As temperatures rise after the winter storm that swept through Central Texas, homeowners out surveying damage to their property may consider filing a claim with their insurance provider.

The buildup of ice along tree branches, power lines and roads has caused harm to people’s homes and businesses. In Williamson County, more than 200 residents have filed reports with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is assessing the scope of damages that have occurred as a result of the storm. Submitting a report to the state, though, is not a substitute for reporting damage to insurance agencies.

Robert Hilton, Farmers Insurance agent in Georgetown, said it’s important for people to speak with their agents and determine the cost of damages before they file a claim. What someone’s insurance will cover is also dependent on their policy.

“If it damages coverage A, which is the dwelling, or if it causes damage to your coverage B, which is personal property, then you may have coverage on your policy for two things: the damage that it caused and then the cost to remove the debris after the claim,” Hilton said.

Insurance will not cover the cost of debris removal if no damage is done to a person’s property. For example, if a tree limb falls in the middle of a yard, there is no covered cause of loss associated with it, because the homeowner’s dwelling or personal property were not damaged. The loss of trees, shrubs and other plants are also not covered by insurance.

“So really what we’re looking at is if the tree falls on the roof and it damages a couple of shingles,” Hilton said. “Then you might have a little bit of money to repair the shingles, and then you might have a little bit of money, or cost involved, in removing and hauling off the tree limb.”

Any coverage for cause of loss, such as a tree limb falling and hitting a house, will be subject to the homeowner’s deductible, which can vary for this type of clause. The most common deductibles are typically 1% of a home’s value, Hilton said.

The cost of damages or removal of debris could be less than the homeowner's deductible. This is why Hilton encourages clients to find an estimate for the cost of repairs first, because filling a claim that results in no payout could have a negative effect on someone’s policy.

“Right now, in particular, we’re going through a tough underwriting cycle in the insurance industry in Texas,” Hilton said. “We’ve had a large number of catastrophes that have hit all over Texas. So if you think of wind, hail, hurricanes, and then you throw on a 100-year ice storm last year, all of those things have caused a high number of losses.”

As a result, the insurance industry is unprofitable, Hilton said. When that happens, carriers then have to raise rates and restrict underwriting—the process for assessing the amount of risk insurers take on—so they can recover from those losses.

Hilton also warns homeowners of potential bad actors. He said when disasters occur, it’s common for renovators and repairmen to reach out proactively in an attempt to value the cost of damage and prompt homeowners to file an insurance claim.

“In these times when catastrophes strike, you have people that go through subdivisions and say, ‘Gosh you need a new roof now,’” he said. “They know they only have to do that a certain number of times before they get an active claim filed and then they get to replace the roof, and that’s how they make their money. So I would say just get advice from a trusted source and talk to your agent before blindly filing a claim.”