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Winter Home Insurance Tips for Snowbirds

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If you’re escaping the Canadian winter for weeks or months at a time, there’s one thing you shouldn’t leave home without doing: checking your home insurance policy.

An empty house is at greater risk for damage or theft, but knowing the terms of your policy and taking the right precautions will ensure your home is protected. Here are some things you should plan ahead for before you go on vacation for an extended period of time:

Check in early, check in often

Many insurers will void your coverage if you leave your house empty and unmonitored for more than four consecutive days—check your policy or clarify the exact timeframe with your broker or agent. If you’re going away on vacation, ask a friend, family member, or trusted neighbour to regularly check in on your home (some policies require a visit every 24 hours) to ensure its properly heated so the pipes don’t freeze and burst, and that your property is clear of damage-causing heavy snow, ice, and debris such as fallen branches.

Your coverage will lapse if your home is vacant for more than 30 days, but don’t worry—it’s only considered “vacant” if you don’t intend to return. If you’re travelling for few months but have a set return date, your home is merely “unoccupied.” However, you should double-check with your insurer to see if your existing coverage is sufficient for the length of time you’ll be away or if you need to add a vacancy permit.

READ: What is vacant home insurance?

Shut off your water and drain the pipes

Asking—or hiring—someone to be responsible for your home isn’t an easy task: besides securing someone trustworthy, they also need to know what to do if your furnace stops working, the pipes freeze, or water leaks. Because water damage is now the most common home insurance claim in Canada, many advisors recommend shutting off the water all together, draining your home’s plumbing system, and putting some non-toxic antifreeze in your plumbing traps. If there’s a power outage or your furnace breaks, this will prevent pipes, toilet bowls, or water heaters from freezing, cracking or bursting, and causing water damage. Shutting off the water supply also cuts the risk of spontaneous leaks from your washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, or even your fridge’s ice maker.

This is important because insurance companies will only cover water damage resulting from sudden and unexpected leaks if certain maintenance and preventative standards are met—they won’t cover damage caused by burst frozen pipes if you leave your home empty, unchecked, and unheated. Adding flood insurance to your policy is a smart idea.

Break-ins, both burglars and animals

Visibly empty houses are targets for burglary, so homeowners should take steps to make it look like someone’s home: install timers on indoor and outdoor lights, suspend your newspaper delivery, and ask whoever is checking in on your house to gather your mail and clear your walkway of snow.

But in the event of a break-in, or attempted break-in, comprehensive home insurance policies will cover you for the resulting losses or expenses. However, there are set limits on theft coverage for items such as jewelry, watches, and rare collectibles and antiques that could end up undervaluing the lost items. If you own fine jewelry or collectibles like coins or stamps, you should have them appraised and purchase a policy extension that specifically covers those items.

Coverage for a different kind of break-in—wild animals clawing their way into your home—is more limited. Some home insurance policies may cover damage from animals such as raccoons, possums, groundhogs and bats, but most standard policies exclude rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), insects (bed bugs, cockroaches, termites, carpenter ants), and birds, as well as any kind of infestation. Damage resulting from animal waste is also excluded. It’s best to take a proactive approach and eliminate any food supplies that will attract animals (including garbage and pet food stored in the garage), get rid of any standing water sources in your yard, and inspect your home, especially your attic, for any cracks or holes that critters can squeeze through.

The bottom line

By knowing what your policy will and won’t cover, and taking preventative measures, you can rest easier on your vacation knowing you’ve covered your bases.

To estimate your insurance costs, get a home insurance quote