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By Brendel Hightower

RISMEDIA, Dec. 16, 2008-(MCT)-As youngsters ready their annual wish lists for Santa, homeowners should be preparing their own special lists-like a checklist of what to include in their home insurance policies.

Winter can be especially brutal on homes. Heavy snow and ice can cause damage. Frigid temperatures can freeze pipes. Strong winds can knock down tree branches and damage gutters and downspouts.

Frozen pipes are one of the biggest winter problems, said Kevin Thomason, zone catastrophe coordinator for State Farm Insurance.

“Frozen pipes are a biggie because it could be a situation that gets not too bad to real bad in a hurry,” Thomason said.

A one-eighth-inch split in a household supply line can leak up to 250 gallons of water an hour, destroying floors, furniture and personal property, he said. Ice dams — or ice buildup on roof eaves — are another major problem. Often, icicles on gutters are a warning sign of ice dams.

Insurance experts say most standard policies cover winter-related damage like ice dams and burst pipes, but homeowners shouldn’t assume they’re protected. Coverage varies by carrier, so homeowners must do their homework and review polices to make sure they have the right kind of coverage. Some might even find that they have coverage they don’t need.

In any case, being prepared for winter will reduce claims, and avoiding claims keeps premiums down. Here are a few things to consider:

– Check for exclusions: LeAnn Welsh, regional communications manager of Allstate Insurance, said homeowners need to check their policy for anything marked as an exclusion — a situation that would void coverage.

“Consumers need to be careful for any underlying conditions,” Welsh said. For example, if termites damaged a roof, then the roof collapses after a heavy snow, that coverage might be excluded if nothing had been done to get rid of the termites.

– Make sure extras are protected: Don’t forget about the pricey belongings because they might require additional coverage. Welsh said people who play a lot of winter sports and have expensive equipment should consider an endorsement. “A snowmobile needs a separate policy just like a car or boat,” Welsh said.

An endorsement also might set up an inflation guard that increases the amount of coverage to keep up with inflation, protection for a second home, or extended replacement cost coverage that pays extra money if home reconstruction costs run over.

– Don’t be cheap: If coverage is just for replacement cost or pays only actual cash value, the policy should be upgraded. In the event of a major loss, there is a good chance the policy will fall short of what’s needed to repair or rebuild.

Consider water and drain coverage: Homeowners who live in a floodplain should look at getting flood insurance. Coverage for drains might be a good idea, too, experts say. Thomason said sewers and drains can get overloaded during the winter months because of the combination of snow, ice and rain. The extra volume of water could cause problems for sewer and drain systems.

– Check on living arrangements: If a home is destroyed or needs repairs, the homeowner will need to live somewhere else during the rebuilding or repair. How much the insurance policy will pay out to cover these temporary living costs depends on the level of coverage. Homeowners also need to check to see how long they can use this coverage.

Copyright © 2008, Detroit Free Press
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.