Don’t Let Winter Damage Spoil Your Trip – Home Insurance Tips for Snowbirds

By James Daw, Freelance Writer

Toronto, ON (Jan. 24, 2014) – Snowbirds should check the terms of their home insurance before escaping another cold Canadian winter. During the winter months, water pipes, toilet bowls, or water heaters can freeze, crack, and cause water damage. All it would take is for your furnace to break down or lose power. Similarly, a heavy load of snow could damage your roof and result in leaks. In both cases, your insurer will refuse to pay for the resulting damage if you have not taken the right precautions.

Two ways to plan ahead

The standard home insurance policies (whether basic, broad, or comprehensive) will set out terms of coverage for freezing or water damage from internal water systems or containers. When travelling during the winter, you should:

  • arrange for a competent person to enter your home and check daily for heat loss and freezing; or
  • drain your home’s plumbing system and water containers, similar to the way a cottage owner would.

Visit early, visit often

Insurance policies note that the daily visits required “during the regular heating season” must start the day after you leave home if you plan to be away for “more than four consecutive days.” (This requirement helps explain why many frequent travellers prefer to live in apartments or condominiums with staff to quickly address a loss of heat or burst pipes.) The visitor must know what to do if your furnace stops heating, pipes freeze, or water leaks.

Ideally, your daily visitor would be a highly reliable family member or close friend who doesn’t require compensation. If you offer to pay someone for their help, then you and the person who visits must be fully aware of the potential consequences. An agreement with a set a price would be legally binding; if the visitor lets you down, you or your insurer could sue to recover the cost of repairing any damage to your home. (For the visitor’s protection, they would either need business liability insurance or written assurance that they would not be held liable.)

A broker’s advice: Forget visits, drain the pipes

“I would suggest that [hiring a visitor] would be impractical,” says Bryan Yetman of First Durham Insurance & Financial Ltd. in Pickering, Ontario. “It would not guarantee … the homeowner would be protected. We advise clients who are going away for any period (even three or four days) in any season—yes in summer, too—[to] turn off your water and empty your pipes by running a tap for a moment. Most people focus on the heat going out and pipes freezing in winter, but fridges have icemakers, and water heaters fail and leak. When [you] shut off the water, you virtually eliminate the most significant exposure.”

Note: You should drain other water containers, in addition to your pipes. However, there is a risk of sewer gas entering your home if there is no water in the traps (i.e., bends in the pipes) under sinks, in drainpipes underground, or in toilet bowels. In the winter, it’s wise to flush toilets after turning off the water supply, leaving some water in traps and toilet bowls, protected from freezing with marine antifreeze. Such environmentally safe antifreeze is available from Canadian Tire and other retailers.

30-day vacancy rule: Fret not if you’re returning

Coverage under your home insurance will lapse if the home is vacant more than 30 days. But don’t worry—even if you travel for months at a time. The Insurance Institute of Canada notes that your home will only be considered “vacant” if you do not intend to return. It’s merely unoccupied when you are away, whether for a day, a month, or several months. “(E)ven if the unoccupancy [sic] lasts more than 30 consecutive days—say in a seasonal dwelling—the policy coverage is not interrupted.”

Burglars and break-ins are covered – not raccoons

Comprehensive home insurance policies will protect you from expenses caused by a break-in, or an attempted break-in, without a requirement for daily inspections. However, you will not be compensated if wild animals chew their way in or do other damage to your home. Insurers will also cover loss and damage due to other major perils like fire, lightning, and explosion without a requirement for daily visits while you are away. They do, however, require that you report thefts to police. They also set limits on theft coverage for items most likely to be stolen—jewellery, watches, gems, fur garments, collectibles, and bicycles. So if your home includes items worth more than the insured limits, you might consider installing a monitored security system, or taking cheaper precautions such as storing these items with family while you are away.

One veteran snowbird’s home protection plan

Dan Braniff has travelled out of the country many times since retiring in 1985. So he is well accustomed to making his rural home look and sound occupied while he is away. He pays to have his lawn mowed, his driveway and walks cleared of snow, and his mail picked up. The message on his voicemail is discreet. Lights turn on and off on a schedule. Window coverings open and close automatically. Stickers on windows and flashing lights on motion sensors make it apparent he has a security system. “I deploy several devices that would have to convince anyone that I am not away,” Braniff explained from Florida recently.

A tip for home business owners

You will need more than home insurance if you operate a business from home, whether in Canada, at your destination, or both. David Patriarch, who operates Mainstay Insurance Brokerage Inc. from his home, offers a tip: “My home policy had a clause that would make it null and void if a business were operated here. The same insurer [and broker] also had my home-based business policy, [at] the same address. I asked if they could remove the clause regarding the home business and they said no problem, no cost. I’ve mentioned this to several people over the years and many…have had the [embedded] clause removed from their home policy.”

There’s no shame in asking questions, particularly to your insurer.

Don’t just take our word for it

All homeowners should get to know their home insurance policy, whether they travel extensively or not. Confer with your broker or agent, and seek written confirmation directly from your insurer if you have any doubts. After all, your financial well-being is at stake.

About Ingle International

A trusted name in the industry since 1946, Ingle International provides customized insurance solutions for anyone studying, working, or living anywhere in the world. Representing insurers worldwide, Ingle International will find the right insurance product to suit the unique travel needs of groups and individuals.

This article, written by James Daw, is provided by Ingle International. Ingle International has partnered with Insurance-Canada to provide Canadian travellers with the right travel insurance and the information they need for safe and healthy travels.

Source: Ingle International Inc.