Ice dams can be costly. Ventilate & insulate!


Here in the Northeast, one common and costly headache for homeowners is the problem of ice dams. Are ice dams something that could happen to your home? Here’s a quick summary of the conditions that lead to ice dams: snow buildup on the roof + heat loss from the home + freezing temperatures. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS) explains it this way:

“During freezing weather, heat from your home or business can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.”

This IIBHS infographic offers a visual for how ice dams are formed. They offer tips for reducing your risk of ice dams: Preventing Ice Dams on Homes.

We have a pretty good prior post on the topic: Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards. In that post, we talk about how the unsightly icicle buildup is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem that can lead to water damage, rot, mildew and mold. We talk about the importance of a two-fold strategy for dealing with ice dams:

  • First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
  • Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.

If you have damage to your home from ice dams, you’ll want to contact your insurance agent to report a claim. The Insurance Information Institute explains whether ice dam damage is covered by your insurance policy in their article, Water Damage: What’s Covered; What’s Not. They offer this helpful summary:

 “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

Resources for preventing ice dams

Here are some of the best resources we’ve found to help you learn more about how ice dams happen and how to prevent them from occurring:

Liberty Mutual: Ice dams – tips for preventing ice dams and a series of three excellent videos: Causes, Combats and Cures. These offer detailed explanations about how ice dams form and conditions that lead to them along with methods to combat and correct the problem with insulation and ventilation.

Travelers: How to Identify and Help Remove an Ice Dam

This Old House: Preventing Ice Dams

Housing Technology from the University of Minnesota Extension: Ice Dams

Building and Construction Technology, UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation: Preventing Ice Dams

Winter Pet Care


winter pet care - photo of dogs in a blanket

Here in the frigid depths of January, sometimes all you want to do is hibernate. Just pile the pets on the bed, throw the covers over your head, and snooze until spring. But people (and their pets) aren’t wired like bears and chipmunks: we can’t hibernate, even though the prospect sounds so appealingly cozy. We still have to go to work and the doggos still need to be walked.

Here are some tips to get you and your pets through the freezin’ season:

  • If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them. While some breeds of dogs and cats are well-prepared for cold weather, most are not. Limit their time outdoors. Make sure short-haired breeds and smaller animals (who tend to lose body heat more quickly) have a warm coat on in addition to their natural protection.
  • Booties! Is there anything funnier than a dog doing the Big Shoe Dance the first time she is introduced to winter footwear? But beyond being able to laugh at your pet’s wounded dignity, booties serve two vital purposes: they protect tender paw pads from icy sidewalks and they prevent animals from licking road salt and other harmful or even poisonous chemicals (like antifreeze and other de-icers) from their paws.
  • No baths, please! Cats are remarkable self-cleaning little critters. Dogs… not so much. But unless your dog has been rolling in something stinky, try to hold off on the baths during winter. The oils that accumulate in their undercoat are great insulators, and stripping them off with soap leads to one shivering and miserable pupper. If you absolutely must wash your dog, make sure she’s thoroughly dry before letting her outside. Be aware that the last part to dry is the fur closest to the skin, and that’s the bit that most needs to be fully dry to offer the best protection from the elements. Wet fur on a cold day is no fun at all.
  • Make sure your pet has a warm bed, and thoroughly towel them off with a clean dry towel when they come back inside. Nobody wants to curl up for a post-walk nap with wet hair!
  • If your pets live outdoors, make sure they have a safe, warm, dry space to retreat to when the winter winds are howling. Consider using heat lamps in the barn or garage and put down warm bedding (or better yet, a raised and insulated platform) to keep your beasties snug and warm when it’s icy out.

If you follow these simple rules, your pets will stay safe and happy during the cold months. Keep your pets in tip-top shape by staying up to date with vet visits. And look into pet insurance – an affordable pet insurance policy can be a real blessing in the event of an accident or emergency. Contact your local independent insurance agent today to ask about pet coverage.

Fire up that snowblower – don’t wait until the first storm hits


We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday … OK, depending on where you live, it was only a few wimpy flakes. But take it as Mother Nature’s gentle advance warning: Winter is on it’s way – get your snowblower ready.

If you have a snowblower, take it out of storage now and test it out – you don’t want to get caught short in the first storm. Popular Mechanics has some tips for how to start your snowblower – including some tips for blowers that are stubborn about starting.

If you don’t have a snowblower, but you have one on your Santa wish list, this video offers  snowblower buying guide tips from Consumer Reports. It’s interactive so you can skip to different chapters. Learn about which type of snow blower best suits your property. The video breaks down what you need to know about size, power source – gas, battery or electric -, key features, trouble shooting, maintenance and how to ensure a smooth start-up each season.

Operating your snowblower safely

Every year, emergency rooms see about 6,000 injuries related to snow blower accidents, many of them amputations. Experts say that most snowblower injuries occur when snow is heavy, wet and deeper than 6 inches – those are conditions that lead to clogging in snow removal machines. Most injuries are hand injuries to the dominant hand.

