Insurers prepare for a possible record in ice dam damage claims

An ice dam overwhelms the gutters of a south Minneapolis home.
An ice dam overwhelms the gutters of a south Minneapolis home on Feb. 26, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

As ice dams weigh thick and heavy on many roofs, insurers say Minnesota homeowners are checking out how much protection their insurance policies provide for water and ice damage. Meanwhile, insurers are bracing for what might be the worst year ever for ice dam claims in the state.

"It's been quite a while since we've had an ice dam problem like we have this year," said John Griep, a State Farm agent with 46 years in the business.

His territory includes lots of older homes in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland, Cathedral Hill and Highland Park neighborhoods. Older homes tend to lack insulation and leak warm air that steadily melts snow on a roof. The water runs to the edges and freezes, forming ever-growing layers.

Griep said he hasn't received many calls so far from customers who are ready to file claims. But he said many homeowners are thinking about what damage ice dams could cause inside their homes.

"We're getting a lot of calls, asking about coverage and how the process works," Griep said.

Improper insulation in a roof may cause ice dams.
Improper insulation in a roof may cause ice dams.
William Lager | MPR News

The good news is that water and other damage from ice dams are covered by insurance, as are problems caused by the weight of snow and ice on a roof. Insurance does not cover the cost of removing ice dams, which is considered a maintenance duty and the homeowner's responsibility.

Mark Kulda, a spokesperson for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, said the association is fielding lots of questions about what policies cover. He expects this could be a record year for snow-related insurance claims.

"Back in the late 1990s, we had another year like this, and we had about $50 million in ice dam claims alone. And this year is stacking up to be even worse than that year," Kulda said.

Insurers say that claims for ice dam damage, typically damp insulation, stained walls or ceilings, are generally only a few thousand dollars each.

How much of the damage is covered by insurance depends on a homeowner's deductible. Those deductibles are usually around $1,000 or more. That's what a homeowner will pay out of pocket.

Jon Krog, a St. Paul insurance agent, said homeowners should try to minimize damage if they can. That could include raking snow from the edge of a roof or hiring a contractor to steam away an ice dam.

"Job one is to remove them, if possible, before damage occurs," Krog said.

Many homeowners will dodge the damage that the icy demons can bring. For one thing, most newer homes were constructed with a broad ice and water barrier around the perimeter of the roof.

Jake Weber inspects a clogged tip for his steam sprayer.
Jake Weber inspected a clogged tip for his steam sprayer while removing an ice dam from the roof of a St. Paul home in February.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

But those who've made past ice dam claims may not see compensation this time around if they didn't take action.

"There's a possibility that your insurance company will not cover the damage. They would argue that you had not properly maintained your property," said Ross Corson, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

Dwight Denisen, a property claims field manager for American Family Insurance, said ice dam claims have been trickling in so far, but he expects a steady flow soon.

"As it warms up, this will be, I think, the weekend where they'll really start to show up," Denisen said.

Temperatures are expected to hit the mid-30s this weekend.