There is nothing quite as “quintessentially winter” as your home blanketed by a layer of fluffy, white snow. As magical as it may look, heavy snowfall on your roof can lead to weighty consequences. Let’s examine some of the risks of snow accumulation and tips on how to help protect your home from snow damage.

Generally speaking, Canadian homes are designed to withstand the harshest of winters. But snow and ice can easily build up, and all that extra weight can damage your roof. It’s time to act when there’s around 70 cm (about 2 feet) of snow or 5 cm (about 2 inches) of ice on the roof. In winter, a mild spell and freezing rain are common occurrences after a snowfall. Unfortunately, they can then be followed by a deep freeze. This damaging cycle promotes the formation of ice which, when combined with the snow, prevents normal surface runoff from roofs and may cause water to seep in.

Snow damage

Snow damage occurs when heavy snowfall accumulates. Damage increases when freezing rain and high winds are combined with snowfall accumulations. While we may not be able to predict or control the weather, we can remain vigilant by watching for signs of structural damage to your home due to snowfall. Here’s what to look for:

  • Cracks that appear and run along your interior walls
  • Doors that either open by themselves or stay stuck
  • Creaks that are loud enough to be heard
  • Warped ceilings

Water seepage

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, in recent years, losses caused by weather events — particularly water damage claims — have increased dramatically in Canada. No matter how much snow or ice there is, be on the lookout for signs that water is seeping through the roof. Check the ceiling and walls on the top floor of your house for:

  • Water stains or rings
  • Blistering
  • Water droplets

FYI: If you’re worried about the risk of water seepage or buildup of snow and ice on your roof, consult a building expert as soon as possible to prevent further damage from occurring.

Ice dams

Those icicles hanging from the eavestrough may look pretty, but they spell trouble. They can be a sign of a potentially serious problem: ice dams. An ice dam tends to be caused by poor ventilation or insulation in the attic. If there’s an ice dam on your roof, it stops melting snow from draining off the roof, which means water can accumulate and seep through the walls and ceiling into your home.

How do I prevent ice dams?

Here are some tips to help prevent damage caused by ice dams:

  1. Regularly check the edges of your roof to make sure no ice dams have formed.
  2. Inspect the attic and seal any openings that could let out warm air from your home.
  3. Make sure the attic is well ventilated and cool. That way, any snow on the roof will be less likely to melt and create ice dams.
  4. Ensure that the attic floor is well-insulated to prevent heat from inside the home escaping through the roof and forming a layer of ice, which can quickly become an ice dam.

We recommend that you hire a professional with the right equipment and knowledge of safety procedures. Contact your insurance representative for a trusted referral.

Insurance coverage

When large quantities of snow and ice build up on the roof, excess weight and yo-yoing temperatures can wreak havoc on your roof. Will you be covered by your insurance? To know the answer to this, you will need to consult your isure broker to review what type of coverage you have. For comparison’s sake, we will look at how an “all-risk” comprehensive policy and a “named perils” home insurance policy would cover your roof damage:

All-risks/comprehensive policy

If the weight of the snow and ice caused sagging in the roof, your all-risks policy would pay for the cost related to this loss. Other structures, like your carport, would also be covered. Water seeping down to your ceiling is common with damage to your roof and in order to be covered, you would have had to buy an endorsement, or rider added onto your existing policy. The “Water Damage Above-Ground Water” endorsement is recommended if your home is susceptible to heavy snowfall. If snow or falling ice from your roof injures another person or damages their property, your third-party liability insurance would cover you, protecting you against possible lawsuits (as part of your homeowner’s policy.)

Named perils policy

Using the above examples, the coverage would be quite different. Your collapsed roof caused by snow and ice build-up may not be covered. It would depend on the specific perils named in your policy (i.e. fire, theft, etc.) Water seepage? You would have had to have bought the “Water Damage Above-Ground Water” endorsement. Should someone be injured or their property damaged, you would be covered by third-party liability, as it is typically included in basic insurance policies.

FYI: Above-ground water and weight of ice, snow or sleet (Endorsement 42) covers you against damage caused by water seepage through the roof and walls.

