By Avi Singh, Insurance Broker with Cornerstone. To read and follow Avi’s blog, please click here.
Your arrangements are finalized, your bags are packed, and you’ve arranged with someone to pick up the mail and clear the snow from the front walk. You’re all set to leave, or perhaps as I’ve done many times, you’ve headed up north for a couple nights and it quickly turns into four or five. Such are the realities of living through a Canadian winter. Everyone looks for a break from the bitter cold and dampness.
What most people don’t know, and many people in the insurance industry don’t tell you, is that you’ve made a promise to your insurer that you’ll do certain things in the event you leave home for four or more days. It’s important to note that unlike automobile policies, there is no uniformity amongst property insurance policies. That being said, I have yet to see a property policy without a warranty along the lines of the following:
“… We cover damage caused by water (they then go on to define what water damage is), but we do not insure loss or damage caused by freezing during the usual heating season, of any part of a plumbing, heating, or air conditioning system or “domestic water container” within a heated portion of your “dwelling” if you have been away for more than four (4) consecutive days…”
It will go on to say, “… However you would still be insured if you:
– have arranged for a competent person to enter your “dwelling” each day you were away to ensure the heating was being maintained; or
– shut off the water supply and had drained all the pipes and “domestic water containers”; or
– if your heating system is connected by a monitored heating alarm to a station providing twenty-four (24) hour service…”
In essence, if you’ll be away for more than four days, you need to take some steps to ensure your insurance policy remains in force. Ideally, you need to have someone come in and check the heating of the home on a daily basis, or, alternatively, you need to drain all of your “domestic water containers” which include your hot water tank and toilets. You would also have to drain all of your pipes. If we’re being honest about it, I personally don’t take the second option. I just am not comfortable messing around with the plumbing system in my home. The third option above is the one that I see used the least. A monitored heating alarm is an additional expense and isn’t practical for most home applications. It is more common in a commercial setting when the business operation is a temperature sensitive one (food processing facilities comes to mind).
The easiest and most practical option the insurer gives you is the first one. Arrange for someone to check the property to ensure the heating is operating properly. The key is you need to plan it, and be able to show you’ve taken the necessary steps if required to. If the person you’ve made the arrangements with doesn’t follow through and the unmentionable occurs, then your policy would still respond (if worded as above), but your insurer would be in a position where they might be able to recover a portion of the damages from the person you made your ‘arrangements’ with.
The insurer puts this clause into the contract to protect themselves from a property being unwatched for days on end. The longer water flows the more it will cost them in the end. If a situation is discovered and promptly dealt with, it works out better for everyone involved. I would suggest you get your insurance policy out, review the water damage section and the statutory conditions section to verify what your exact situation is. If you’re unsure, contact your insurance advisor and verify exactly what your obligations are, and follow up in writing. A conversation and some planning ahead of time can be your best defense against a very stressful situation later.