The change of season from Summer to Fall is the perfect time to check your home and property for seasonal liabilities.
By Michael D. Brown
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Many homeowners assume that if something bad were to happen to their property, their homeowners’ insurance will automatically cover the damage. This isn’t always the case. Your insurance coverage can be rescinded if you don’t take the necessary steps to protect your home from the potential damage, or your claim can be denied, due to a lack of proper home maintenance.
As we enter the fall season, it’s important to consider the following hazards and risk management steps to mitigate instances that could lead to potential claims. Be sure to speak with your insurance agent or broker about your coverage and additional things you can do.
1. Clean up falling leaves
After you’re done admiring the beautiful colors of the leaves that are falling from the trees, you need to carefully clear them from around your property.
More important than raking the leaves off the lawn is keeping your driveway and walkway clear. When the leaves get wet from dew or rain, they can be quite slippery and a liability risk. The mail carrier, package delivery driver or a visitor could fall and be injured, which could give rise to an insurance claim or even a lawsuit.
Call an arborist to look for rotting or damaged trees. You don’t want to risk have dead branches or an uprooted tree crashing through your house.
2. Close up swimming pools
If you have a backyard pool, remember that you can be liable if someone is injured while using the pool — whether they have your permission or not. Your first step should be to review your homeowners’ policy with your insurance agent to confirm your coverage and to understand any exclusions or necessary endorsements. Coverage is also likely to differ if the pool is above ground or in-ground.
You’ll need to perform some basic maintenance to keep the pool in good condition and minimize damage from wear and tear. Start by cleaning the pool thoroughly and remove all debris from the water. If you leave the debris, it will sink to the bottom and stain the surface, which would be difficult to clean when you’re ready to use the pool again.
Next, clean the filter before closing up your pool for the winter, because it will keep the filter operating properly. You also should balance the pH level in the water to keep it sanitized throughout the winter months.
Finally, be sure to cover the pool, which provides further protection against the elements and keeps the water at the proper level. It also keeps people out of the water during the fall and winter months when others are less likely to be around in case of an accident.
3. Prevent water damage
Fall often means heavy rains that can cause water damage to property. Have your roof inspected for missing shingles, and then have the roof repaired to avoid possible leaks.
Clean out rain gutters and downspouts to help water move away from your building. Check the natural drainage patterns around your home. If necessary, you may need to consider a French drain system, rain barrels or downspout extensions to push water away from your foundation or other areas.
Be sure to inspect and insulate doors and windows. Heavy winds from a Nor’easter can blow the rain into your house through windows or doors that are not insulated correctly.
Check on water pipes to make sure they’re not exposed to freezing temperatures. You may need to add insulation to the pipes themselves as well as maintaining the area at 55 degrees.
Last but not least, clear dead leaves and brush from around the discharge area of downspouts and any drains. Even though your local municipality is responsible for clearing storm drains, you should check the drains to be sure water can flow freely and not back up onto your property or into your house.
4. Prevent fires
There are many ways that home fires start, but with a few simple steps, you can minimize the risk.
Use the change from Daylight Saving Time last weekend to inspect smoke detectors and change batteries. You should also inspect your fire extinguishers and be sure they’re accessible and fully charged.
Clean the clothes dryer lint trap, the exhaust vent, and space under and behind the dryer.
Have your heating system cleaned and inspected annually by a professional and change your furnace filter monthly. If you have fireplaces, have the professionals clean and inspect them and the chimneys as well.
Clean out your garage as you put away patio furniture because many house fires start in the garage. People tend to let oily rags accumulate, increasing fire risk. Store the gasoline you used for the lawnmower in the summer and will use it for the snowblower in the winter in a proper safe container. Secure any other volatile compounds, such as paint, caulk or firewood as well.
5. Walk around your property
Walk around your fence line to look for damaged or loose pickets, as well as posts and rails that may be failing. Have any weak areas repaired sooner rather than later as they can become damaged during a severe windstorm or become flying objects.
Look at your driveway to see if it has settled and developed deep ruts. Some of those ruts may create a fall risk for family and visitors.
Although the weather may not be as severe as a blizzard in winter or a hurricane in summer, Fall presents its own liability risks. A little prevention goes a long way to minimizing damage and the insurance claims that are sure to follow.
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