When Should You File an Insurance Claim?

aaron_image1Up here in the frozen tundra, we are exiting one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record. We currently have over 50″ of snow on the ground (almost 30″ more than the average!). With all this snow and cold has come quite a bit of damage from ice/snow. We've even needed to file a weather-related insurance claim related to ice dams. Ugh!

We hope you never have to use your insurance – but when you do – you may be wondering, “when should you submit a claim?” 

Dam! Another ice dam

Let me back up here and share how we needed to file another insurance claim in just under 3 years.

ice dam claimIn the upper Midwest, one of the worst winter-related worries that can affect homeowners is ice dams. Basically, an ice dam can form when the heat from your house escapes from your house and warms your roof, causing melting snow to run off the eaves. Now, when this water hits the eaves (which is generally unheated and very cold) ice begins to form around the edge of your roof.

This built-up of melting snow and freezing over and over again can result in an ice dam. Melting water hits these dams and has no where to go but back and up-under your shingles, and (sometimes) into your walls.

This year, the dams got so bad we started to see water in the house, running down a window pane. Eek! Both my wife and I suffered some PTSD remembering the last time we went through this. Thankfully, the damage won't be as bad as we encountered in '11. 

“Mr Insurance Man: We have a problem”

We almost immediately got on the phone with several people to get the snow/ice off the roof and then talked to our insurance agent to discuss options.

According to my agent, you should never immediately call your insurance company's 1-800 number. Often, they will file an immediate claim.

Instead, you should first discuss your issue with your insurance agent. They'll likely know your situation better and are have more tailored options for you.

So when should you file a claim?

Now, I'm not an insurance expert but I think that my experience having filed several claims in the past few years gives me some unwanted credibility about the matter.

Here's a few things to keep in mind before submitting that claim:

  • Not all claims are the same. Two of the claims we have made were weather-related incidences. Most insurance companies will treat these different than other claims and won't likely “penalize” you for it.
  • What is your deductible? Probably one of the most important things to consider is to find out what your current deductible is for each claim. Ours is $500. So, if we were to bring in a contractor and they found the damages to our house (related to the ice dam) less than $500 – it wouldn't make a lot of sense to file the claim.
  • Have you had any other claims recently? Knowing that we had several in the past few years gave us a lot of trepidation in filing again. In the state of Minnesota – insurance companies have the right to drop your coverage “if you have two or more claims [other than losses caused by natural causes, etc] in a consecutive 36 month period of time, your… policy may be non-renewed”. (Minnesota State Statute 65A.29)
  • And, still: According to my insurance agent, “Claims reported in MN can increase your rates even if nothing is paid out.  Supposedly any weather related claim filed in the State of MN will not result in a ratings surcharge.  But the statute does not limit any reduction of incident free credits you may have, only surcharges. Every insurance company has its own particular rating details. Some companies will never increase your rates when you file a claim, some will surcharge up to 40% for non-weather related claims.”

So, here are some questions to ask your agent when you speak to them about your incident:

  1. What effect will the filing of my claim have on my policy premiums?
  2. Do you think the potential repair cost will be less than the deductible?
  3. Will the filing of the claim expose me to potential cancellation of my policy?

Last thoughts

Before filing our first initial claim with our insurance company, I have to admit that I was a bit “gun-shy”. I had these fears that once we submitted, our rates would skyrocket and we wouldn't be renewed.

Of course, these turned out to be false. Even after a couple claims, we haven't noticed any sizable increase in our premiums and are still insured.

I think many folks believe the same thing I did. Obviously you don't want to be filing a claim after every incident but insurance is there for a reason and can be a great blessing when needed.

Have you ever had to file sizable claims with your insurance provider? What was your experience?

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  1. I filed two within six months. It went well I thought. One was for hail damage and the other for a frozen water piped burst. I did exactly as Aaron outlined. I called my agent before I filed. Both incident was “act of god,” so I am hoping an increase would not result because of this. The policy wouldn’t be renew until June. I did get a notice that the insurance company were reviewing my policy.

    • Oh wow. Yeah, somethings you just can’t help. I think (by law) they are required to send you a notice about “reviewing” you policy if so many claims in a short period of time. Hope it turns out okay for you.

  2. You may want to consider installing heat trace on your roof in those problem spots. It can be a little pricey but I’m sure you will recoup the costs by not having to file those insurance claims and pay your deductibles, and risk your rates going up. We have it on a bad spot on our roof and only turn it on when the ice and snow starts to build up, once it’s all gone we turn it off so the electricity it takes is minimal and sure does work great at keeping the roof clear. It’s also not that difficult to install yourself.

    • Hi Anita – that is a good idea too. But, it really only treats the symptom of the problem. We want to find out why we keep getting these bad boys :( There seems to be a bunch of heat loss coming from our unit into the attic.

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