Whether you are operating a snowblower for your home or your business, the Outdoor Power & Equipment Institute (OPEI) urges you to operate your snow blowing equipment safely. They offer a great list of tips for preparing your machine before it snows, and the following snow blowing safety tips:

  • KEY SAFETY TIP: Never put your hands inside the auger or chute. Use a clean out tool (or stick) to unclog snow or debris from your snow thrower. Your hands should never go inside the auger or chute.
  • Turn OFF your snow thrower if you need to clear a clog. If you need to remove debris or unclog snow, always turn off your snow thrower. Wait for all moving parts to come to a complete stop before clearing any clogs or debris.
  • Only use your snow thrower in visible conditions. Never operate the snow thrower without good visibility or light.
  • Aim your snow thrower with care. Never throw snow toward people or cars. Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your snow thrower. Keep children or pets away from your snow thrower when it is operating.
  • Use extreme caution on slopes and hills. Use caution when changing directions on slopes. Do not attempt to clear steep slopes.
  • Know where your cord is. If you have an electric powered snow thrower, be aware of where the power cord is at all times. Avoid tripping. Do not run over the power cord.
  • Keep pets and children inside. Kids and pets may love to play in the white stuff, but it’s best to keep them inside your home and under supervision while you are using your snow thrower to clear a path or drive. Do not allow them to play in the snow as it is tossed out of the snow thrower’s chute.

If you like to remove your snow the old-fashioned manual way, be sure to see our prior post on Snow shoveling 101: Best shovels, best techniques.

Protecting your home from lightning strikes


This week is Lightning Strike Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Weather Service to raise awareness about lightning hazards and to remind us about personal safety. Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured.

While the chances of being struck by lightning are pretty rare, particularly if you heed expert advice during electrical storms, the chances of damage to your home or property are much more common. The Insurance Information Institute (III) just issued an updated report on homeowners insurance claims from lightning strikes and electrical surges in the United States. The bad news is that the number if incidents rose by almost 10% in 2016 to 109,049 claims, but the good news is that the average cost of a claim that insurers paid dropped by almost 5% – to an average of claim cost of $7,571.90. III says that more than half the claims were related to electrical surge damaging components or wiring, while power surges from transformer or service line shorts were also contributing factors.

Does your homeowners insurance cover a lightning strike? III says that:

Damage caused by lightning, such as a fire, is covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Some policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike, which can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures and the electrical foundation of a home.

Report all claims immediately to your insurer. For advance planning, check with your independent insurance agent to learn what your homeowners policy does and doesn’t cover.

Home Lightning Protection

See the III infographic we included in this post and their article on Lightning Coverage and Safety for information on home lightning protection systems, as well as “do’s and don’ts” for general lightning safety. Lightning protection systems are designed to protect your home by “providing a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt.” But in purchasing a lightning protection system, it’s important to find a licensed and certified installer. Shoddy systems that don’t comply with national standards can be dangerous – see this consumer alert that depicts that dangers of shoddy systems.

 

 

 

Snow storm damage? III has the scoop


clearing snow

After you’re done digging out from the snow today, are you safe in putting the shovels and  scrapers away yet? Probably not – New England weather is full of surprises. Yesterday’s storm was billed as late in the season, but many New Englanders recall the infamous 1997 April Fool’s Day Blizzard, which deposited 25.4″ at Boston’s Logan Airport. And in 1977, on May 10, Worcester accumulated almost 13″ of snow, while Providence saw about 7″. And then there is the historic 1816, dubbed the year without summer, that recorded snow in June.

In terms of snow totals overall, the 2014-2015 snow season is the record breaker, with 110.6 inches in Boston; Lowell and Worcester both came in at about 120 inches for the season.

While yesterday’s storm proved less intense in some areas than predicted, there were hours of heavy, damaging wind and the coast was battered. Many communities saw power outages, and some people are coping with storm related property damage today.

Claire Wilkinson of the Insurance Information Institute’s blog has a handy run-down: Winter Storm Damage? Insurers Have You Covered, discussing damages that are typically covered by auto policies and homeowners policies. The good news is that typical homeowners policies cover most home-related storm damage with a few exceptions.

One exception is flooding, which would include melting snow seeping into the cellar. Flooding is not typically covered by Homeowners, you need a specific flood coverage, a separate policy. See our prior post: Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

While flooding from a burst pipes or ice dams would generally be covered, Wilkinson notes that in the event of burst pipes, “there is generally a requirement that the homeowner has taken reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining the pipes and drains.”

If you do need to file a homeowners claim for storm damage, here’s some advice: Putting in a homeowners claim? … Talk your agent first!

And also from the Insurance Information Institute, here is a brief overview of the steps for filing a home insurance claim.