Canadian Underwriter

Halifax storm creates possibility of ice damming, collapses: RSA

March 23, 2015   by Jason Contant, Online Editor

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As Halifax continues to clean up from the storm that dumped more than 100 centimetres of snow on the city last week, Alex Walker, national director of claims relations with RSA Canada, is reminding policyholders about the potential for ice damming and structural collapses.

Snow clean-up continued on Monday (Photo: Metro Halifax)

The storm caused a temporary suspension of Halifax Transit bus service, all municipal offices, recreation facilities, including rinks and pools and customer service centres in the Halifax region last week.

In Halifax, weather conditions are improving, but clean up efforts continued on Monday. Celyeste Power, manager of media relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), reported that “we do not have an estimate for claims data at this point as the weather and claims requests are ongoing.” Walker added that as of Friday morning, “we had seen regular volume coming in from this,” but that “there definitely will be claims coming out of this.”

In an interview with Canadian Underwriter, Walker explained that as snow melts, the water doesn’t have any place to go. Water then back up along downspouts and rainspouts from the house or building and gets into the gutters.

“Then what happens is the water backs up underneath the snow that’s already packed on the roof,” Walker said. “If that freezes, that can lift shingles and roof tiles and fascia. Water can then get its way in when it thaws or melts again, and that can cause a lot of damage inside of the house,” he said. Walker added that ice damming is particularly perilous if snow is packed around the base of a house as well.

Related: Blizzard dumps more than 80 centimetres of snow on Halifax

Another peril is the potential for deck, shed or even roof collapses, Walker added. “So it’s important, wherever possible, to try to have the snow load eased,” he said. “We certainly are not advocating people climbing up on their roofs to clean snow off. We would advocate that if you are suspecting that you have got a lot of snow on your roof and that you might be a risk, that you hire an independent contractor or somebody who is a professional to get up on the roof and remove it for you.”

In some cases, snow may even build up around furnace and hot water exhausts, which can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside a building if the vents become packed with snow. And from a liability angle, winter conditions can also create a slip-and-fall hazard, Walker said.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada noted in a statement last week that home, auto and business insurers were on the ground responding to claims for storm-related damage caused by the snowfall in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador were also affected.

Related: Ice damming could lead to expensive water damage for homeowners

“The continued snowfall is taking a significant toll on families across the region,” Amanda Dean, vice president, Atlantic, for IBC, said at the time. “Insurers are working around the clock to respond to consumer inquiries and begin the claims process. We want to help people get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible.”

For events such as these, Walker suggested that consumers, whether personal or commercial, “talk to an independent insurance broker or agent to make sure that they do have coverage for those perils should [they] happen.”

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