With winter weather approaching—and some parts of Canada having already received heavy snowfalls—attention will soon turn to how the weather affects our properties and what is and isn't covered under a standard home insurance policy. Falling trees in particular can cause a snowball effect of damages. If your tree smashed windows, for example, snow or water could get in and cause flooding or additional damage to your home. This is why it's important to deal with a fallen tree immediately.
We answer your top tree insurance questions to help you in the event the forthcoming winter weather damages your trees, home or vehicle.
Will my home insurance cover damage to my home caused by a fallen tree?
Any damage caused to your property as a result of a fallen tree is typically covered under your home insurance policy.
However, there are some variables at play and much of this coverage depends on the condition of your tree and how properly it has been maintained. For example, if the tree was dead before it fell the damage might not be covered as it could be considered a "hazard" within your home insurance policy. Dead trees are considered liabilities and if you did not take steps to remove a dead tree you may be found negligent. You may also be found liable if you did not take steps to prevent your tree from becoming a hazard such as failing to trim branches or remove dead ones.
Will my home insurance cover damage to my neighbour's home caused by a fallen tree?
If a tree fell on your property but damaged your neighbour's house, they would likely file a claim through their home insurance, who would likely in turn seek compensation from your home insurance provider.
Will my auto insurance cover damage to my vehicle caused by a fallen tree?
If the tree fell on your vehicle and damaged it, this would be covered under your auto insurance policy as long as you have comprehensive or all-perils coverage.
A tree fell on my property, but did not damage anything. Now what?
If the tree fell without damaging private property, it is unlikely your insurance will provide any coverage. In some cases, your city may remove the tree if it fell on public property such as roads or power lines, but generally any trees on private property are the responsibility of the homeowner. Arranging for the removal of the tree as well as any debris is also up to the homeowner.
Will my insurance cover the cost of removing my tree?
Home insurance policies may cover the cost of removing a tree, but there is usually a cap of $500 to $1,000 per tree and that is only if the tree caused damage.
Before you remove a tree, however, cities generally recommend hiring a private arborist to review the extent of the damage to see if removal can be avoided. Toronto, for example, has tree preservation by-laws in place as well as regulations on trees that may prevent you from removing a tree without a permit. If the tree poses an imminent hazard you are required to contact the Urban Forestry department, and if you are unable to reach Urban Forestry but the tree needs to be removed immediately, you must document the damage with photographs and provide a written record of your removal and the actions you took.
Permits to remove a tree may only be issued on the condition you replace it.
Will my insurance cover the cost of replacing my tree?
This depends on your policy, but probably not. Standard policies replace trees that were damaged as a result of perils including fire and lightning, but most exclude trees damaged by water and wind. Cities also don't typically provide funding for replacing trees on private property.
What can be done to protect a home from a fallen tree?
- Ensure your tree is properly pruned, tree branches are trimmed, and dead branches have been removed. Consulting a professional will ensure your pruning does not cause more damage to the tree
- Ensure your home can withstand the force of harsh wind and rainstorms by inspecting the roof, gutters and fences and keeping them properly maintained
- Look for warning signs regarding the health of your tree. If you notice your tree has mushrooms growing on it, the trunk is cracked or hollowed, or limbs that hang over a power line, phone an arborist to seek recommendation
What should I do and who should I call first?
- Make sure everyone is okay and if possible get out of the house
- Call emergency services so they can make sure your house is safe
- Call your insurer to report the incident and to discuss how to proceed
- Make arrangements to have contractors come repair your home and prevent additional damage
- If you are unable to live in the home, secure doors and windows and put any valuables in storage
A tree falling on your house can be a frightening inconvenience, but you can rest assured knowing that you're likely protected under your home insurance policy.