With snow thaw, homeowners advised to prepare for possible leaks

With winter weather appearing to finally loosen its grip on Connecticut and warmer temperatures approaching, homeowners should watch for indoor leaking as the deep snow pack on roofs and surrounding building foundations begins to melt.

The state’s consumer protection and insurance agencies are encouraging consumers to proactively conduct research now for qualified, registered home repair contractors who can be called upon in the event that problems occur, and to also review their homeowners’ policy in the event they need to make a claim.

“Leaks may occur, and as snow melts, residents should take the time to review their policies now so they understand their options in the event of a claim later,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “As always, do research on the companies you hire to do work on your home.”

Do the homework now

Jonathan A. Harris, state consumer protection commissioner, said property owners should do their homework now.

“Don’t wait until there’s a problem and then react,” Harris said. “Steer clear of any contractors who go door-to-door, call, post notices on bulletin boards or utility poles, or advertise online unless you check them out thoroughly first.”

Anne Melissa Dowling, the state’s acting insurance commissioner, said ice dams and leaking roofs may result in some homeowners making a claim for the first time. “Consumers should take the time to discuss their coverage with their agent or company to understand their policy protections,” Dowling said.

Homeowner tips

To do now:

— Visually inspect your roof, both from walking around outside and also looking in the attic if accessible.

— Look for signs of water or leaks on ceilings and walls, and in lower levels of the home.

— Make sure that the ground around your gutter downspouts are cleared of snow.

If repairs are needed:

— If it looks like you need roof repairs, find a reputable and registered roofer. They will likely be busy, but working with someone with roof expertise is worth the possible wait.

— Make sure everyone you consider is registered with the state Department of Consumer Protection. Contractors are required by law to print their Connecticut registration number on their contracts, business cards, on their vehicles, and in all advertising.

— Verify a contractor’s home improvement registration online at https://www.elicense.ct.gov by selecting “Lookup a License.”  Consumers may also call 800-842-2649 to ask for confirmation that a contractor is registered.

— Before hiring, get references and call those references to gauge the contractor’s dependability and effectiveness.

— Be sure you hire the right type of worker for the job. Gutter and roof repair require different skills and experience than, for example, interior finishing work.

— The company or individual you hire should carry their own liability insurance and must be able to produce an insurance certificate as proof. One million dollars of coverage is standard for a commercial liability policy, and the amount is displayed on the contractor’s insurance certificate. The insurance certificate should include the name of the insurance company or agent; call to verify the coverage and to confirm that the policy is active.

—  If a company has employees doing the work, the company should provide evidence of worker’s compensation insurance, which the employer is required to carry. If the company has subcontractors working on your home, you may ask the subcontractors to sign lien waivers, which will protect you if they don’t get paid.

— To determine if an insurance agent or agency is licensed in Connecticut, visit the Connecticut Insurance Department webpage at http://www.cidverifylicense.ct.gov/CLIC/VerifyLicense.aspx

— Steer clear of home improvement salesmen who offer to handle any insurance claim or who make a promise that there won’t be a deductible on your claim.

— Before the work starts, get a detailed written contract with all the terms and conditions, start date, end date and costs. If changes are needed later, insist that they also be written into the contract. Both the consumer and contractor must sign and date the contract, and the consumer should get a completed copy for safekeeping.

— Do not pay for work in advance. Your contract should allow you to make an upfront payment of just enough to get the job started, a payment as work proceeds, and final payment after the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Insurance coverage considerations:

— Standard homeowner’s insurance covers damage from burst pipes or ice dams. However, there is generally a requirement that the homeowner has taken reasonable steps to prevent losses through proper roof upkeep and maintenance of pipes and drains, including keeping the house warm to prevent freezing pipes.

— Damage caused by flooding is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance policies. Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up would be covered by flood insurance, which is provided by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, and a few private insurers. Flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters.

If you have to make an insurance claim:

— Call your insurance company’s 24-hour claims phone number as soon as possible; provide policy number and other relevant information and documents.

— Take photographs/video of the damage.

— Make repairs necessary to prevent further damage, but do not make permanent repairs until your insurance company inspects the damage.

— Save all receipts from temporary repairs.

— Keep a diary of all conversations, emails and other correspondence with the company.

Consumers who have home improvement questions or concerns are encouraged to contact the Department of Consumer Protection at dcp.frauds@ct.gov or at 800-842-2649.

Insurance questions can be directed to state officials at cid.ca@ct.gov or 800-203-3447.