Just because the weather is getting cooler does not mean that you should be any less vigilant about the safety of your home.
“With the change of seasons, we typically witness a host of new property claims,” says Matt Wolf, Director of Partnerships at SimpliSafe. “This is especially true during the fall when many homeowners have yet to safeguard their homes for colder weather.”
“Moving from summer bliss to autumnal weather should come with a checklist of necessary maintenance and repairs for homeowners,” says John Romito, a licensed real estate agent and founder of Heart & Home Real Estate in Oregon.
To best prepare for this fall’s seasonal threats, we spoke to home experts throughout the entire U.S. to see how they are getting ready for the cooler weather.
[ Read: The Best Homeowners Insurance Companies ]
What Are Common Fall Weather Hazards to My Home?
“Fall is great as the leaves change color, but the weather can create challenges to homeowners,” warns Luke Smith, real estate professional and founder of “We Buy Property In Kentucky”.
As temperatures grow even colder, Smith advises homeowners to remain vigilant. “In many areas of the country, fall can bring short-notice freezes that catch homeowners off guard. These can cause a variety of damages to homes with varying degrees of insurance coverage.”
According to the experts, these are some of the top fall weather hazards to your home.
Melanie Musson, a home insurance expert, warns you not to forget the little things. “Leaves can cause trouble,” she says simply. “They can clog your gutter. They can block drainage from your roof. They can even cause slipping hazards on your sidewalk.”
However, as Musson reiterated, insurance usually has guest injuries covered. “If someone slips on leaves outside your home and breaks their wrist, your home insurance will almost always cover that. “
Christopher O’Rourke, Vice President of Claims at Mercury Insurance, expands. “If a mail carrier, delivery driver or trick-or-treater slips and falls on wet leaves on your property, your homeowners insurance might provide coverage for their injuries if you carry medical payments to others’ coverage,” he says. “Personal liability insurance provides financial protection, up to your policy’s limit, if you’re found liable for the injury and are sued for medical expenses.”
Flood & Water Damage
Fall is a busy time for Wolf and his colleagues at Simplisafe. “More than 25 percent of customer claims are related to unanticipated water leaks, which are common this type of year,” he says. “From gutters clogged by newly fallen leaves, to damage from the hurricanes that storm through the end of November, leaks can arise and cause extreme damage if left untreated,” Wolf warns.
“Homeowners in hurricane-prone areas need flood insurance since standard homeowners insurance policies exclude flooding,” advises Young Alfred’s Christiansen. “They can get flood insurance through the NFIP or through a private carrier. There is a 14-60 day waiting period for flood insurance to kick in after purchasing it, so homeowners need to be on top of this early in the season.”
Adds Virginia Hammill, a Senior Insurance Analyst, “Home insurance tends to cover sudden and accidental water damage, like a burst pipe, but typically denies coverage if the policyholder failed to perform regular maintenance, like cleaning out the gutters.”
That includes roof leaks.
“Roof leaks are one of the most common home insurance claims,” says Musson. “If your roof starts leaking because you haven’t maintained your gutters and they’re clogged with leaves, you may run into issues with your home insurance company because the problem happened because of neglect on the homeowner’s part.”
Windstorms and hurricanes
Storm insurance, especially hurricane protection, should not be neglected for some parts of the country.
Stacey A. Giulianti is the co-founder & Chief Legal Officer of Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, where hurricanes are common each year. He tells us, “In some parts of the country, hurricanes and tropical storms remain a threat well into Autumn. The Atlantic Hurricane Season lasts until November 30, and many storms occur during the later portion of the season.
However, your individual coverage may vary. “Not all policies include windstorm coverage; make sure to review your policy and contact your agent or carrier to confirm,” advises Giulianti.
As CEO of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc., Thomas Peter is a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) and an HVAC, Mold and Facility Hygiene Specialist. “The predominant weather hazards in fall are typically windstorm-related, brought on by the end of the hurricane season in the south and the incoming winter in the northern regions,” he explains.
Christiansen describes some of the destruction he has seen at Young Alfred. “Strong winds and flooding can wreak havoc on homes. Broken windows, fallen trees, flying debris, and obviously flooding are extremely damaging to a home. Water in a home damages everything, and mold begins to develop within 24 hours.”
He adds, “Many homeowners are unaware that they might need a special wind and hail policy to cover strong windstorms, or they might have a separate deductible for wind and hailstorms. High-tornado-prone areas often exclude strong winds, so these extra add-ons are important.”
Smith agrees, based on his experience with Kentucky real estate. “The quick temperature changes can cause windstorms with great force. In the state of Kentucky, if a tree falls on your house, many insurance plans do not cover this. You would need extra coverage or an estimate/quote in regards to the tree as to not be a negligent owner.”
If you have large trees near your home, Smith recommends getting an annual estimate just to be safe.
