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Does your home insurance cover power outages?

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Whether an ice storm knocks out power for half your city or a lightning storm smashes a tree into your power lines, dealing with a blackout is never fun. And even if nothing else is damaged, an extended power outage will have you dealing with the impact of spoiled food within your fridge and freezer. The threat of losing hundreds to thousands of dollars in wasted food depending on what you have stored away is enough to annoy all of us. Though it may feel like a loss you have to bare alone, you may be surprised to find out that your home insurance provider might just be there to help. You will just have to decide if the loss is worth the cost of submitting a claim.

How long does food last in a power outage?

Once cut off from their power source, full freezers will keep food cool for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened, and 24 hours if the appliance is only half full.

When southern Alberta was hit by catastrophic floods in June 2013, some residents lived without power for more than a week. Thousands had their food spoil or left submerged in dirty flood waters, but they may have been reimbursed for some of it since homeowners’ policies often include coverage for food spoilage resulting accidental power cuts or faulty refrigeration.

How insurance companies cover food lost in a power outage

The cause of the power outage may determine whether or not your insurer will cover the loss. SGI Canada, for example, will pay up to $1,000 for the loss or damage of frozen food “when caused by accidental interruption of electrical power away from the premises or mechanical breakdown of the said refrigeration unit(s).”

That policy would exclude having your power cut because you didn’t pay your hydro bills (that interruption of power would be considered deliberate), as well as the “tree crashing into your power lines” scenario since that would be on your premises. It would, however, cover food damaged because of natural disasters like the Alberta floods or the nasty ice storm that hit Toronto in December 2013.

Aviva Canada, on the other hand, covers food spoilage “caused by the accidental interruption of electrical power on or off the premises or by mechanical breakdown of the freezer.” So, unlike SGI Canada, its policyholders would likely be reimbursed if a fallen tree cuts their power lines.

Both insurers’ policies come with exclusions: Aviva won’t cover spoilage caused by a faulty circuit breaker or fuse issue. SGI won’t cover losses caused by natural spoilage, renovating a large walk-in freezer unit, manual disconnection of the power supply, and carelessness on the policyholder’s part. Neither will cover expenses incurred when buying the food.

What happens after I submit my spoiled food claim after a power outage?

Interestingly, SGI’s coverage isn’t subject to a deductible, but filing a claim may result in a premium increase when you renew your contents insurance portion of your home, tenant or condo insurance policy. Other insurers, of course, may impose a deductible. To determine whether or not you should file a claim, first calculate how much food you lost: were you about to serve oysters, caviar and filet mignon to a dozen people, or did you just have to toss a tub of yogurt and some salami? It may make more sense to replace your own groceries and save on next year’s premiums.

When filing a claim for food spoilage, make sure you document exactly what food went bad and, if possible, how much it cost. That could involve pictures or videos of the damaged food, pictures or videos of barcodes, or receipts. If the spoilage was caused by a blackout, you’ll also need to provide documentation, which news stories or reports from your hydro company could provide.

If your food went bad because your freezer broke down, you’ll need to provide documentation of the mechanical issues. Photos or video may be sufficient, but it’s a good idea to speak with your insurer before throwing out the unit. They may want to examine it, and may also be able to help you safely dispose of it.

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What non-perishable food to have in case of a power outage

Depending on your diet, or what is available, and your diet, here are some ideas for food to eat when the power goes out

  • Crackers with peanut butter or almond butter
  • Fresh fruit (apples, oranges, bananas)
  • Canned juice
  • Trail mix
  • Dry cereal
  • Canned baked beans
  • Pretzels
  • Nuts
  • Pudding cups
  • Canned fruit
  • Jerky – meat or tofu
  • Pouches of pre-cooked and seasoned rice or quinoa
  • Cookies
  • Granola bars
  • Dried Fruits: apricot, mango, banana, raisins, cranberries, pineapple, figs
  • Sandwiches: Peanut butter and honey or canned tuna

The bottom line

At the end of the day you will need to understand first and foremost if the situation that led to your power outage is covered by your insurance company. A quick call with your insurance broker is all that is needed to review what coverage and the rules that are in place on your policy. Once you know if you're covered, it's up to you to determine if the cost to replace the food is worth submitting the claim. If it's under $1,000 it's likely not worth experience a home, condo, or tenant insurance rate increase due to a claim of this magnitude. Regardless of your decision it is not an easy time dealing with an extended power outage, so be prepared for all scenarios and make the smart financial decision at the end of the day.