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Home insurance coverage during absences and vacations

If the last 20 months has had a catchphrase, it might be “the time of living differently.” So many aspects of our lives have changed in the name of public health. If there is one aspect that especially changed for British Columbians, that would be the way we travel.  But still, many of us found new ways to vacate close to home. Those of us with summer vacation properties in and around BC may have spent a little more time there than they normally would. Or if you are new to buying a vacation property so you can travel back and forth, now is the time to understand home insurance coverage during absences.

There’s still an undetermined stretch of road ahead of us, but with increased vaccination levels, borders opening and more flight options,  we can finally venture a bit farther; whether it be a ski vacation, a quick trip across the US border or – finally – a trip to Hawaii, we still need to prepare our full-time homes and our seasonal properties for potential risks. We may be vacationing differently than we normally would, but when it comes to home insurance coverage during absences, the wording of your home insurance policy hasn’t changed a bit.

Frozen or bursting pipes

Home insurance and condo insurance policyholders should be reminded that loss and damage won’t be covered if your pipes freeze and subsequently burst when it’s caused by freezing during the usual heating season, within a heated portion of your dwelling if you have been away from your premises for more than seven consecutive days. This includes the freezing of any part of the plumbing, heating, sprinkler, air conditioning system, or domestic appliance.

However, you will still be insured if you had taken either of the following precautions:

  • Arranged for a competent person to enter your dwelling each day you were away, commencing with the first full day of absence, to ensure that heating was being maintained;
  • If your heating system is connected by a monitored heating alarm to a station providing 24-hour service,
  • If you had shut off the water supply and had drained all the pipes and appliances.
  • Of course, there are other preventative measures that will reduce the risk of loss or damage to your property during your absence:
  • Basements are very prone to flooding, so store your valuable items and any hazardous materials in water-tight containers, and elevate them at least one foot off the floor.
  • Before leaving, unplug all electronics (TVs stereos, computers, modems, small appliances) as they are all extremely vulnerable to damage in the event of a power surge.
  • Should your personal, home computer be destroyed by a covered peril and you’ve lost personal records, you will be covered for replacement of those records.
  • Home-based business owners should take note: if you store business records on your personal computer, the coverage doesn’t apply.

Those who have swimming pools, etc, should know; loss and damage caused by continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water or steam from within a hot tub, whirlpool, or swimming pool are not covered.

Wild animals and insect infestations

If a family of raccoons, bears, or squirrels take over your vacation home or primary residence causing loss and damage, you won’t be covered. Other wildlife invaders include birds, vermin, skunks, rodents, and insects. There are a couple of exceptions to the rule: resulting damage caused by fire, and loss or damage to building glass caused by birds will be covered. recommends several winterizing tips for “critter control” that should be initiated any time of the year at your seasonal property and primary residence:

  • Arranged for a competent person to enter your dwelling each day you were away, commencing with the first full day of absence, to ensure that heating was being maintained;
  • Routinely caulk inspection around pipes, dryer vents, gas lines and check other openings for drafts. An infrared camera will help identify areas that might be losing heat (attracting mice) that can be sealed.
  • Shut off water to any outdoor water spigots because leaks will attract pests.
  • Check all structures’ siding for any gaps (mice only need up to 1/4 inch to find a way in)
  • Many new cars are a target for rodents. If you are leaving vehicles un attended for long periods of time, you may need to consider how to make it less attractive for them to eat through your wires. Consumer reports has some good rodent proofing tips. 

Domestic fuel tanks

Loss or damage caused directly to property by the sudden and accidental escape or overflow of domestic fuel from your fixed tanks or supply pipes will be covered. There will be no coverage for loss or damage to sewers; to a system, tank, or appliance from which the fuel oil escaped; If caused by continuous or repeated seepage or leakage, or loss or damage occurring while the dwelling is under construction or vacant, even if you were given permission for construction or vacancy.

Domestic fuel tanks are becoming more obsolete, but they still exist. Proper above ground fuel tank maintenance includes:

  • Routinely inspect the outside of your tank for punctures and rust, particularly where legs are welded to the tank. Call a professional if you see oil stains or weeping around welds.
  • Keep the tank full over the summer to reduce condensation inside metal tanks which can cause corrosion.
  • Only use new oil in the tank.
  • Make sure the tank is secured in place
  • Have your furnace serviced or inspected, annually.

Part-time vacation home

Covid-19 is most likely responsible for recent increases in vacation home sales in British Columbia and all across Canada, ushering in a new crop of first-time, seasonal homeowners. Rural homes, cabins, and cottages are being scooped up by city folk looking for more space away from crowded cities. Insuring your recreational property is a little different than your primary resident insurance coverage because chances are you’ll only be occupying it part-time or less. Unless you have a property manager routinely checking up on your seasonal home, damage may not be detected right away, often making it more severe. This is why recreational property insurance provides coverage for named perils only (fire, explosion, smoke damage).

If the seasonal property doesn’t have a municipal or private sewage treatment system connection, it will probably have a septic system managing your property’s sewage. Loss and damage caused by the backing up, escape or overflow of water from a sewer, sump or septic tank, retention tank, French drain or water leader will not be covered.

All-season vacation home

The work-from-home trend and reliable tech connections could make the possibility of setting up shop in the country cabin or lakeside cottage on a more permanent basis very appealing. If that’s the case, the property will need to undergo some upgrades and maintenance for year-round use. Economical Insurance recommends the following winterizing options:

  • A heating system that’s up to the task may involve installing a furnace and ducts, or a ductless heat pump, or an in-floor heating system. Before you choose a heat source, you should contact your broker to find out how it might affect your insurance.
  • Installing double-paned windows and draft proofing doors to keep out the cold and save energy.
  • All-season Insulation will keep things cozy, and a vapour barrier will prevent condensation within the walls, reducing the risk of mould and rot; two risks not covered by insurance.
  • Electrical and plumbing upgrades including properly insulated pipes on the “warm side” of the wall for uninterrupted running water and mitigating pipe freeze.

You’ll need to consult with your Reliance Insurance Advisor prior to renovations; they will ensure any changes to the dwelling will be coverable, as well as proper insurance coverage during the construction phase.

It’s essential for homeowners to take routine property maintenance seriously for both primary residences and recreational property. Your insurance coverage is depending on it.

Resources for Home insurance coverage during absences:

Reliance Insurance for homes, condos, recreation properties
Vacation properties see spike in demand
Steps to home flood protection
Cabin Life
Economical Insurance cottage winterizing
Home heating oil tanks

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