THE severe winter weather that started to hit this country about 10 days ago has wreaked havoc with the day-to-day lives of many people. Drivers have grappled with snow, black ice and floods. Snowed-in families living off roads that never see council gritters have been stranded.
Aside from the massive inconveniences and hazards that winter weather can throw your way, you could be left with one hell of a financial hangover after a cold snap – particularly if your insurer won't cough up. So how can you avoid having an Arctic chill turn into a full-blown financial nightmare?
Burst pipes are a common problem during icy weather. "Burst pipes can cause huge damage to a house," said Jim Flannery, director of the loss assessors, Balcombe's Claims Management. "Water could pour through plasterboard, damage the contents of a home and cause extensive damage to electrics. A burst pipe could cause between €30,000 and €40,000 of damage if water is left running for a few days."
So how do you deal with a burst pipe – and the damage it has caused? You should first get a plumber in to fix the pipe. It shouldn't cost any more than a couple of hundred euro to get a section of a pipe fixed, said Flannery.
Next step is to notify your insurer. You should not go ahead with any repairs – apart from emergency repairs to limit the damage – until you get the approval of your insurer. Before embarking on emergency repairs, take photos of the damage.
You will need to get dehumidifiers to help soak out the water in your house. "If you're dealing with €30,000 to €40,000 worth of damage, you'll need dehumidifiers in for a couple of weeks," said Flannery.
Getting an electrician in to check the electrics is also a priority. "Any wet sockets, switches or light fittings should be replaced," according to Flannery. "This could cost you a few hundred euro."
As your insurer will send out a loss adjustor to investigate your claim and assess the damage, don't throw out anything that has been damaged until your insurer has had a chance to examine it. After getting a plumber in to fix your pipe, for example, keep the damaged pipe as your insurer's loss adjuster will need to see it.
BE PICKY WITH YOUR INSURER
If you live in an area prone to icy conditions, choose your insurer well. In particular, pay attention to the excess – the first part of a claim you must pay for yourself – for damage caused by a burst pipe.
If your burst pipe causes about €1,000 worth of damage, there will be no point making a claim if you are insured by Axa or getcover.ie – both insurers have an excess of €1,000 for burst pipe damage which means you will usually have to cough up the first €1,000 of the claim. If you hire an Axa home repairer to repair the damage, Axa will reduce the excess for burst pipe damage to €750. Both Axa and getcover.ie said their €1,000 excess was introduced to reflect the high incidence of burst pipe claims made during the cold snaps of the past few years.
Although still quite high, at €500, Allianz, FBD and Liberty Insurance have some of the lowest excesses for damage caused by burst pipes, while Aviva has an excess of €550.
Be careful about opting for policies with higher excesses to cut the cost of your home insurance. For example, if you buy your home insurance through a broker, you can get a cheaper Allianz policy if you opt for a standard excess of €1,000 and a burst pipe excess of €1,250. Any savings you make by opting for the higher excess, however, could be easily wiped out should you have to make a claim.
Another thing to be wary of is the amount of time your home can be left unoccupied before your insurer refuses to cover you for burst pipe damage.
If you have to move out of home for a few weeks to avoid being stranded in snow, your insurer may not cover you for damage caused by a burst pipe while you're away.
With Liberty Insurance, you won't be covered for damage caused by a burst pipe if your home is unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days; with Allianz, the limit is 35 days; with Axa, the limit is 40 days; and with FBD, the limit is 45 days.
Aviva gives you most leeway here – as long as your home has not been occupied or unattended for 60 consecutive days, you won't usually lose cover for burst pipe damage.
If you've a holiday home, you will usually have to meet certain conditions to be covered for burst pipe damage while the property is unoccupied, such as leaving the heating on in the house or switching the water supply off at the mains.
ROOF CAVING IN
If you wake up one morning to find that the flat roof on your home has buckled under the weight of heavy snow, it could cost you several thousand euro to replace that roof, according to Flannery. You will also have to repair any damage your collapsed roof has caused to the contents in your home.
"The first thing you should do if your flat roof caves in is to get a builder to put a temporary cover on the area previously covered by your roof," said Flannery. "This will cost you a few hundred euro."
You will need to arrange for a builder to replace your roof –but again, get your insurer's approval before going ahead with the repairs.
You shouldn't have to worry about footing the bill for a collapsed flat roof – as long as your insurer covers you. "If a roof is in good condition and damaged by the weight of snow, insurers usually cover this as a storm peril," said Flannery. "There have, however, been instances where insurers have refused to cover such damage as the roof was old and not capable of withstanding snow."
With Allianz, for example, you won't be covered if the roof is more than 10 years old and made of torched-on felt. If your roof is made of any other felt, Allianz won't cover you if it is more than five years old.
With getcover.ie, you will only be covered for storm damage to a flat roof if it is no more than 15 per cent of the overall roof area of your home. Your flat roof must also be inspected at least once every two years by a qualified builder or property surveyor – and any necessary repairs carried out.
Winter weather will also take its toll on your car – particularly if you're involved in a collision after driving in hairy conditions.
Avoid trying to cut the cost of your car insurance by signing up to policies with higher excesses.
"In typical minor collision, you slide on ice and hit the rear of the car in front, scratching both bumpers and smashing a lighting lens on each car," said Conor Faughnan of AA Ireland. "It would be unsurprising for the full repair bill to be between €1,000 and €2,000. That will be either settled by you or your insurance, depending on your policy and your excess. You may well have to pay all or part of the cost."