Much of the country has been frozen solid recently due to a phenomenon known as the polar vortex: arctic air that has come further south due to changes in the jet stream. Not only are cars frozen shut and water on walks and streets frozen solid, but the risk of frozen pipes rears its ugly head. With temperatures at or below zero and wind chills into the negative numbers, many homes and businesses are running into troubles with frozen pipes. Believe it or not, severe winter weather is the third-largest cause of insured catastrophe losses, after hurricanes and tornadoes.
If you are leaving your home and wanting to save some cash on your heating bill, take caution as to what degree you set your thermostat to. It’s recommended by the Institute for Business and Home Safety to set your thermostat to no lower than 55 degrees.
If you do have a pipe burst, are you responsible? Does your homeowners policy provide coverage? What about your business? We’ve answered these questions below!
Q: I had my thermostat set to 60 degrees, but still had a pipe burst. Water damaged my walls and even some contents. Does my homeowners policy provide coverage?
A: There is generally a requirement of your homeowner’s policy that you must take reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintain pipes and drains. If you have taken all the necessary precautions to preventing this loss, your homeowners policy will most likely provide coverage for you. In many cases, the homeowner’s policy provides coverage for the resulting water damage to carpeting, ceilings, walls, and personal property. If the pipes were ruptured from freezing, then the cost to replace the broken pipe may also be covered.
Q: As a renter, am I responsible for frozen pipes?
A: It depends. Your leasing agreement most likely states that the landlord is to provide you with a habitable condition, which includes a weather-proofed dwelling and working plumbing. You have also most likely agreed to a number of items regarding keeping facilities in a reasonable manner; this may include keeping the thermostat above a reasonable temperature to help prevent weather damage. Ultimately, if you are taking reasonable care of your place, but the pipes still end up freezing or bursting, your landlord will be responsible for repairing the damaged property. However, this does not include damage to your personal property. If a pipe bursts due to freezing and causes your place to be filled with water, a renter’s insurance policy would cover your damaged personal property (another good reason to have renters insurance!).
Q: Does my commercial policy provide coverage if a pipe bursts?
A: Like the homeowners policy, most commercial policies will have the same general requirements to prevent these types of loss. Commercial policies may have coverage for damage to a building or business contents or both. Most commercial property policies provide coverage for the tear out to get to the damaged pipes, but not to repair the pipe itself. This would apply to your plumbing or sprinkler system piping.
Q: What if my commercial building is not completely occupied and a pipe bursts?
A: If your building is considered vacant (less than 31% occupied), coverage may be reduced (and in some cases, may not apply). If you have a frozen plumbing pipe that bursts, coverage will apply, but the payment amount for your loss may be reduced. If a sprinkler system pipe bursts, coverage will apply if you take the proper protection against freezing.
Q: If my tenant does not leave the thermostat at a reasonable temperature and a pipe bursts, am I responsible for the damage as a landlord?
A: Your insurance on the rental property may cover the resulting water damage from the pipe bursting. If the renter has liability insurance, your insurance company may attempt to go after the renter’s insurance company for the damages that were paid out, where allowed by State statute.