Seasoned adjusters are acutely aware that winter storms can be even more disruptive than those during the traditional "storm season" for homeowners. Between strong winds, freezing pipes and snow and ice damage it's not surprising that cold-weather related claims account for a huge amount of property claims each year. Understanding the most common perils of the season, related areas to watch for each claim, and knowing what you can do to be prepared to succeed as an adjuster for the winter storm season is an important difference and can define the line between pro adjusters and novices.
Common Winter Perils
The most common causes of damage an adjuster will investigate during the winter season include:
- Snow – When there is an excess of snow, it can wreak havoc on a house – it can overload the homeowner’s roof and gutters, destroy decks, tear down trees or even lead to structural problems. Stay sharp… collapsed roofs jump out at you but bowed walls due to excess weight may not.
- Freezing – Water damage from freezing and broken pipes is a major source of home damage. These leaky or exposed pipes can freeze over, break, and when the warmer weather starts to come around again, may start gushing – causing extensive water damages to floors, walls, electrical, cabinets as well as the structure.
- Ice – Ice blockage may form on roofs – which can in turn cause severe damage to a home. In addition to tearing off gutters and loosening shingles, ice buildup can also prevent the proper drainage of water, causing melting ice and snow to back up through the roof, and potentially into the rest of the house.
- Wind – Approximately 25% of the U.S. homeowners’ insurance claims are the result of exterior wind damage, and winter storms are no different. This damage can topple trees, power lines, and damage buildings, fences and roofs.
- Power – Loss of power during extreme weather can lead to many unexpected claim situations including: freezing pipes, fire damage, content and food losses, and more.
- Fire – People tend to stay inside during the colder months, and rely on fireplaces, stoves, and space heaters to keep their homes comfortable. This often results in a greater number of fires than usual damaging structures, electrical, contents, etc..
- Flooding – When a particular storm produces a lot of moisture, or a sudden warm snap occurs during a sever winter, this can potentially lead to water & sewer backups, sump pump failures, and even flash floods.
As an adjuster, it is your responsibility to know how to assess, and properly estimate damage from these common causes. If you need guidance on specific instances, please don't hesitate to reach out to your IAS contacts - we're here to help!
Offer helpful information to homeowners in your circle about reducing preventable claims during the winter months. Reminding your contacts about cutting away dead tree branches, keeping homes at 55 degrees or higher when away, and performing general maintenance on key household systems can go a long way towards helping them be able to NOT file a claim when the next big storm hits.
Take care of yourself and your gear - Preparing for Winter Claims
Deployments in winter conditions can be especially frustrating as you may have to deal with sub-zero temperatures, slick driving conditions, lack of power, road closures, and other winter-related conditions. Beyond our normal preparations (referenced in THIS post) we suggest the following to ensure a successful winter claims season:
1) Make sure you and your gear are healthy and capable.
You can make sure you prepare yourself and your equipment for the winter weather by:
- Wearing warm clothing – bring additional layers, regardless of the forecast
- Add blankets and additional weather gear to your kit
- Pack non-perishable food and water in case of an emergency
- Bring extra medication, and cold weather specific treatments (cold, flu and sinus medicene as well as vitamin C and other preventions.
- Gloves, extra gloves, and hand warmers. ‘Nuff said.
- Don’t overexpose yourself to the elements. If you’re cold, take a break. The claim will still be there when you’ve warmed up.
2) Make sure your vehicle gets the attention it deserves
Adjusters spend a lot of time on the road. A well-prepared vehicle will ensure you are safe and ready for what’s ahead. If you plan on working winter claims, take the time to:
- Make sure your tires are up to the task. If possible, get snow, or all-season tires on your vehicle.
- Additionally, make sure your car battery is dependable – cold weather puts a strain on batteries. There’s not much worse than leaving an inspection site to find you have to sit in the cold and wait for help due to a dead battery.
- Keep your gas tank at least 1/2 full. Major storms may cause severe shutdowns, and you don’t want to be left stranded due to a lack of foresight.
- Get a battery-powered weather radio in case cellular service is interrupted, so you can stay up-to-date.
- As an add-on to the above, its always a good idea to have good old fashioned paper maps, in case you need them.
- Keep a cold-weather emergency kit in your car.
3) Stay in touch - and stay connected.
Given how dangerous extreme cold weather can be, its more important than normal to stay connected. If you’re traveling alone, always let someone know your schedule, and where you’ll be throughout the day. Check in regularly to let others know your status, so that in case of an emergency, responders will know where to look for you. These basic tips will ensure that if you do encounter a weather-related situation, you’ll be able to come through it without worry.