Your home is subject to damage during the winter. Knowing how to react and what to expect from your insurance company can make a bad situation less stressful.

I am writing about two of the most common winter home claims: frozen pipes and ice dams.

When pipes freeze, water pressure can cause the material that holds the pipes together to separate. The pipe itself can even split. Water is then released into the home, causing damage.

Ice dams are created by the freezing of water in your gutters. Damage occurs when snow on the roof begins to melt. It is now water and has nowhere to go. Water will back up under the shingles and into your home.

Interestingly, while frozen pipes that split or separate will have to be repaired, ice dams may not require the roof to be repaired. Once ice in the gutter melts, your roof should function normally.

While most homeowners’ policies cover for frozen pipes, not all cover for ice dams. Some home policies require damage to the roof before they will cover damage inside your home. If you have a policy that does not cover ice dams and you live in Western Pennsylvania, contact your insurance agent and ask him or her to upgrade your policy.

The first step in handling frozen pipes is to turn off the water. Locate your main water valve, which is usually on the lowest floor of the house, and turn it to off. Locating this valve before you have frozen pipes is advised.

Contact a plumber to repair your pipes. Understand, the repair of pipes will not be covered under your home insurance policy, but all damage caused by the release of water will be covered.

If water damage has occurred, all insurance companies want you to take any reasonable step to prevent further damage. If damage appears to be excessive, there are restoration companies that specialize in these types of repairs. Contact your insurance company, report your claim and ask for a list of area restoration companies.

In 45 years of dealing with home claims, I’ve learned the only good solution to handling ice dams is to wait for warm weather. Inside-the-home water should be removed to prevent damage.

Do not get on the roof and attempt to break up the dam. This action can cause damage to your roof that will not be covered by your insurance company. Too many times each year, someone is injured or dies from climbing onto their roof trying to deal with an ice dam.

As with frozen pipes, if you have extensive damage, report it to your insurance company and ask about restoration companies.

In both situations, you must understand you will be required to pay your deductible – the amount you agreed to pay first if a claim occurs.

Call your insurance company and discuss not only your deductible, but the effect on your policy if you turn in a claim. Insurance policies are not maintenance policies and should only be used for larger claims.

If your damage is extensive and you cannot reside in your home, your insurance policy will provide an additional living expense. This expense covers the additional cost of having to live elsewhere while your home is being repaired. It can cover, but is not limited to, lodging, meals and laundry.

Any home claim will cause aggravation. Reducing aggravation by following the simple steps I have mentioned will prevent a lot of stress.

Bob Hollick is a State Farm Insurance agent based in Washington. His column appears every other Thursday in the Observer-Reporter.

To submit columns on financial planning, investing or business-related matters, email Rick Shrum at

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