Ice Be Damned! Massachusetts Homeowner’s Insurance Coverage For Ice Dam Damage, Freezing Pipes & Other Winter Disasters

by Rich Vetstein on February 7, 2011 · 7 comments

in Insurance, Massachusetts Real Estate Law, Safety

ice-dam.jpgHaving spent the entire weekend in a feeble attempt to shovel the snow and bludgeon the one foot thick ice dams off my roof, I’ve bit the bullet and hired a professional. No use risking life and limb, and doing a third rate job. I also have a nice one inch crack along my family room ceiling, no doubt caused by the huge ice damn above it.

My Facebook stream is filled with pleas from homeowners about ice dams and related winter snow and ice damage. I’m also hearing stories about price gouging on roof snow and ice removal. (According to Sudbury Realtor Gabrielle Daniels Brennan, you should be paying only between $300-$800, max.)

So, time to call in the professionals, and dust off my trusty Massachusetts homeowner’s insurance policy to see what’s covered and what’s not.

Ice Dam Insurance Coverage

Very few insurance policies cover ice dam or snow removal from your roof or anywhere else on your property for that matter. However, interior or exterior damage caused by an ice dam on your roof is typically covered. As with any insurance claim, call the claims department immediately and take photos of the damage.

Ice Dam Treatment & Prevention

In the short term, there are a couple things you can try.

  1. Try to remove snow from the roof but only if it can be done safely. A roof rake or push broom can be used but may cause damage to the shingles. If it’s not possible to remove the snow safely, call a professional like I did.
  2. Chisel grooves into the dam to allow the water behind it to drain off. This is a good emergency measure, especially if rain or a sudden thaw is coming. Be careful not to damage those shingles!
  3. Fill an old pair of your wife’s pantyhose with calcium chloride snow melt and lay it across the dam. I’m not kidding! I did this over the weekend and it seemed to work. It will help to melt the dam and also keep that area of the roof clear. DO NOT USE ROCK SALT! It will stain the roof and siding. It is best for small dams or prevention. It’s also a good idea to scrape the snow off the roof first.

To prevent ice dams in the longer term, keeping warm air from escaping into the attic is the first course of action. In addition to helping resolve ice dam issues, it will result in a more comfortable and less expensive to heat home.

Frozen Pipes Insurance Coverage

Not all companies pay to have frozen pipes thawed by professionals. Some will though. Most policies cover pipe replacement and water damage. The coverage may not apply if you turned the furnace off for the winter without winterizing the house and its contents.

Frozen Pipe Prevention

Frozen water in pipes can cause water pressure buildup between the ice blockage and the closed faucet at the end of a pipe which leads to pipes bursting at their weakest point. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are particularly vulnerable to freezing in extremely cold weather. Holes in outside walls for TV, cable or telephone lines allow cold air to enter the house.

To keep water in the pipes from freezing, take the following precautions:

Fit exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping to slow the heat transfer. The more insulation the better.

Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulking.

Keep cabinet doors open during cold spells to allow warm air to circulate around pipes, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom.

Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through and unheated or unprotected space. Drain the water system especially if your house will be unattended during cold periods.

Interruption of Services

If you lose power during a storm, an all-risk homeowner’s policy usually pays for spoiled food, repairs to damage caused by loss of power, and appliances damaged by the outage. Many policies also will pay for shelter when you lose power for extended periods during the winter. If you lose heat and fail to take steps to prevent pipes from freezing, your policy may not cover the resulting damage.

Additional Resources

Nadine Heaps, Purple Ink Insurance. Nadine is an experienced homeowner’s insurance agent who can answer your questions on coverages.

I’ll Be (Ice) Dammed, The Massachusetts Mortgage Blog by David Gaffin

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  • Hi Rich,
    Some great points about ice dams, which are everywhere in MA lately. One thing you didn’t mention are the ice melting pucks designed for roof snow melt. Simply chuck a few up on the roof ( from the ground) and let them do their thing. They wont solve all ice and snow problems on your roof, buy they can help, especially on roofs that are too treacherous to access any other way.

  • Jim Mushinsky

    Hi Rich,
    Edward is right on about the sun. The heat loss from dissipation through the attic is negligible compared to the heat from the sun. During the sunset the heat from the leaves the eaves before the peak.
    You might want to look into standing seam metal roofs with waterproofing underlayment. Should be able to withstand ice dams for many years when properly designed and installed.

    • Thanks Jim! I hope we get more professionals commenting here. It’s an important topic. Please leave your contact info and web addresses as well.

  • I have seen nothing that actually prevents ice-dams. I see old and new houses with varying types of construction and nothing really works. Your illustration regarding dams is right, but not the whole story. You can have the best type of modern construction and you will still get ice-dams. Even if no heat escapes from your house (not possible), the snow on your roof will still melt (from the heat of the sun) and on a sub-freezing day, it will freeze at the cold edge of the roof, no matter what. I hope someone invents something that works, but for now we have to deal with roof-rakes, heating elements (which worry me) and calcium chloride filled stockings. Let me know if you hear of a real solution.

    • Good comments Heidi and Edward.

      Edward, unfortunately barring shoveling your roof after every storm or a roof wide heating system, I don’t know of anything that truly works!

  • I had a dam last year and before I called the Insurance company I called a private adjuster. He reviewd my policy and took on the daunting task of dealing with the insurance company. I would have never known half of what I was eligible for.

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