Canadian Underwriter

Top 3 ways Mother Nature can ruin your cottage

August 5, 2021   by Canadian Underwriter

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Water is often touted as “the new fire,” but not in cottage country, where fire still ranks as the Number 1 cause of loss.

“In personal lines, we have seen water become the new fire, or in some cases surpass fire, in terms of the leading cause of loss,” says Shawn Mckone, a senior manager with specialty claims at Aviva Canada. “With cottages, it’s actually clear that it’s still fire.”

Several different factors lead to cottage fires.

“One of the big factors is that there are typically no nearby fire departments [in cottage country],” Mckone says. “What we see is [as a result is] that there are not a lot of partial fires with cottages. When they get lit on fire, unfortunately, they tend to burn down.”

Another factor is the rustic setting that attracts people to the cottage in the first place. The very same landscape happens to offer a ready supply of fuel for fires.

“There are a lot of nearby trees there and some heavily wooded areas,” as Mckone explains. “In claims, we often see that the fire is linked to nearby trees, and then the flames and embers jump to the cottage.”

And so, keeping a cottage clear of flammable materials would be a good way for your clients to reduce the risk of their seasonal property going up in smoke.

What kind of materials are flammable?

Well, trees, obviously. Clients who have seasonal homes should make sure that dead, dry trees on the property are removed. It would also be wise to remove or at least prune tress that are growing right next to or leaning on the cottage. “It just makes it less likely that a fire that does occur to a nearby tree or trees, can then spread to the cottage,” said Mckone.

Other potentially combustible materials on the property include gardening supplies, firewood, and roof gutters filled with dry leaves and other dry debris. “If an ember lights up there [in an uncleared gutter], it can set those things on fire and burn a cottage as well,” said Mckone. He recommended that clients store flammable materials well away from the actual cottage itself.

Water may not be the new fire in cottage country, but it still ranks as the second-highest cause of loss, according to Mckone.

You might expect floods to result from living so close to lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks. Or from the rain that always seems to come down to spoil your evening outdoor barbecue. But what exacerbates the water losses is that people often aren’t at the cottage when the damage happens.

“The interesting thing about water losses is that, because of the nature of cottages — the fact that they are unoccupied for significant portions of the year — we do experience problems because of that,” said Mckone.

“Two areas where we see a lot of losses happen include frozen water lines and [pipe] systems in the winter, and we also see a lot of problems with roof leaks for a variety of reasons. It could be from wear-and-tear on the roof, ice damming, or wind damage.

“The problem is that, because cottages are unoccupied for certain parts of the year, water can be leaking for a very long period before someone discovers it, and that increases severity. You get a lot of mould, rot, deterioration, and problems with that.”

And so, clients closing up their cottages for the winter should remember to turn off the water supply and drain all of the pipes. They should also keep eavestroughs and downspouts clear, so that water doesn’t back up and leak. And, speaking of leaks, make sure the roof is in a good state of repair.

If the water doesn’t get to your roof, the wind certainly will. Wind is the third-highest cause of damage to cottages, Mckone says.

“When it comes to wind, we obviously see shingles being blown off the roofs; it’s very common everywhere,” he said. “But what stands out for cottages is that we see a lot more trees coming down. It’s because of the location of the cottages in these wooded areas.”

Falling trees don’t just damage cottages — they will crash into sheds and garages as well.

To prevent wind damage, it’s important to clear dead trees from the area. If the roof is getting older and needs to be replaced, Mckone says, don’t put that off. Your basic asphalt shingle roofs can be expected to last anywhere up to 25 years.

“When you are installing a roof, if you are in an area that’s relatively windy, wind-proofing is a good option to discuss with your roofing company,” says Mckone. “Certain installation techniques and materials can make your roof more secure.”


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