Icicles hanging off a snowy roof.

Prepare Your Fraternal Properties for Winter Weather

Tim Regan
Tim Regan
Assistant Vice President, Claims - Fraternal

The 2022 holiday season was a challenging time for the property insurance program administered by Holmes Murphy’s Fraternal Practice which covers around 2,200 fraternal properties around the country. Why? Winter Storm Elliott.

The Opposite of a Winter Wonderland

Winter Storm Elliott was a historic extratropical cyclone that fueled severe winter storm conditions with blizzards, high winds, snowfall, and record frigid temperatures affecting the United States and Canada. On December 24, 2022, wind chill alerts impacted 110 million people in 36 states. December 25 of that year became one of the coldest Christmases in decades. Though the storm began to weaken after Christmas, 250,000 homes and businesses were powerless on December 26.

The swift drop in temperatures, combined with frigid winds, caused pipes to burst even in states that are accustomed to winter freezes, such as New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

For properties in the fraternal program, students were home for winter break and properties were largely empty. Unoccupied buildings meant that the heat was turned down and detection of burst pipes was delayed. Even if property managers followed our recommendation of daily walk-throughs, a pipe could burst right after the inspection, leaving almost a full day of flowing water.

Overall, estimated damage from Winter Storm Elliott reached nearly $5.4 billion with freeze claims increasing by 428 percent. The Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice program saw 78 freeze claims totaling $9 million in damages — the average claim was over $100,000.

What factors led to such large claims? Some of the common issues included:

  • Pipes burst in attics — Burst pipes in the attic led to greater water damage as water poured down onto lower floors. A three-story fraternity house with a basement could see damage throughout the entire property.
  • Warming weather didn’t help — In many cases, damage did not occur until the weather warmed up and the frozen pipes melted.
  • Home for the holidays — The properties were unoccupied over the winter break, with damage detection delayed.
  • Unprepared sprinklers — Sprinkled properties saw the greatest damage with insufficient insulation of sprinkler pipes adding to the damage.

Protect Your Fraternal Property From Winter Peril

The Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice regularly communicates prevention practices to clients in the FPMA program.

Identify Risks

When it comes to winter weather woes, we recommend identifying the following risks:

  • Windows and doors that don’t close or function properly.
  • Inadequately insulated facilities where interior areas have better heating than those along the outside walls.
  • Lack of maintenance on heating systems or boilers.
  • Running out of fuel or the furnace pilot light blowing out.
  • Turning off the heat to save money.
  • Frozen pipes creating breaks in the plumbing system, causing catastrophic water damage when the water thaws.
  • No oversight of the property, resulting in damage found later rather than sooner.

Proactive Protection Steps for Winter

Identifying risks is only part of the equation. It’s just as important to be proactive about protecting properties before cold weather challenges your infrastructure.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Remove hoses from outside faucets and drain lawn sprinkler systems.
  • Insulate pipes in unheated and drafty areas.
  • Keep the heat on. Set the thermostat at or above 60 degrees during the winter months.
  • Conduct daily walkthroughs throughout the house over extended breaks. Make sure the person doing the walk though knows the emergency contacts and how to turn the water off.
  • Check all windows and doors to ensure they are closed tightly.
  • Hire a professional property management company to help maintain and secure the property.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel for the winter months.
  • Consider installing a water detection/heat monitoring system.
  • Open the indoor faucets slightly to allow water to trickle. Moving water does not freeze as easily.
  • Leave the doors to cabinets that contain water lines open; this will allow heat to enter that area.
  • Call your heating contractor immediately if there is a problem with the furnace and take immediate action to prevent further damage.

Protecting Your Fraternal Property Is Our Purpose

Our claims team worked diligently through the 2022 holiday season, responding to the barrage of claims and supporting our clients during a stressful time.

One benefit of our fraternal program is our partnership with ServiceMaster, providing a dedicated point of contact for participants in the FPMA program. Clients are guaranteed that a real person will answer the dedicated phone line, and the opportunity for a priority response to a loss is provided.

We also offer discounts for the installation of leak detection systems. Though detection systems and best practices to protect your property aren’t always effective against record-breaking weather phenomena like Winter Storm Elliott, these tools can still make a critical difference when a crisis strikes.

Winter is coming (any Games of Thrones fans out there?), and we’re here to help protect your fraternal properties. If you want to learn more about the Holmes Murphy Fraternal Practice, reach out to start a conversation today!

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