Even as the air grows cooler in some places, others are set ablaze.
“Wildfire season runs from July through October, with September and October typically being the most vulnerable months,” says Christiansen. “A new phenomenon, firenados, or fire tornados, […] is changing from a novelty to a growing common hazard. Again, homeowners insurance often excludes fire damage, especially in wildfire zones in California and other states.”
Even if you don’t live in a wildfire zone, you could unintentionally bring risk of fire into your home yourself, says Hamill. “Colder weather means most homeowners turn up the heat, and that can increase their fire risk, she says, “especially if they burn leaves, light up an outdoor fire pit or haven’t inspected their heating system.”
“Most standard home policies cover fire damage, although things can get a little dicey if they didn’t mention their fire pit when they first purchased the policy,” she warns.
How to Safeguard Your Home from Fall Hazards
As temperatures grow even colder, Peter advises homeowners to remain vigilant. “In many areas of the country, fall can bring short-notice freezes that catch homeowners off guard. These can cause a variety of damages to homes with varying degrees of insurance coverage.”
We spoke to national insurance experts to compile a checklist for your fall home preparations.
Check your home’s structure
“The primary consideration as we move into colder weather should be broken or loose shingles, and soft or sunken areas, that indicate a structural weakness,” says Romito. “As wind and rain hammer the roof throughout the season, these red flags issues can become emergencies very quickly. Check under the roof in the attic for signs of dry rot, mold growth or water damage, and deal with any issues promptly.”
It’s especially important because you could be on the hook for damages, says Peter. “Water damage from leaking windows, chimneys, or vent pipe flashing may not be covered by insurance due to lack of maintenance, aging or wear and tear.”
Myles Trempe, Independent Insurance Agent with Ohio’s Wallace & Turner Insurance, also prioritizes the Structural foundation of your home for fall preparations. “Repair caulk around doors and windows that may be showing deterioration,” he advises.
Disconnect hoses and turn off outdoor water
“The temperature drops in autumn, and if you don’t disconnect your hoses and turn off the water to your outdoor spigot, you may run into a flooding problem due to a frozen pipe,” says Musson. “Burst pipes are usually covered by home insurance, but save yourself the hassle by preventing the pipe from bursting.”
“Pipes can freeze in colder late fall days, leading to bursts and costly repairs. Most policies cover the property damage repairs, but will likely exclude the repair to the underlying plumbing problems,” says Peter, based on the cold weather damages he has seen at Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc.
Clean your gutters
O’Rourke says, “Fall weather differs, depending on where you live in the country, but if you’re in an area with frequent rainfall during spring and summer, and with deciduous trees where the change in season causes their leaves to fall, one way you can be proactive about potential hazards is to clean your gutters.”
With all their colorful splendor, falling leaves can create a significant hazard. “Gutters can collect debris from fallen leaves, twigs and pine needles over time, which cause blockages that direct water into the home,” O’Rourke adds. “This buildup, if left untreated, allows mold and mildew to develop, which can slowly decay a home’s exterior or roof.”
That could have significant effects on your home insurance. “Preventable damage like mold or mildew that develops and rots a home’s exterior isn’t covered by homeowners insurance, so it’s important to routinely clean out gutters —even if you have gutter guards installed, they don’t completely protect against debris building up eventually,” explains O’Rourke.
Clean chimneys and schedule service for your furnace
“ Furnaces should be serviced prior to the start of the heating season,” says Peter. “ Have chimneys inspected and cleaned before firing them up for the cool fall nights.”
“Keep fire extinguishers accessible, charged and ready for use,” adds Trempe. “Test all smoke detectors monthly and change the battery annually or as needed.”
Consider new technology.
Wolf recommends newer technology that can serve as an extra set of eyes on your property. “ With smart water sensors and professional monitoring, consumers can detect — and hopefully, prevent — such issues before they become major insurance claims.”
Ensure proper ventilation and insulation.
Says Peter, “In colder temperatures, there can be moisture condensation in attics if there is inadequate insulation and ventilation. This often leaves to mold buildup that will require remediation. Insurance companies do not cover claims related to condensation.”
Check your coverage.
Christiansen explains, “Most homeowners are unaware that most flood policies do not cover basements, below-grade spaces. Below-grade areas include rooms with 4 walls below the ground level. That includes traditional basements, sunken living rooms, the portions of a split-level home that is below ground level, and crawl spaces.”
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Trempe recommends you talk to your home insurance agent. “It is important to have a consultation with a local insurance agent to discuss potential fall risks,” he says. “It is also important to be aware of any exclusions your policy might have. For example, most standard homeowners policies will cover damage caused by hurricanes except for flood damage. Flood insurance is a separate policy that would need to be purchased if you have a greater exposure for flood.”
It’s solid advice as fall ushers in a new buffet of seasonal risks.
Photo by Ariel Skelly / GettyImages