01-03-2014 02:30 PM
Prepare Your Home and Understand What Your Homeowners Insurance Covers
Winter storm Hercules is tightening its grip on the nation, ushering in blizzard conditions from Montana to Michigan and dropping snow and temperatures across large swaths of the continental U.S. The harsh conditions dealt by the severe storm have caused at least nine deaths, and thousands of flights have been cancelled.
If you have been affected by 2014’s first winter storm, USAA adjusters are in your area, ready to assist you. For immediate assistance or to report a claim, USAA is available through our mobile app, at mobile.usaa.com and at usaa.com/help. Or you can call 1-800-531-8722.
Winter storms typically bring high winds, heavy snow, blinding blizzards and the potential for plenty of property damage, says Ramon Lopez, executive director of USAA's National Catastrophe Operations. "Their effects can be fierce," he warns.
Before a frigid blast hits, Lopez urges you to take preventive action. "Fortunately, with a little planning, labor and common sense, damage can be mitigated," he says.
Here, Lopez answers common questions about winterizing your home, what your homeowners policy covers and how USAA can help.
Q: What are some steps homeowners can take in advance of a winter storm to help prevent or lessen damage?
A: Have a plan. What will your alternate heat and/or power source be? Where will you go if your house isn't fit to live in? Most areas have emergency plans — who can you contact locally for assistance? City, county, Red Cross, a faith-based group?
Also, keeping your home well-maintained will help lessen damage. You can winterize your home by doing basic upkeep, such as clearing rain gutters, repairing roof leaks and cutting away tree branches that could fall on your house. In case a pipe bursts, learn how to shut off water valves. If you lose power during freezing temperatures and you're forced to leave your home unattended, turning off the main water source could help prevent serious water
damage while you're away.
Q: What kinds of winter storm damages are typically covered by homeowners insurance policies?
A: Homeowners insurance policies generally cover direct damage from sudden accidents, such as damage to structures from falling trees, wind and frozen pipes. Not covered is ongoing neglect, such as rot, deterioration or failure of the property owner to protect the property as diligently as possible before, during or after a storm.
Q: If wet and heavy snow or ice causes roofs, porches, carports and outbuildings to collapse, will homeowners insurance cover the costs of repairing the damage?
A: If the collapse is caused by the weight of ice and snow, damage to buildings is typically covered, subject to your policy limits for this type of damage. Structures that are not buildings, such as fences, swimming pools or septic tanks, aren't covered if winter weather causes them to collapse.
Q: Is damage caused by a winter storm-related power failure covered by homeowners insurance?
A: USAA homeowners and renters policies may cover the loss of refrigerated products because of power failure, subject to their coverage limit. Generally, this additional coverage is limited to $500.
Q: If a winter-storm power outage makes a home temporarily uninhabitable, does homeowners insurance cover incidentals associated with temporary living expenses, such as hotel rooms and meals?
A: If you can't live in your home because of the damage, USAA policies can provide coverage for expenses, such as a hotel stay or cost of meals. Additional living expenses caused only by a power outage wouldn't be covered.
Q: If trees or large tree limbs fall because of wind or from the weight of snow and/or ice, causing damage to the property, will it be covered by homeowners insurance?
A: Structures insured under the policy are typically covered against falling trees and tree limbs. There is no coverage for fallen trees and limbs if there is no damage to an insured structure.
Q: Does homeowners insurance cover replacement or care of trees and/or other plants damaged by a winter storm?
A: There is no coverage for the damage to trees, shrubs or other plants from winter storms. Insurance generally does cover the cost to remove a tree that has fallen on your home and caused damage. In addition, the homeowners policy may allow up to an additional $500 to remove debris from the tree.
Q: If damage occurs to a car parked at a home, would it be covered by homeowners or auto insurance?
A: Coverage typically follows the most specific insurance, which, in this case, would be your auto insurance.
Q: Is damage due to frozen/burst water pipes covered by homeowners insurance?
A: Policies generally provide coverage for this damage as long as the dwelling is not vacant, unoccupied or under construction, without heat being maintained or the plumbing system drained.
Q: What about damage due to leakage from melting snow?
A: Damage from a leaking roof is generally covered, subject to the limits and provisions of your policy. If the storm has damaged the roof, the related roof repair is also typically covered. However, if the leak results from worn or improperly installed roofing or flashing, only the resulting interior damage is covered.
Q: How soon after a storm hits should a homeowner call the insurance company to file a claim?
A: As soon as you and your family are safe, contact USAA. Report the claim online (logon required), on USAA's Mobile App for Android™ or iPhone® smartphones, or by calling 1-800-531-8722.
Q: What can a homeowner do to help expedite payment of a claim due to a winter storm?
A: Keep copies of all related expenses and provide them to USAA. If you have lost refrigerated products, estimate the total value of food lost in each refrigerator and freezer. If temporary repairs were made to prevent further damage, get a detailed receipt. If you have had structural damage, USAA may send someone to your property to assist in estimating the cost of your covered repairs, but you will still want to obtain a bid from a qualified repair person before having the work done.
Q: How do I find a qualified repair person or contractor?
A: USAA has a Property Direct Repair Program in most major cities in the United States. Let your adjuster know if you are interested in learning more about this program. Also, the Better Business Bureau, major home repair retailers and local building departments often have lists of contractors in your area who are qualified for the type of work needed.
Q: What should I expect to pay for my repairs covered by insurance?
A: You generally should only have to pay the amount of your policy deductible once you have been paid for all covered, agreed-upon damages. Major claim payments will also require that USAA name any other appropriate parties on the claims check, such as your mortgage company or any co-owner of the property. We suggest you contact them to find out their process for releasing funds, so you have the money to pay the contractor once repairs are completed. Many smaller claims typically don't require any name on the claims payment other than the people named with you on the policy, such as your spouse.
We recommend you have an agreed, written contract with your contractor and that it is included in the USAA prepared estimate before repairs begin. Let your claims adjuster know if you or your contractor has any questions about the scope or cost of the repairs before work is started.
Q: What other resources are available to help me prepare for winter storms?
A: Several organizations offer winter-preparation checklists online, including the American Red Cross and Federal Alliance for Safe Homes. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety and Federal Emergency Management Agency also are helpful resources.
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