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Frozen pipes and your home insurance

Reviewed by Rena Novotny

Once again, winter is almost upon us. In some parts of Canada, that means lots of snow, ice, and freezing winds. Many of us are already dreaming of a winter vacation to some glorious hot spot!

If you’re able to fly away to a tropical island and leave your home in the icy depths of January, have you made arrangements to keep your house warm while you’re gone? You probably have your neighbour picking up your mail, and checking to make sure your furnace is running.

Canadian home insurance policies often exclude water damage due to freezing

Have you considered what would happen if the power went out while you were away, and if temperatures dropped low enough to freeze your water pipes? Water can easily begin pouring out of frozen, burst pipes, destroying your home! Most Canadians believe that home insurance will cover this kind of damage; in many cases this is true, but coverage for water damage can be tricky depending on where you buy your home insurance policy.

Most home insurance policies have a restriction that reads something like this: “If you are away from your home for more than 4 consecutive days during the usual heating season, you need to shut off your water supply and drain the pipes, OR have a competent person checking your home daily to make sure heat is being maintained.” This restriction varies from one company to the next, but you can be pretty sure there will be a strict requirement to safeguard your home while you’re away.

If you fail to meet this requirement, your home insurance company will deny your claim for water damage that results from frozen pipes. Given the high flow rate of modern water supply lines, this can potentially mean entire homes flooded with water, and thousands of dollars in repair costs – all coming out of your own pocket.

I’m sure that won’t happen to me…right?

Recently, a couple in Ontario came home from a winter vacation to discover their home in shambles. They had turned off their water before heading to Florida for the winter, but did not shut off their indoor fire-suppression sprinkler system because building code requires that their sprinkler system always remain operative. The pipe leading to the sprinkler heads froze and burst, releasing water throughout their townhouse and causing extensive, expensive damage. Their insurance company denied the claim, stating that all the water, including the fire sprinkler system, was required to be shut off and drained if the policyholders were away for more than a few days.

In another case, a woman was in hospital undergoing emergency cancer treatment. She had been away from home for three weeks when her furnace went out. The pipes froze and burst, causing significant damage to her home. While she was away, she had a neighbour keeping an eye on the house and picking up the mail – but because he didn’t actually enter the house every day, insurance coverage was denied for the significant water damage that she suffered.

Many people are unaware of this standard exclusion on home insurance policies in Canada. Even if you are aware and try to comply with the conditions, a requirement to leave sprinklers operative, or a sudden medical emergency, could put you in a very difficult position like those seen above.

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What is Square One doing about it?

At Square One, we have taken firm steps to prevent these kinds of disastrous surprises for our customers. Our goal is to provide the broadest form of protection possible for the homeowners, condo owners and tenants whom we insure.

If Square One customers are temporarily away from home during the usual heating season, for 7 days or less, they don’t need to take any extra steps to keep their insurance in effect. Yes, you read that correctly. We know that our customers like to travel during the winter, and we also trust our customers to properly prepare their homes for their time away. That’s why our policy doesn’t impose an arbitrary requirement for temporary time away, up to 7 consecutive days.

If Square One customers will be away from home for more than seven days, our policy only requires that they take one of the following options to protect the home:

  • Make arrangements to make sure that heat is being maintained at an acceptable level*. What this means is that they need to make sure the furnace is in good operating condition, and should have someone checking their home periodically to make sure heat is maintained. However, we don’t impose a “daily” checking requirement, which might not always make sense.

  • If having someone check on the heat is impractical, our customers can shut off the water, and drain the pipes and water containers, like a hot water tank. Our customers don’t need to shut off their indoor fire-suppression sprinkler system! That would leave them susceptible to fire loss, and could quite possibly be in violation of a bylaw or building code in their area*.

Going even further, we took steps to make sure that our customers are taken care of if they suffer an emergency and aren’t reasonably able to take one of the above two protective measures. If a Square One customer is unexpectedly away from their home to receive treatment for a medical emergency, our policy will continue to cover water damage due to freezing. We know that our customers’ health and safety is of the utmost importance, so we designed this portion of our policy to support them when emergencies get in the way of ordinary winter concerns.

We know how cold Canadian winters can be. When you’re lying on the beach, or undergoing emergency medical treatment, the last thing you need to worry about is complying with restrictive conditions on your home insurance policy.

Want to learn more? Visit our resource centres for hundreds of helpful articles created specifically for homeowners, condo owners, landlords, and tenants. Then, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

*Refer to the policy wording for exact details.


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