Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) falls while putting up Christmas lights in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
No one’s planning a Clark Griswold Christmas vacation, but things get hectic come holiday time. We’re juggling travel plans, Christmas lists, holiday bake sales, and a whole lot of cooking.
With so much going on, home safety can easily go by the wayside, exposing us to potential holiday disaster scenarios — from burst pipes and burning beasts to Grinch-style burglaries.
Not to spoil your white Christmas, but are you covered for any of that? Here’s what our home-insurance experts have to say.
Did You Know? If Clark Griswold actually had to repair all the damage he and Cousin Eddie did to the house, he’d be looking at a $35,000 to $50,000 bill, all of it unclaimable (except for maybe the SWAT team invasion). Think his Christmas bonus would have covered that?
1. Holy Night, Silently Collapsing Roof
What you see: It’s been a white, white Christmas. Up on your roof, where you haven’t set foot in a while, the snow looks oh so pretty. A few days before Christmas, however, you notice the ceiling in your office sagging a bit. A day later you see a few beads of water forming. It looks like there’s a leak, but where?
What happened: There’s probably ice buried under the snow on your roof and it’s been building too. Ice dams happen when snow melts and refreezes at the edge of your roof. Over time, the bulky bergs can knock shingles out of position, letting water in. That seepage and stress can lead to roof and ceiling leaks, and even structural damage to your walls.
Am I covered? Yes, you should be covered. Most insurance policies will help you out if your roof has buckled under the strain of snow and ice, as long as you haven’t let the damage go for weeks or months.
How to avoid it: If your roof looks like a mini Swiss Alp, hire a professional to clear it off. (Don’t attempt this yourself or hire Chevy Chase.)
FYI: Like a lot of coverage in your home-insurance policy, roof insurance can get messy, which can be stressful for homeowners on the fence about repairs. (Roofs are expensive to fix or upgrade!) Check out the simplified version in our homeowners guide to roof coverage.
2. Uncle Fred Hits the Nog
What you see: You’re hosting the family Christmas party, and Uncle Fred is really having a good time. Fred’s so festive, his nose is glowing like the Rudolph in the Groenermeyers’ yard across the street. When the party’s over, you give Fred a great big hug and send him on his merry way.
What happened: Uncle Fred hit the eggnog a little too hard and ended up backing out of your driveway into the Groenermeyers’ mailbox, taking out their Rudolph ($74.60 at Walmart) and pre-lit Abominable Snowman ($207.99).
Am I covered? No, you’re not. Your liability insurance would have come to the rescue if, say, your terrier had bitten Uncle Fred on the leg or Uncle Fred missed a porch step, landed in the bushes, and threw out his back. That’s what it’s there for: to cover you if guests have accidents on your property. But insurance companies will never have your back for drunk driving, no matter how minor the damage.
How to avoid it: Call an Uber the next time Uncle Fred hits the nog.
Holiday Safety Tip: Drunk driving is no joke, and it’s more than just a home-insurance risk. Thirty-two Americans die at the hand of drunk drivers every day. That’s one death every 45 minutes1. Those numbers are concentrated around the holidays, so be a good host and help your family and friends stay safe. Call an Uber if your guests have had one too many — even if it’s just eggnog.
2. A 500-Watt Christmas
What you see: Christmas is coming and you’re so excited you get the Christmas decorations out a little early. It’s the usual setup: a huge blue spruce (artificial, but you can’t tell the difference from the window) and 10 strands of incandescent, heirloom bulbs strung end-to-end. When you’ve gotten all the lights up and the whole family is sitting on the couch with Nat King Cole crooning on the Google Nest and little Brandon’s electric train set whirring merrily in the background, you hit the switch.
Instead of 500 watts of yuletide glory, you see a quick flare followed by the stench of burnt latex. Also, little Brandon’s electric train stops working and Nat King Cole is no longer singing on the Nest.
What happened: You stuck too many plugs into the same electrical outlet and short-circuited it. Electricians calculate load capacity in amps. Appliances use watts. As a rule of thumb, your sockets can probably accommodate 15 to 20 amps. A 15- to 20-amp outlet shouldn’t handle more than 1,500 to 1,800 watts at one time.
Am I covered? Probably not. Electrical-surge damage is a gray area for insurance policies. Insurance providers sometimes cover it, but definitely not if you pulled a Clark Griswold.
How to avoid it: Replace those incandescent bulbs with some cool-burning, energy-efficient LEDs. Plug the Google Nest and train set into another outlet. And count your lucky stars that you blew the fuse when you were there watching and avoided a Christmas tree fire.
Holiday Safety Tip: Holiday Home Safety Tip: Never burn your Christmas tree in your fireplace when you’re done with it. Six percent of Christmas tree fires start that way. Evergreens are full of resin, which coats your chimney with a layer of flammable build-up when vaporized. That plaque is what starts chimney fires.
4. ’Twas the Night Before Christmas (and You’ve Got a Gaping Hole in Your Dining Room Wall)
What you see: You traded in a snow-bound Christmas in Minneapolis for a sunny week in Miami with the inlaws. When you get home, your dining room wall looks like a scene from Stranger Things, with a gooey brown hole in the center you think may be a portal to the Upside Down.
What happened: While you were sunbathing in Miami, your pipes froze and burst.
Am I covered? Did you set the thermostat to at least 50 degrees before you left the house? Are your pipes insulated against the harsh Minnesota winters? If yes, you’re probably covered — but only for the water damage. The pipes are on you, unfortunately.
How to avoid it: Always leave the heat on when you’re gone in the winter, and insulate your pipes. Insulated pipes not only keep hot water pipes from bursting, but your house will also keep more heat and fight off mildew better. When your water heater is running more efficiently, you’ll also prevent mineral build-up in your pipes.
Did You Know? Your home insurance covers water damage, but only in specific cases. What cases? You may need a lawyer to get to the bottom of that. Or you can try our updated homeowners guide to water damage. We’ve translated the technical language into real-life scenarios you can understand at a glance.
5. The Grinch Stole Your Christmas
What you see: You get back from visiting friends on Christmas Day to find your back door hanging off its hinges. In the living room, the Christmas tree is there, but everything else — electronics, presents, even your stockings — is gone.
What happened: While you were away celebrating the spirit of Christmas, some lowlife broke in and made off with your hard-earned property.
Am I covered? Yes, you are. Reimbursement for stolen personal property is a mainstay of homeowners insurance policies. Depending on your coverage, your insurance provider should cut you a check for the full value of your possessions at the time of loss or their depreciated value. The first type (replacement cost value, or RCV, coverage) costs more per month but covers you better after damage or loss. The second (actual cost value, or ACV, coverage) will give you lower monthly premiums but pay out less.
How to avoid it: Get yourself a home security system recommended by experts. If given the choice, no thief is going to mess with the house with the alarm. The best security systems also have 24/7 professional monitoring services with a pipeline to first responders, so if the Grinch gets inside your home, the police will be there before he has time to swipe the star off your Christmas tree.
FYI: Burglary and larceny always spike during the holidays. So does identity theft, which is more insidious and harder to extricate yourself from. If you want to close the doors to ID theft this Christmas (and shop in safety), consider putting one of these top-rated ID theft protection services in your family’s stockings.
You know how accidents work. You can go from merry Christmas to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in 20 seconds flat. So fire up that Christmas tree, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy that snowy roof. Just give some bandwidth to your home safety and security too.
A few simple precautions (and possibly some long overdue home upgrades) will go a long way toward ensuring those home security mistakes don’t blow up into holiday-ending fiascos at the worst possible time.
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