WINTER WEATHER: AN UNASSUMING THREAT
Brian Lash, PURE member since 2014
The insurance industry uses the term ‘catastrophe’ to describe events like major hurricanes, wildfires, and floods—all of which are known to cause significant, wide-spread loss. Winter weather is not typically thought of in the same regard, but in 2015 it was the greatest source of claims among the PURE membership. Between late January and March, we saw record-setting conditions in much of the Northeast. New England was hit particularly hard; snowfall totals were in excess of 100 inches, and there was a stretch of more than 35 consecutive days in which the temperature sat below 40 degrees.
In the end, PURE members experienced claims totaling more than $57 million as a result of these unprecedented conditions—the majority of which were due to ice dams and frozen pipes. For perspective, claims resulting from Superstorm Sandy totaled around $30 million for PURE.
Among the PURE members impacted by winter weather in 2015 was Brian Lash. His 1917-built grand English Tudor style home, The Timbers, was designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope, whose other works include the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art. The impeccably maintained Rhode Island home still boasts many of its original architectural details, including stunning timber beams, for which the home was named, that line the ceilings throughout.
On the morning of February 17, Brian received a distressing phone call from his sister-in-law who was staying at the property while he was out of town. Overnight, four pipes had burst in two separate bathrooms causing extensive damage on multiple levels of the home. To make matters worse, an ice dam above a third floor bedroom allowed additional moisture to enter.
Historic elements of the home, custom furnishings, and many of the Lash’s personal items were badly damaged.
“The damage was considerable. Everything in the two bathrooms was beyond repair, and the kitchen was particularly bad. Water had run through the ceiling and down to the floor damaging nearly everything in its path: our custom counters and cabinetry, rare Italian floor tiles, and appliances,” said Brian. “Also lost were one-of-a-kind rugs, but what was most upsetting was the damage done to the timber ceiling beams. I just assumed they were beyond repair.”
PURE’s Claims Adjuster, Paula Smith, quickly reached out to Brian to offer assistance.
“I could not believe how quickly PURE responded,” said Brian. “She said, we’re going to take care of you, Mr. Lash, and then she offered to rent me another home while repairs were being made to mine. After a bad experience with another carrier, I was surprised by the level of service I was receiving and how uncommonly gracious PURE was.”
Meanwhile, contractors immediately began the three month project of restoring the home to its previous state. They even managed to restore the namesake timber beams.
advice to reduce the risk of a winter weather loss
Based on our considerable claims handling experience, we’ve formulated the following insights and advice to help you become more proactive about winter weather protection.
Unoccupied homes are at a heightened risk when it comes to winter weather damage.
Particularly problematic is the occurrence of burst pipes when a home is unoccupied; unless protective measures are taken, the end result is usually devastating. To help mitigate the risk:
- Install a whole-house automatic water shut-off device with a central station alarm. This system monitors the flow of water in your home’s plumbing. If a leak is detected, it will automatically shut off your home’s water supply and notify you and your alarm company before serious damage occurs.
- Maintain the temperature at or above 65 degrees during periods of extreme cold. As several members painfully learned in 2015, maintaining heat in the 50s while you’re away during extreme cold snaps may not be enough to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting. However, maintaining a temperature of 65 degrees is not economically practical in all situations, and it may even be unnecessary for homes in areas that don’t typically see freezing temperatures. A great alternative is to install a network-connected (or smart) thermostat which will allow you to remotely monitor and adjust the temperature in your home in response to changing outdoor conditions—greatly reducing the risk of burst pipes, as well as unnecessary spending on energy bills.
- Enlist the help of a caretaker to check in on your property daily. Had Mr. Lash not taken this precaution, the damage would have been far more severe.
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas of your home, such as the attic, basement, exterior walls, and even within cabinets where heat can’t easily reach. Uninsulated or under-insulated pipes are vulnerable to freezing when the temperatures drop. Foam-rubber pipe insulation or self-regulating heat tape can reduce that risk. A plumber or a PURE Risk Manager can help to determine if your pipes are at risk.
The age and material of your roof play a major role in how your home will fare during a severe weather event, whether that’s significant snowfall, wildfire, hail, or windstorm.
A modern, well-designed roof will provide the best protection. To help protect against ice damming, take these additional precautions:
- Have your roof professionally inspected annually. A roofing professional can identify and fix weak spots before they turn into issues.
- Remove snow accumulation from your roof. Constant fluctuation between freezing and warming temperatures, along with the accumulation of snow on a roof, will greatly increase the chances of developing an ice dam. After a considerable snowfall, hire a professional to rake the excess snow off your roof.
- Install heated cables to gutters and downspouts. This will help to melt ice that would otherwise block snow melt from draining properly.
- Have a contractor inspect the insulation in the attic to avoid heat loss. If you have the opportunity to re-insulate your attic, use spray foam as it’s often more effective.
For additional information to help you protect your home from a winter weather loss, contact the PURE Member Advocate® at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888.813.PURE (7873).