If a tree falls in St. Albert, almost everyone hears it. Recent storms were accompanied by the sounds of sirens and the next day the swish swish of brooms sweeping up debris and glass was overpowered by the roar of chainsaws biting through decades’ old bark.
Even if your own property was not affected, the seeming increase in severe storms and the nearby sounds of neighbourhood distress should serve as a warning. Check your insurance policy to see what might be covered in case a tree falls through your own roof.
“Prepare before anything bad happens. What type of coverage do you have? Review your existing policy with your insurance representative. There are many options available and there is no one policy that fits everyone. Do the research,” said Rob de Pruis, director of consumer and industry relations for the Western region of Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Most home insurance policies cover the costs of water damage caused by flying debris such as branches or hail.
“If water enters the home through a hole caused by a tree falling in a storm or by flying debris, typically it is covered under your home insurance policy,” de Pruis said.
But while such damage caused by the puncturing of a home’s exterior is likely covered, water that seeps through the foundation or a basement window may not be covered.
“Overland flood coverage is optional. That option just started after the Calgary floods in 2013,” de Pruis said.
The ownership of the tree itself may make a difference to insurance coverage. If the tree is a boulevard tree, the municipality will be responsible. If it is on your own property, your home owner policy will pay.
“If a branch breaks and falls on a power line and causes a fire, your home insurance would respond, unless negligence is involved. If you knew the tree was rotten, and had been requested to remove branches, you might not be insured,” de Pruis said.
A home owner policy does not cover life and disability insurance. Injuries and even death caused by weird storms are covered under disability insurance policies, and damage to vehicles would be covered under comprehensive automobile insurance.
“Your vehicle may or may not be covered depending if you have comprehensive or all-perils coverage. That is optional insurance and again, check your policy to determine if you would be insured,” said de Pruis, as he also stressed that homeowners need to be sure of how much their deductible costs might be.
“If you have $1,000 deductible, then anything up to that $1,000 you must pay. The insurance pays costs over the deductible limit,” he said.
Food spoilage caused by power failure may be covered so if you lose a freezer full of meat, check with your insurance agent to see if such a loss is included in your policy.
While no one can eliminate the shock and despair of sudden and severe damage to their home by a storm, there are things that can be done to prepare for emergencies, de Pruis advised.
“Have an emergency preparedness plan. Have a supply kit with provisions for at least 72 hours. Consider anchoring outdoor items like garbage cans and patio furniture and prepare a detailed home inventory,” he said, referencing at the same time, the Fort McMurray fire.
“People had nothing left but they were in shock. When you are in shock, it’s difficult to remember everything. If you asked me how many pairs of pants I have in the closet right now, I couldn’t tell you. Use your cellphone, take photos of everything and then make another copy and put it in a safe place like at a friend’s house or in a safety deposit box,” de Pruis said.
De Pruis has taken his own advice and said it only took about 30 minutes to photograph his own home’s contents.
“Thirty minutes isn’t much time to protect yourself. I just went around with my phone and opened drawers and took photos. I’ve handled tens of thousands of claims, and I can tell you incidents like fires, like storms happen unexpectedly, but they do happen to ordinary people.”