Frozen pipes and your home insurance

Reviewed by Rena Novotny

In Canada, winter means lots of snow, ice, and freezing winds. It makes us dream of a winter vacation to some glorious hot spot!

One of the most significant dangers to your home during periods of freezing weather is frozen water pipes. Frozen pipes can burst, and cause thousands of dollars in water damage. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help prevent this.

Here’s our look at preventing frozen pipes, and protecting your home if you have to leave it alone during the winter:

Frozen pipe

How to prevent your pipes from freezing

Whether you’re at home all winter or taking a trip, you should take a few precautionary steps to protect your home’s water pipes from ice cold temperatures.

  • Install pipe insulation on any water pipes that run through uninsulated parts of your home, like attics or crawl spaces.
  • Seal up any cracks or gaps around your home through which cold air can flow from outside.
  • If your outdoor faucets have separate shutoff valves, keep them shut off and drained throughout the winter.
  • If the weather’s cold and you’re worried about pipes freezing, start a slow drip of water from your faucets to encourage constant water flow.
  • If you’re going to be away for more than a day or two, make sure you have someone coming by to check your home and ensure the heat stays on.

That last part is particularly important; the most destructive pipe freezing events happen while homeowners are away for extended periods. What’s more, many insurance policies actually require someone to monitor your home during the winter in order to have coverage for burst pipes.

Let’s talk more about that.

Does home insurance cover damage from frozen pipes?

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, causing thousands of dollars in damage. 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 stipulating that if you are away from your home for more than a few consecutive days during the winter, you either 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 any claims for water damage that result 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.

Don’t take the risk

Here’s a cautionary tale:

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, should have been shut off and drained since the homeowners were away for more than a few days.

Another example:

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 keep an eye on the house and pick up the mail — but because the neighbour didn’t actually enter the house every day, insurance coverage was denied for the water damage.

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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How does it work with Square One?

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.

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, stipulated by the policy wordings. 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.
  • 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.

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Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month,

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