Is your home protected against winter disasters?

Winter can be a beautiful time of year. But sometimes, that beauty turns ugly with falling limbs, icy sidewalks, and fire hazards. Will your home insurance cover the damage winter may cause?

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Update home insurance before winter
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Update home insurance before winter

You own a parka, boots, and a winter hat to guard yourself from the harsh winter elements. But is your home prepared to face these elements? If not, will your home insurance protect you?

No one wants to be vulnerable when winter hits. That's why now is the perfect time to see what your policy covers and to modify it to protect you against Old Man Winter.

"It's not too early to begin thinking about preparing your home for upcoming winter storms. Homeowners should not underestimate the risk of damage from ice, snow, and wind," says Chris Hackett, director of personal lines policy at Property Casualty Insurers Association of America in Chicago. "Talk to your insurance agent to make sure you are adequately covered."

To help you see just how much harm winter can cause, check out these five winter risks and why you need to update your home insurance policy accordingly.

Winter Storms Cause Havoc on Homes

A winter storm can have a hypnotic power as the snow falls and the winds whip. But it also has power to destroy your home's roof, gutters, and cause pipes to freeze. To avoid paying for the damages that this may cause your home, you should contact your home insurance provider about what your policy covers.

You don't want to be stuck with a bill for fixing your roof or rebuilding parts of your home because your insurance policy just wasn't up to par.

For background, here are some things that are generally covered by a standard policy:

"A standard homeowner's policy will cover you for frozen pipes that burst as long as you took reasonable steps to prevent those pipes from freezing despite those efforts," Hackett says.

What's more, most standard homeowner's policies will cover damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, damage to your home from trees or falling objects, and collapse of a structure due to the weight of ice or snow, according to Colorado's Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).

Of course, policies will differ depending on your insurer and where you live, so make sure to review your policy and update it as necessary.

[Is it time to change your home insurance policy? Click to compare home insurance quotes now.]

Winter Heating Leads to a Higher Risk of Fire

The glow of a cozy fire in your family room warms your soul. Unfortunately, it's also rather dangerous.

In fact, the U.S. Fire Administration notes that heating fires was the second leading cause of all residential building fires (after cooking) from 2008 to 2010. An estimated 50,100 heating fires to residential buildings occurred annually and resulted in 150 tragic deaths and $326 million in property loss.

And as you might have expected, those heating fires peaked in January (when temperatures drop).

"Normally, if anything resulting from a fireplace fire such as a hot amber catching a carpet on fire and damaging it, that would be covered," says Bobbie Baca, supervisor of the property and casualty section for DORA. "Or if someone forgets to open up the flue and the house fills with smoke, that's covered, too."

Specifically, your insurance will likely cover the clean up, paint job, and replacement of items destroyed by the fire or smoke.

You'll also want to pay attention to your furnace.

"If someone turns on the furnace and it explodes, that would be a covered loss," Baca says. "But I recommend that you have your furnace cleaned, and a utility company inspect it once a year."

You might also want to buy a rider (extra coverage for items of higher value and sometimes irreplaceable items such as jewelry and artwork) that aren't included in a standard policy, Hackett says.

[Do you need additional home insurance coverage? Click to compare home insurance quotes now.]

Icy Driveways and Sidewalks Increase Your Liability Risk

Picture this: It's your birthday and your best friend sent you flowers. Your sidewalk is icy and as a result,  the delivery man slips on the front stoop. He breaks his hip, shoulder, needs two surgeries and rehabilitation.

Since you played no part in his fall, you're probably assuming that you don't have to cough up any money or pay any bills. Well, this assumption is very wrong.

 "It's always the homeowner's responsibility if something happens, such as the sidewalk icing overnight, and you didn't get out there to clear it away and someone gets hurt," says Baca.

Luckily, Hackett says the typical homeowner's insurance policy can contain around $300,000 in liability coverage.

But to feel a little safer and to protect your assets in case someone sues you, you may wish to  purchase an umbrella policy which will provide you with liability coverage in excess of the limits included in your auto and property insurance policies, he adds. Liability coverage is typically available from a range of $1 to $5 million.

"Very few claims are made on umbrella policies. But things do happen, and circumstances where umbrella policies come into play are very serious claims," Hackett says. "It's a good idea to speak with your insurance agent at regular intervals to make sure you're adequately covered and to be informed about optional coverages available from your carrier."

[Click to shop around and compare home insurance quotes now.]

Risk of Mold is More Prevalent in the Winter

That black and green crud that seems to sprout up easily on your shower tiles is easily washed away with a powerful cleanser. But mold that lurks and grows behind your walls from melting snow, a leaking roof, or bursting pipes might not wash away so easily - especially if it isn't covered on your home insurance.

"If it's something that happens over a long time that caused the mold, they won't cover it. But if it's something sudden such as a tree limb falling on the roof causing the leak that caused the mold, then it would be covered," Baca says.

She emphasizes that homeowners should make sure water damage is covered on their policy, plus really understand how a mold situation is handled by your insurance company.

The Illinois Department of Insurance states that some companies have taken steps to limit their coverage to mold claims. However it also notes that you can pay extra money for an insurance endorsement that will provide some mold coverage if your standard policy excludes it.

"Every policy is written differently," Baca explains. That's why homeowners need to review and update their home insurance policy to ensure they're covered against any potential damage.

[Is your home adequately covered? Click to get home insurance quotes now.]

Melting Snow and Ice May Lead to Flooding

A winter wonderland can be beautiful. But when the snow melts, the wonderland could cause your home to flood.

Would your insurance company cover that?

"It all depends on your policy. For instance if your pipes freeze and then burst and cause flooding inside your home, some policies might cover it. Some might not," says Baca. "You really need your agent or company representative to explain your policy."

Hackett says that flood damage is usually not covered under the typical homeowner's insurance policy.

However, "Flood coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program," adds Hackett, who recommends homeowners update their policy to include a rider.

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