Winter brings images of rosy cheeks and kids on toboggans. Unfortunately, it also brings severe winter storms just itching to do serious damage to your wash operations. Unstable weather conditions create the most common and costly claims for wash owners. Not only do we have the deep freeze of northern states and the Midwest, in recent years we have also experienced severe storms and even tornados across the southwest.
The overall percentage of recent winter-related claims has increased at a higher rate than previous decades, likely due to the severity of storms and increase in the number of people with insuranceprotection. It is estimated that over 35 percent of claims come from wintery wind, hail, and weather-related water damage.
The best time to prepare for these harsh winter months is before they are upon us. This process should begin with prevention methods and thorough review of your insurance program. There are several types of claims that appear more frequently than others during these months. Let’s walk through these and take a look at the most common causes of claims in winter months and what you can do to protect wash operations.
COMMON WINTER CLAIMS
1. Wind/Hail Damage
One of the most common claims filed is due to wind/hail damage. The Insurance Information Institute reports that events involving wind, hail, or flood accounted for $29.7 billion in insured catastrophe losses in 2016 dollars from 1996 to 2016 (not including payouts from the National Flood Insurance
Program). In 2018 alone there were 4,610 major hail storms. Damage caused by wind and hail cost State Farm and its policyholders more than $2.7 billion in 2018, according to a March 2019 analysis by the insurer. Colorado was the state with the most wind/hail losses, followed by Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, and Missouri.
Prepare for Wind/Hail Damage:
Inspect your roof
• Examine your building’s roof for damage after storms, or annually in regions that are less prone to storms. Replace any worn materials or other weak areas to ensure that leaks don’t occur during future storms. Check flashing (a type of sheet metal used for waterproofing) and gutters, and clean out any debris that may be blocking drainage. Remove branches or leaves that may have accumulated during prior storms.
Install impact-resistant windows
• Impact-resistant glass has been specially treated to help prevent shattering and to provide an extra barrier to safeguard your building from severe weather. While it’s still possible for it to break, it’s less likely to shatter completely, offering better protection from flying glass and debris during a hurricane or hailstorm.
Secure equipment and valuables
• If you live in an area prone to strong winds or hail, keep an eye on the weather forecast so that you can protect your equipment before a storm hits. Ensure any high-value items are in a safe and secure area, stored up high and away from windows. Any outdoor equipment, including kiosks, should be securely anchored so it’s not turned into a projectile during a storm.
Keep your employees safe
• In the event of a storm, safety is of the utmost concern. Stay away from windows and take shelter in the safest part of your property. If your building doesn’t have a designated storm shelter, have employees take shelter in an area devoid of windows, such as a lavatory or break room. It is not the time to be taking “selfies” with a tornado in the background!
• Prepare an emergency plan ahead of time and communicate it with employees, so they’ll know what to expect. At least three times per year, practice an emergency drill if possible, so that everyone will be prepared if weather conditions are threatening your safety.
Protect your business with adequate wind and hail insurance coverage. AThe average claim for snow and ice damage exceeds $15,000.destructive storm can hit anywhere, but certain areas of the country are more likely to experience windstorms — a fact that may be reflected in your business’s insurance coverage. Wind and hail insurance claims are covered through commercial property insurance, which can help you pay to repair or replace damaged property, including equipment, supplies, and structures.
If you’re in an area with a high risk of windstorms, review your policy language carefully with your agent. Pay special attention to deductibles and endorsements that specifically name wind/hail changes. These endorsements change the language of your policy for wind/hail events.
2. Snow and Ice Damage
Snow and ice look pretty, but it can be so heavy that it can severely damage your wash. If the roof of your wash has satellite dishes, solar panels, or other items the additional weight of ice and snow may just be that straw that breaks the camel’s back. The average claim for snow and ice damage exceeds $15,000. Snow heavier than 12”, or 4” of ice, can crush your roof or cause falling tree branches. Water can freeze and clog gutter systems, creating “ice dams” that prevent proper runoff. This can cause a water buildup that can seep into your roof and ceiling.
• Prevent ice dams. Seal any gaps that allow warm air to leak into the attic. Keep your attic space ventilated. Insulate your heating system so heat doesn’t escape through the ceiling.
• Get a roof rake to help get rid of heavy snow after major storms.
• Inspect your roof before the season for any weak areas that need repair.
• Obtain an engineering analysis to determine the weight load capacity of your roof prior to installing any equipment.
3. Slips and Falls
Moreover, snow and ice can cause liability concerns on your property. An icy walkway or driveway could cause slips and falls, for which you will be liable. Even if the person injured on your property wasn’t invited, they could still sue you if they were injured after an icy slip on your property. This same liability applies if they are hit by a falling icicle, dead tree branch, and other winter concerns.
• Shovel all driveways and walkways after a storm.
• Apply commercial-grade salt to help melt the ice faster.
Fires are also more common in the winter months due to the dry air and increase of furnace and heat-blower usage. The national average for fire and smoke damage is $9,815. Avoid costly fire claims with just a few precautions:
• Check that all heat sources are working properly.
• Eliminate the use of extension cords wherever possible.
• When using portable heat blowers make sure that circuits are not being overloaded.
• Do not leave high-volume blowers plugged in overnight.
• Remove all combustible chemicals and items near heat sources.
THE BOTTOM LINE
You can’t prevent a winter storm, but you can mitigate the risk to your operations. Start with a complete review with your commercial insurance agent. Have them explain any endorsements contained in your policy that may alter coverage or deductibles based on specific weather events (wind, hail, snow, ice, etc.)
Now go slay a dragon!
Dan Tharp, CIC, RWCS, is licensed in all states (except Alaska & Hawaii) and is the vice president of business insurance lines for Pearl Insurance. Dan has been assisting business owners protect their operations, customers and employees for over 25 years. For questions regarding this article or any other insurance matter he can be reached at (800) 447-4982, via e-mail at email@example.com, or visit pearlinsurance.com/automotive