Winter Storm Damage? How to Get Cleaned Up Without Getting Cleaned Out

Photo (cc) by Diacritical

Winter weariness is turning to wariness as costly cleanups threaten to clean out our wallets.

Milder weather may replace wintry storms across much of the nation, but snow banks, leaky roofs and corroding cars can keep memories of Winter 2015 from melting away anytime soon.

As it wore on, winter buried cities from Massachusetts to Maine under 100 inches of snow. Storms stretched into Alabama and Georgia, and pipe-busting freezes caused havoc deep into the heart of Texas. Dozens died from heart attacks while shoveling snow, in car pileups and from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improperly used heaters.

Hundreds of roofs buckled.

“It just dropped down. … Then bang! Just this loud bang!” Jennifer Eller of Pepperell, Massachusetts, told WCVB-TV after her garage roof came down while she was in one of the two cars preparing to leave home. “And you could feel the whole car move. I physically ducked, thinking I could be squished here flat. And then it was over.” (The other car in the garage was crushed, but the one she was in suffered less damage and she was unhurt.)

On March 1, snow covered nearly two-thirds of the Lower 48 states, according to a National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) analysis. Snow was on the ground in 49 of the 50 states that day. By March 8, half of the Lower 48’s snow melted, leaving them only 30.1 percent covered, with the deepest snow remaining in New England, the northern Great Lakes and the Rockies.

As the snow recedes, winter’s damage becomes clearer.

“Everybody’s on standby for some pretty hefty losses,” Jerry Alderman, New England president of Marsh & McLennan insurance broker, told MassLive.com. The outfits removing the snow are “stretched pretty thin,” he said.

Winter storms caused an estimated $2.3 billion in insured losses in 2014, but the total isn’t expected to be quite so high when 2015 damage is tallied.

Take care with home repair

Standard homeowners policies cover wind-driven snow and rain damage, snow-weight collapses, burst pipes and ice dam damage and living expenses if your home too severely damaged to stay there, says the Insurance Information Institute. Flood insurance requires a separate policy.

“We urge homeowners to do their research when choosing a contractor to avoid unscrupulous individuals seeking to capitalize on this unprecedented winter weather and take advantage of vulnerable or uninformed homeowners,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said.

Unqualified or inexperienced contractors may cause undue damage to rooftops or gutters and run the risk of not being properly insured, she warned. Homeowners should also take photographs of damaged areas and keep records of all communications with insurance agents and adjusters.

icicles photo
Photo (cc) by Martin Cathrae

Here are more tips we’ve compiled from state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission, insurance carriers and others:

  • Make sure contractors are affiliated with a legitimate business and are insured.
  • Ask for references — names of satisfied customers who can talk about the business.
  • Ask a neighbor, friend or co-worker for the name of a business they have used, and how much they paid.
  • Be extra cautious if a contractor solicits business by telephone or by knocking on the door. In the aftermath of the recent storms, reputable contractors are extremely busy trying to keep up with demand for their services.
  • If possible, get estimates from more than one contractor and compare prices.
  • Obtain a written contract or estimate describing the exact work to be done and the price.
  • Be wary of a contractor who demands full payment up front. Reputable contractors often allow payment upon the completion of the job, or may require a portion of the fee upon signing the contract and the remainder when the job is done.
  • Pay with a credit card or check. If a contractor asks for a deposit or full payment in cash, stop. That’s a warning sign that something’s not right.
  • Don’t sign documents you don’t understand. Ask someone you trust, like a family member, to read them with you.

Inclement weather car care

winter storm damage photo
Photo (cc) by iRonInk

Accidents aside, the weather is taking its toll on cars, too.

“The good thing is the weight of the snow is not going to make that much of a difference to the car,” John Paul, AAA Southern New England spokesman told Boston.com. The vehicles are designed to carry hundreds of pounds of passengers and luggage. Also, snow-bank encased cars should pull through mostly OK.

Physical damage to a vehicle caused by heavy wind, flooding or fallen ice or tree limbs may be covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an automobile insurance policy.

The main areas to watch:

  • Brakes: Systems can start to rust and freeze up quickly. If brakes are badly rusted, they’ll likely screech and squeal and let the driver know, says AAA and others.
  • Finish: Road salt, slush and grime are especially hard on a car’s finish. Road-salt chemicals can corrode a car’s metal frame. Keeping cars washed and waxed helps prevent rust and paint damage.
  • Potholes: A hard impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel and bend or even break suspension components. Be sure your tires have enough tread and are properly inflated, and that struts and shock absorbers are in good condition. Potholes can throw your wheels out of alignment. Have new or unusual noises or vibrations that start after hitting a pothole inspected by a certified technician.
  • Insurance: Physical damage to a vehicle caused by heavy wind, flooding or fallen ice or tree limbs may be covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto policy.

Winter is not quite over yet. See our tips to prepare your car for emergencies here.

If we get a cold snap before the start of spring, remember these 10 ways for fight the freeze.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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