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July 12, 2024

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Fire Safety and Insurance Tips During Extreme Winter Weather

Freezing winter temperatures are forecasted for much of Tennessee and beyond. As temperatures drop, the greater the risk to lives and property.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) and the State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) are sharing heating safety and insurance claim information to help consumers avoid home fires and know what to do in case of home or automobile damage as a result of the February winter storm system. To raise awareness of winter fire safety, TDCI Assistant Commissioner for Fire Prevention Gary Farley reminds consumers to “Put A Freeze On Winter Fires” in a blog post.



Heating Safety

  • Turn portable heaters (such as space heaters or kerosene heaters) off when you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Portable heaters need their space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away.
  • Never use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.
  • Only refuel heaters outdoors. Never refill a fuel-burning space heater while it is operating or still hot.
  • Make sure wood stoves are properly installed and at least three feet away from combustible materials. Ensure they have the proper floor support and adequate ventilation.
  • Use a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby carpets, furniture or other items that can catch fire.
  • If you utilize fuel-burning appliances, install and maintain a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.

Electrical Safety

  • If your home has sustained flood or water damage and you can safely get to the main breaker or fuse box, turn off the power.
  • Assume all wires on the ground are electrically charged. Have a licensed electrician check your home for damage.
  • Appliances that emit smoke or sparks should be repaired or replaced.
  • Never run cords under rugs or carpets where heat might build up or damage to a cord may go unnoticed.

Generator Safety

  • Never use a gas generator inside your home, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace or outside near a window, door or vent. A generator should only be used outdoors at least 15 feet away from buildings. It is dangerous to use a gas or kerosene heater inside a home or other building.

Additional Tips

  • Always use a flashlight – not a candle – for emergency lighting.
  • If the power goes out, make certain that all electrical appliances, such as stoves, electric space heaters and hair dryers, are in the OFF position.
  • If you have to leave your home make sure you have bottled water, a first-aid kit, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, non-perishable food items, blankets, clothing, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, personal hygiene supplies, a cell phone charger or solar charger and a small amount of cash as well as ATM and debit cards.
  • Be informed of local weather broadcasts. Have multiple ways to receive weather information and warnings, including some that don’t require electricity, like a weather radio.
  • Use working smoke alarms inside and outside every sleeping and living area in your home. Test the batteries in your alarms at least twice a year to ensure they are functioning properly. Need working smoke alarms? Contact your local fire department and ask if they participate in our “Get Alarmed, Tennessee!” program.



If Your Pipes Freeze:

  • Shut off the water immediately. Don’t attempt to thaw pipes without first turning off the main shut-off valve.
  • Thaw pipes with warm air. You can melt the frozen water in the pipe by warming air around it with a hair dryer or space heater. Be sure not to leave the space heater unattended.
  • Never attempt to thaw frozen pipes with a blow torch or other open flame.
  • Be careful turning water back on. Once pipes are thawed, slowly turn the water back on and double check for any additional cracks and leaks.

If You Have Damage To Your Home/Auto:

  • Contact your insurance agent or company as soon as possible. Determine what forms, documents, and data you will need to provide in order to process your claim.
  • Keep all receipts and damaged property for the adjuster to inspect. If possible, take photos or videos of the damage before making temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage. Do not make permanent repairs. An insurance company may deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before an adjuster inspects the damage.
  • Remember, most insurance companies will not pay for damage to an unoccupied house unless you prepared your house for the freeze. If you’re going to be away from your house and it might freeze, you must use reasonable care to heat the house or shut off the water supply and drain the water from plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems.

What to Do if Damage Occurs to Your Home

  • Call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information as soon as possible. Cooperate fully with the insurance company and ask what documents, forms and data you will need.
  • Take photographs/video of the damage.
  • Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (i.e., cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). Do not have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs.
  • Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs covered by your insurance policy.
  • If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses incurred while repairs are being made. Save all receipts to document these costs.

What Damage to Your Home is Covered?

Damage caused by wind, wind-driven rain, trees or other falling objects and the collapse of a structure due to weight of ice or snow are all covered under most standard homeowners policies. Frozen pipes as the result of extreme cold might not be covered if the damage is due to negligence such as failing to maintain an adequate temperature in the house when the ability to do so is there. Check your policy and call your insurance agent or company if you need clarification or have specific questions.

What Damage to Your Home is Not Covered?

The following events are typically not covered by the standard homeowners insurance policy: Interior water damage from a storm, when there is no damage to the roof or walls of your home; damage as the result of a flood; removal of fallen trees (if the trees do not land on and damage your home); food spoilage due to a power outage; and water damage from backed-up drains or sewers. Some insurers offer endorsements (i.e., additional protection that may be purchased) for certain coverages not covered under the standard homeowner policy. Check with your agent or company to determine your needs.

About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.