the mold cleanup either.
Another common exclusion is for damages due to the homeowner's negligence. For example, pipes that burst after being frozen and ice dams on the roof may not be covered if the pipes and attic were not insulated beforehand. Similarly, tree damages may not be covered if the tree was not trimmed or if it was already dying and should have been removed. Insurance covers sudden, unforeseen events and proper maintenance to prevent gradual deterioration is considered the homeowner’s responsibility.
Standard home insurance policies also don’t usually cover mudslides and avalanches, as they are typically classified under "earth movement," which requires a separate, often more expensive policy known as difference in conditions (DIC) insurance. You can get DIC insurance from a surplus lines insurer, which operates outside standard regulations and offers specialized property and casualty insurance not available in the regular market.
Tips To Prep Your Home for Winter Storms and Colder Weather
Preparing your home for freezing rain and high winds is a proactive step that can save you from future headaches and costly out-of-pocket repairs. Here are some tips to ensure your home is ready to withstand the winter perils:
- Insulate your attic, basement and any crawl spaces to help your home retain heat and prevent ice dams.
- Insulate your pipes to protect them from freezing and potentially bursting, especially those that run along exterior walls or through unheated spaces.
- Have a professional service your heating system at least once per year to ensure it's clean, working properly and not a carbon monoxide poisoning risk at least once per year.
- Trim trees and remove dead branches so they don’t snap off and potentially damage your home or power lines. Remove dead trees entirely.
- Install storm windows and doors to add an extra layer of protection against the cold and also help to reduce heating costs.
- Have an emergency kit ready with essentials like bottled water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, blankets and a first-aid kit.
- Have a battery-powered radio to stay informed on power outages and emergencies.
- Consider buying flood, mudslide or avalanche insurance if your home is prone to damage from ice and snow melt.
- Listen for winter storm warnings and follow instructions if there are any emergencies.
- Double-check your fire alarms and other smart home devices, especially if you are using your fireplace.
How To File a Home Insurance Claim for Winter Storm Damage
Filing a home insurance claim for winter storm damage can be a straightforward process if you follow the right steps. Here’s how to navigate the claims process effectively:
- Document the damage: As soon as it is safe to do so, take extensive photographs and video of the damage. This visual evidence is crucial for your insurance company to understand the extent of the damage.
- Make temporary repairs: This may include covering broken windows with plastic sheeting or placing a tarp over a damaged roof. Keep receipts for any materials you purchase, as they may be reimbursed under your policy.
- Review your policy: Understand your coverage, deductibles and any specific time limits for filing claims. Knowing your policy helps set the right expectations and prepares you for discussions with your insurance adjuster.
- File your claim promptly: Many insurers have a 24-hour claims service. Be prepared to provide details about the damage and your documentation.
- Prepare for the adjuster's visit: Have your list of damaged or lost items ready, along with any receipts, photos or videos. It's also helpful to have a copy of your policy on hand, along with any home inventories you've compiled.
- Keep a claim diary: This should include all conversations with your insurance company, including dates, times, names and summaries of discussions. Track your claim's progress and any expenses incurred along the way.
- Be patient but persistent: The claims process can be time-consuming, especially after widespread damage caused by a winter storm in your neighborhood. Stay in regular communication with your insurer but be prepared for the process to take longer than usual due to the high volume of claims.