Preventing snow damage to your home

Damages caused by built-up snow can be avoided with a good prevention routine:

1. Keep a close eye on your roof

Review the signs of snow damage listed above to help you assess the accumulation on your roof. Remember, it’s better to remove snow and ice from your roof and carport as it accumulates. We suggest getting into the habit of doing so from the first snowfall, but if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, call in professionals. Improper snow removal could damage the roofing material, which may not be covered by your home insurance.

2. Clearing your roof safely

Be very careful when clearing snow and ice from your roof. One of the easiest ways to remove excess snow is by using a roof rake with a telescopic handle. This method works particularly well for pitched roofs, but for any flat roofs, only remove snow yourself if the house is one level. Otherwise, we recommend hiring a professional to get the job done. Additional tips include:

  • Take care not to accidentally damage the roofing material and keep your tools well away from nearby hydro cables.
  • Always be careful when clearing snow from your roof, and remember to leave two inches of snow on the roof to protect the shingles!

3. Call in the professionals

Call a building inspector if you have any concerns regarding possible structural damage. That being said, the dangers are real and injuries are all too common, so we recommend that you hire a professional with the right equipment and knowledge of safety procedures, especially for removing ice, which is a more difficult job.

Protect all parts of your home from snow damage

Here are some useful tips that can help protect your property from snow and ice damage:

  • Stairs, doors and balconies: Remove snow or ice right away. Remember to be thorough, especially if they’re used as emergency exits.
  • Temporary carports: Temporary carports aren’t designed to withstand excessive snow and ice buildup, so it’s important to clear them regularly. They can collapse under the weight of snow, so try to work from the outside rather than the inside when removing snow.
  • Oil and gas appliances: Make sure there’s adequate clearance around tanks and pipes and that they’re easily accessible and protected should snow and ice fall from the roof.
  • Proper sealing: Make sure skylights, other roof openings and windows have proper weather stripping to prevent snowmelt from seeping in.
  • Outdoor pipes: Drain all outside plumbing lines, underground sprinkler lines and water lines to your pool to keep pipes from bursting. Fit exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping.
  • Chimney maintenance:  A wood-burning chimney should be inspected before use each year.

FAQs about snow damage

Does insurance cover roof collapse from snow?

Typically yes, homeowner’s insurance covers roof damage from snow, including roof collapse and related ceiling damage. Ice dams, which can cause your roof to cave in, are also covered. You may also be covered for wind and hail damage from a blizzard, though you may need to pay a deductible before you can get covered.

Does homeowners insurance cover damage from ice storms?

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for winter-related storm damage that occurs as a result of wind, snow, ice, freezing rain and severe temperatures. It is important to note that standard homeowners insurance policies do not provide coverage for flood damage.

Do I need to remove all the snow from my roof?

After a snow storm, you’ll want to safeguard your home from the damage that snow and ice can cause. Snow should be cleared off of your roof if there’s more than 18 inches (about 45 cm). A two-inch layer of snow should be left in place to ensure that you don’t damage your shingles.

Should I be worried about icicles hanging from my roof?

Water from melting snow and ice can cause serious damage to your home. If you see icicles hanging from your eavestroughs, take action. They could be a sign of ice dams, which block water from draining off your roof. When that happens, the water will be forced back inside your house, and structural damage might be the result.

A tree fell on my home. Will I be covered?

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, “a standard homeowner policy should cover damages to homes caused by snow, rain or wind, including damage caused by flying debris or falling branches or trees.”  A collapse of a structure, such as your roof, due to the weight of ice or snow is also often covered under a standard home insurance policy.

Melting snow and ice have flooded my house. What happens now?

Sudden and accidental bursting of plumbing pipes is covered by most residential policies. Flood damage inside your home, often due to melted snow or ice in the winter, is not covered under standard home insurance policies. If your pipes freeze and burst and cause flooding inside your home, your standard policy may or may not cover the damages. Again, it is best to contact your isure representative to be sure.

Will I receive additional living expenses if damage to my home causes me to move out during repairs?

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says homeowners who are unable to live in their homes because of insurable damage are entitled to additional living expenses. It is best to speak with your isure broker about this, as it varies from insurance company to insurance company and policy types.

A winter storm has the power to destroy your home’s roof, gutters and cause pipes to freeze and burst. While most home standard policies may cover damages resulting from winter weather, it is vital to speak with your isure broker to confirm what may or may not be covered by your specific policy.

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