How warming temperatures are putting properties at risk

In the aftermath of a long, cold winter, crowned by a polar vortex that contributed to upward of $1.5 billion in insured losses, property owners have likely been delighted by the warmer temperatures that have been spreading across the country as spring approaches. However, although the sunshine may be encouraging, it could also be putting countless properties at risk.

Melting, refreezing of ice can cause damage to roofs

Many homes and commercial buildings throughout the Northeast, Midwest and other areas that saw heavy precipitation this winter remain coated with a layer of snow and ice. With temperatures rising during the day and dropping at night, water can seep into small crevices as the snow melts and then refreeze when the sun sets, expanding and creating larger gaps. As the process repeats itself, day by day, it can lead to serious damage.

Certain roofs may end up at risk of collapsing altogether. Mark Paquette, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, explained how this can happen in a recent article. He noted that pitched roof tops that are in good condition are typically able to shed snow effectively, but older, flatter roofs can allow a heavy layer to accumulate.

"As snow sits on roofs, especially flat ones, it compacts and becomes more dense," Paquette said, adding that additional snowfall or cold rain can add to the weight and increase the risk of structural damage or collapse. His article called attention to a recent incident in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in which the roof of the local WGAL Channel 8 television studio buckled under the weight of a heavy coat of ice and snow.

Those with slanted roofs do not totally escape the risks associated with this season. Homeowners still need to be concerned about the creation of "ice dams" in their gutters. As water runs down the roof, it can freeze in the gutter, creating a buildup of ice, which can push shingles up, allow water to leak inside and affect the structural integrity of the roof.

Floods and mudslides pose a risk in some areas

Many properties may also have been affected by flooding in recent weeks, with melting snow and ice seeping into basements and ground floors. In most cases, this should not cause extensive structural damage, but there is still a risk. Larger-scale flooding is also a risk in certain places, particularly low-elevation areas near rivers or streams.

Mudslides have also been an issue in certain areas. Southern California may not get much snow or ice, but the region was recently affected by a series of mudslides brought on by rainfall. Like much of the Southwest, that part of the state has been affected by drought and severe wildfires in recent years. These conditions have destroyed a lot of the vegetation that holds the surface of hills and mountains together. When rain began falling in substantial quantities, the conditions were perfect for producing mudslides large enough to damage properties and put lives at risk.

Within recent weeks, more than 1,000 homes in the Los Angeles area were temporarily evacuated in response to the threat posed by mudslides. Heavy snowfall also recently caused an avalanche in Montana, demonstrating that there is a wide range of risks facing property owners and insurance companies as the winter gradually winds down.

In light of the risks that the winter's weather has left with us, it is essential for insured properties to be covered for the appropriate value. From the smallest home to the largest office building, no structure is immune to the forces of nature, and insurers and property owners need to be able to rely on accurate property valuations to ensure that they have adequate policies in place.