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Are You Sure That Ice Dam Company is Insured? Really, Really Sure?

“We’re bonded and insured.”

You hear those words in ads every day. You’ve come to take them for granted. You may even assume that anyone who shows up to work on your house just is bonded and insured, because for them to do otherwise would be dishonest, unprofessional, and possibly illegal.

Here the wish is father to the thought.  Most ice dam removal companies do not carry the one type of insurance policy that can protect you.  

They get away with it because most homeowners either assume everyone’s insured properly, or they’re frighteningly laid-back on the question of companies’ insurance.  I know that because most people don’t even ask me about insurance.  (And most of the people who call my company are the ones who’ve done their homework.)

When they do ask about my company’s insurance policy, I say yes, and they say, “Okay.”  They almost never ask me for actual proof of insurance.  Now, it so happens I have a Rolls Royce of an insurance policy, and customers are in luck when they call me.

But that’s not the case with most other ice dam removal companies.  They claim to be insured.  That means either they lie to or mislead their customers, or they misunderstand their own insurance policy.

Inexperienced ice dam people may think they’re insured, but may in fact be under-insured or improperly insured – which is the same as having no insurance at all.  The consequences are the same if something goes wrong on your property.  Guess who pays?

What is the proper type of insurance for an ice dam removal company?

An ice dam company should carry an active General Liability policy. Also, depending on the state it operates in, it may also need to carry an active Workers’ Compensation policy.   (That’s the case in Minnesota, for instance.)

Each policy MUST list the business name the company uses for its ice dam removal services.  That is, you should see the ice dam professional’s ice-dam-related DBA (“doing business as”) on the policy. The DBA matters because the company may do different work in the summer from what they do in the winter.  That is the case with most ice dam removal companies.

Ron the Roofer or Gary the Gutter Guy carry (we hope) policies that cover roofing and gutter work – and all possible accidents therein.  But those policies usually won’t cover ice-dam-related misadventures.  Removing ice & snow from a roof is a completely different service, with different skills and risks involved, so it requires a special policy.

There is no way of knowing whether or not the policy is the proper one unless you see it with your own eyes, so ask to see the policy.  If you see the words “ice dam” anywhere on their insurance policy – including in their company name or DBA – you’re probably covered in the event of a disaster.  

There is nothing wrong with asking for proof of insurance before you invite someone to come and work on your home.  You’re just being a smart homeowner.  Your home is probably your single-biggest investment.  If they give you a hard time or won’t show you their policy to your satisfaction, politely tell them to take a hike.

What can happen if the ice dam removal company is improperly insured?

If someone gets injured – probably the oaf on your roof – you are open to a lawsuit.  And in today’s litigious atmosphere, it may just be a lawsuit big enough to wake Johnnie Cochran.  Well, maybe not quite that big, but it could be $250,000 or more.  You could lose everything.  If you have even more assets, then there’s even more at risk.  All because the idiot couldn’t or wouldn’t get enough insurance to cover his failures, and because you didn’t know until it was too late.

He may have had the best of intentions, but good intentions won’t pay for his 6-month stay at the Neck Brace Motel.

Based on my 20 years of removing ice dams, I would estimate that 75% of companies offering ice dam removal aren’t properly insured.

Again the majority of these companies are insured for something – just not for ice dam removal, and they don’t realize it.  When a claim comes in because Gary the Gutter Guy slipped and fell while steaming your roof, you can be virtually guaranteed that Gary’s insurance company will deny the claim.  If Gary can’t pay the several hundred thousand dollars in hospital bills, you’ll be getting a letter from Gary’s attorney.  Do your due diligence or you may find out the hard way that your chosen ice dam company is among the 75%.

Do you need to be listed on the policy?

I wouldn’t go so far as to request to be listed on their policy.  That’s just unnecessary, in my opinion.  For one thing, if you’re dealing with a professional ice dam removal company, they probably don’t have the time to request 40 certificates of insurance from their insurance company every day their customers have ice dams.

Just make sure that your ice dam removal company carries up-to-date insurance under the name of  his or hers ice-dam-related business name, and that it’s listed on the insurance certificate.  (For example, if their policy lists “Bob’s Ice Dam Removal,” Bob is most likely covered for ice dam removal.)

It’s possible to go too far.  If you ask an ice dam company to put you on the policy – as a certificate holder or additionally insured – a good company will probably may take a pass on doing business with you.  They’ll wonder whether you’re out to get them or to take advantage of them in some way.  For all they know, maybe you’ve got an old roof that you want replaced on someone else’s dime.

Do insist on proof that they’ve covered themselves.  Don’t insist they cover you, too, or the wise and experienced ice dam removal companies will turn you down.  Then you’ll be stuck with the out-of-work, improperly insured contractors who will never turn down your money.

When something goes wrong, whom should you call?

No need to call the ice dam company’s insurance company if something goes wrong.  Call the ice dam removal company instead.  You’ll just get the runaround if you try to deal with the insurance company, because you’re not the policyholder.  Established, reputable ice dam companies will work to make things right if they’ve made a mistake, and rarely will that involve their insurance company.

What about being bonded?

Bonds are nearly worthless in the ice dam removal industry.  There’s only one reason we’re bonded, and that’s because it’s easier to answer “yes” when 50% of our customers ask whether we’re “bonded and insured.”  In reality, a bond will only help an ice dam removal customer in one of two situations:

a. If we started the job and didn’t finish it.  There’s little chance of that, because any professional ice dam company charges hourly and doesn’t get paid until the job is complete.

b. If we physically stole something from your property and are found guilty in a court of law.  I realize some companies stoop that low, but I still can’t imagine stealing from a customer.  (If one of my Ice Dam Guys® so much as helped himself to a mint from a bowl of mints in your foyer, he’d be in for an Old Testament-style punishment from me, and would pay for a lifetime supply of mints for you.)  If you’re worried a service provider might steal from you,” I’d recommend you do a bit more homework about the company you choose to invite into your home.

Proper insurance is only one part of professional ice dam removal

Although you need to make sure your ice dam removal company’s insurance policy will cover you in a disaster, you don’t want it to come to that.  Ice dam removal should be uneventful.  See “How to Pick the Right Ice Dam Company” for more info on what to look for in a company.

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