These are the most common home insurance claims – here’s how to avoid them this winter
We have had an unseasonably mild autumn but, with the cold winter weather fast approaching it’s time to check your home for potential damage that can be caused by more extreme temperatures.
Winter is when the majority of home insurance claims are made according to Allianz. There are many more factors at play in winter which means there’s more chance of your home suffering some kind of damage. While it’s always a relief to be able to fall back on your insurer should you need to claim for damage to property, it’s always preferential to avoid the damage in the first place.
Now is a good time to run through the check list of do’s and don’ts before the winter sets in. You might save yourself the headache of having to deal with the unexpected.
Water Damage was the biggest category for home insurance claims in 2016 accounting for 28% of the overall according to Allianz. The most common water damage or ‘escape of water’ claims arise from pipes (e.g. underfloor pipes, radiators, or leaks from overflow pipes in the attic).
We’re blessed with mild temperatures in this country and while the summer may rarely bring temperatures in the high twenties, we usually don’t have to turn on the heating in the home from summer to autumn (apart from the rare freakishly cold day).
That means that a lot of heating systems and boilers are left unused for months at a time. If there’s anything that causes pipes to creak and moan, it’s when they’re left idle and then switched to constant use. So before you batten down the hatches for winter, inspect the house.
Check the pipes at radiators. If there is any hint of water staining on ceilings or floor boards, get a qualified plumber to check them. It’s always better to nip a pipe problem in the bud. They NEVER resolve themselves. Check the overflow tank in the attic and check the grouting around the bathtub and the shower. Water damage from the ceiling on the edge of baths and showers won’t be covered by your insurer as it’s considered normal wear and tear.
Check your appliances – your washing machine, your dishwasher and your boiler. Check the pipe connections and any signs that they may be getting old or getting loose. The drainage pipe from the washing machine can become easily clogged so it’s a good idea to rod this regularly to ensure there’s no back water flow.
It’s a good idea to have your sewerage system inspected as water flooding as a result of back-up in the system inside or outside the house will not usually be covered by insurance as again it’s considered a maintenance issue.
Pipes that run along external walls or outside should be well insulated to ensure no disasters occur during cold snaps of weather. The last thing you want is to be without heating and to have to deal with water damage when the mercury hits minus.
Ophelia wreaked havoc across the country last month and that will have alerted many to the potential risk of storm damage to their property. Storm damage in Ireland is actually quite common. It accounted for 19% of all Allianz home insurance claims in 2016.
We’ve had Ophelia and storm Brian already this year and with the way global weather patterns are developing, we are experiencing more and more massive events. There is every likelihood we’ll be visited by another big storm yet.
Most insurance claims associated with storm damage are for roofs when tiles become dislodged. If you haven’t had your roof and gutters checked since Ophelia and Brian, now would be a good time to do so. Be aware that there are certain types of roof that are not covered by insurers - roofs constructed with torch-on felt, exceeding 10 years of age, or other felt exceeding 5 years of age.
Fences and gates are not covered so make sure they are secure and can withstand high winds. They may well have suffered as a result of the recent storms, so another high wind could be enough to see them flying around the garden.
Hedges, trees and shrubs will not be covered either. Have a good look at the trees in your garden, especially if they’re near the house. Loose branches or old trunks could present danger. Safety is key here, but you also want to protect your home, your roof, windows, car etc. Check gutters are secure and clear so that they can carry water away quickly and make sure there are none of those pesky autumn leaves blocking the drainage. During torrential winter downpours a back yard can flood very quickly.
Of course there is a much higher degree of risk of fire damage in the winter months. You can never be too careful when it comes to fire safety in the home so always, always be vigilant. House fires accounted for 10% of Allianz household insurance claims in 2016 and fire and smoke damage is almost always severe resulting in very high claims.
There are a number of things you can do to ensure your family’s safety. Check you have a working smoke alarm and that the batteries have plenty of life. Check your smoke alarm weekly. Check for obvious fire risks like overloaded sockets or loose wiring. Make sure your dryer filter is clear so there’s no build-up of lint in the machine which can cause the appliance to overheat and catch fire.
With Christmas time approaching, be sure not to overload sockets with too many plugs. Always extinguish all lights before going to bed, both inside and outside the house. If you are decorating the outside of your home, be sure the lights are fit for outdoor use.
We all love an open fire around Christmas, but make sure you’ve had your chimney cleaned before you set a fire. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t used it all year, there could be birds’ nests or anything else clogging it up. Candles too are always a risk, so never leave them unattended, always ensure the candle holder is robust and secure. Never burn a candle near a window, close to curtains or window frames and always extinguish a candle fully by running it under tap water before throwing the stub away.
We’ve seen some catastrophic flooding this year in Donegal and the Limerick areas. Climate change means that there is an increased risk of flooding from rising waters everywhere but particularly in coastal areas and close to rivers, canals and lakes.
Check with your insurer to see if you are covered in the event of flooding. Assess the risk in your area, talk to neighbours or see if there is engagement with local authorities on the subject. If heavy rain carries a risk of flooding, move valuables and other items to safety. Place them above the flood level or upstairs. Put sandbags at any openings where the water could gain access and turn off gas and electricity.
Be prepared to evacuate your home if necessary. Protect yourself, your family and others that need your help. Have warm clothing and wellingtons ready. Have medication to hand (if needed). Check water/food stocks and co-operate with emergency services and local authorities.
For more information on assessing flood risk and what to do in case of emergency consult this guide by the Office of Public Works, here.
Winter offers thieves the cover of darkness when they are on the job so it’s no surprise that forced entry claims are up in the winter months.
Thieves target homes at Christmas time when they know houses are full of gifts and they know exactly where to look for them. Don’t let them ruin your Christmas. Allianz offers free additional coverage in the amount that can be claimed around Christmas time.
Make sure you have an alarm installed and that it is set when you leave the house. Secure all windows and doors. Thieves can enter with alarming ease, but remember, you don’t have to make your home a fortress, you only have to make your home secure enough to dissuade uninvited guests. .
Dogs are the single best deterrent against thieves, unfortunately cats are not. Always leave lights on when you leave the house or use timer switches. Motion activated lights in your gardens are necessary and make sure you don’t keep valuable items and large amounts of cash at home. Don’t forget about outdoor theft. Check your garage and shed are covered in your insurance schedule as well as outdoor furniture and other features that could be lifted.
Unfortunately there is no fool-proof way to secure your home from thieves, so if you have items that are irreplaceable to you, don’t keep them at home, instead put them in a secure lock up.
Winter can bring a higher risk of damage to your home, to ensure peace of mind and that your home and its contents are protected, make sure you get a home insurance policy that meets your needs.
Allianz offers great value, quality Home Insurance and our flexible cover options allow you to choose between Buildings & Contents, Buildings Only or Contents Only insurance. Allianz take particular care to provide you with a dedicated Claims service designed with you in mind to ensure the fair and prompt settlement of all legitimate claims.
For information on Allianz Home Insurance click here