Significant claims, lessons learned: Winter weather edition

As winter arrives, VML Insurance Programs (VMLIP) is sharing several significant claims and tips for avoiding your own significant claim – all relating to cold weather. Particularly ice, snow, and frozen pipes.

  • A 2015 claim where the weight of ice and snow resulted in damage to the roof of the town’s library building: $190,914.
  • A 2015 claim where the roof collapsed from snow, sleet, and rain – falling onto two large garbage trucks, one small garbage truck and a Case backhoe: $73,741.
  • A 2015 claim where the weight of ice and snow resulted in the collapse of the roof on the member building: $71,785.
  • A 2015 claim involving ice from a nearby river which broke off and jammed up against garage doors on a water intake structure: $50,668.

While many of these claims are difficult to mitigate, VMLIP has two bulletins which may help members prepare to address the upcoming winter weather.

  1. Preventing Roof Collapse Due to Ice and Snow, available here.
  2. Preparing Buildings for Inclement Weather, available here.

Additionally, each winter the pool receives dozens of claims involving frozen pipes. While individually these claims may not be financially significant, cumulatively the pool has paid out more than $1 million in property claims related to frozen pipes since January 2014.

Remember – when the temperature drops outside, it could impact water flow inside, if certain preventative measures are not taken. Below are some ideas to help keep the water flowing.

Before It Gets Cold

  • Drain water supply lines from water features such as fountains, irrigation systems, and swimming pools. Don’t put antifreeze in the lines; spills or leaks can threaten pets, wildlife and landscaping.
  • Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses before putting them in storage. Cover outdoor faucets with insulating material such as an inexpensive foam cover. Close the inside valves that supply water to outside faucets and then open the outside hose faucet to let any remaining water drain out, and leave them open until the weather warms and they are needed once again. If you need access to these faucets before the weather warms for good in the spring, repeat this process if you supply water to the faucets at any time during the winter season.
  • Insulate water pipes with pipe sleeves, heat tape, or heat cable. Pay particular attention to pipes that run through unheated areas of buildings such as attics, basements, crawl spaces and garages.

As Temperatures Drop

  • Keep your buildings warm enough to allow warmer air to circulate as much as possible. Keep buildings warmed to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit even if they aren’t used on a regular basis. For buildings where temperature cannot be controlled such as ball park concession stands and restrooms, be sure to cut off water and drain these pipes.
  • For buildings and areas that are not able to be temperature controlled, and where the water cannot be drained, when the temperature dips, open indoor faucets, hot and cold, to allow a trickle of water. Flowing water is less likely to freeze.

When a Pipe Freezes

  • The first thing to do when frozen pipes are suspected by their low or no flow of water, identify where the pipe is frozen. Keep the faucet open, and open other faucets to determine if the problem is widespread. If it is, turn off the main water supply and call a plumber.
  • If the freezing is isolated to a single pipe, and if you can reach the frozen section, try using a hair dryer, heating pad, or portable space heater to warm the pipe and melt the ice. NEVER LEAVE HEATERS or WARMERS UNATTENDED. And never leave water running from frozen pipes unattended. Keep the faucet open while working up and down the pipe, starting at the faucet and working backward to the frozen section. Apply heat until full water pressure returns, then reduce the flow to a trickle until the cold snap ends.
  • An alternative method: Wrap the frozen section with towels soaked in hot water. DO NOT pour hot water directly on a frozen pipe as this may crack the pipe and cause a bigger problem. DON’T use a propane torch or other open flame to warm or heat pipes.

If these approaches don’t work, or if you have a leaking or burst pipe, don’t hesitate to turn off the main water supply and call in a licensed plumber. Be sure to report all water damage to your VMLIP property and liability adjuster, preferably before a crisis.