A home in Brooklyn, N.Y., got colder and colder even as the owners turned up the heat, while a house in Paducah, Ky., had an inch of water in four rooms. They were both victims of water pipes that cracked in the deep freeze that has much of the nation in its icy grip.
America's largest insurance company, State Farm, says it has had so many claims for frozen pipes—28,000 in the Jan. 4-9 period of extreme cold—that it declared the situation a "catastrophe," allowing it to bring in more adjusters to handle the overload. It said the payout for such claims can be as high as $15,000.
The American Insurance Association says 22 percent of all claims on home owner's policies—1 in 5—are for cold weather damage, and its member companies pay out around $1.4 billion per year.
"We anticipate a large spike in frozen pipe claims," said Peter Foley, the AIA's vice president for claims. "In Washington, D.C., some of my colleagues have already had them in their own homes."
Foley told NBC News that the problem with broken pipes is that very often you don't notice them until the weather warms up and the ice thaws.
"The thing is, we are getting extreme cold temperatures in parts of the country where houses are not built to withstand it," said Foley, whose own house in New Hampshire has water pipes under the floorboards, rather than running along exposed exterior walls.
Ilene Sacco, a homeowner in Brooklyn, can count herself lucky, even though she had to call out the plumber after she and her husband noticed is was getting a little bit cold, even when they turned up the radiators.
"Two pipes froze in the garage and one in the baseboard down the wall," she said. "The one in the garage actually cracked ... they had to cut out a piece and replace it."
What saved her from more expensive damage was the fact that it stayed so cold outside. "There had been a chunk of ice in there. If it had melted, the water would have been all over the place."
As it was, Sacco had to pay $2,500, and said she intends to make a claim on her home owner's insurance.
Tim Kopischke has already turned in a claim this week after a water pipe froze and then burst while he was away from his home in Paducah, Ky.
"Four rooms filled with about an inch of water all the way through," he told WPSD in Paducah.
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"It took a 14-gallon shop vac, dozens of towels, and several hours to get the standing water out," said Kopischke. "Never had frozen pipe problems or any type of problem before, so it's a first for me in this house for sure."
Plumbers have been having a field day. Peter Padmore of PP Cousin Plumber Mechanical Service, in Brooklyn, said he has been busy ever since the snow and frigid weather struck after Christmas.
"The most recent home that we've serviced due to the cold weather had broken pipes everywhere. We had to break the wall open, break down the bathroom wall; basically the whole house was frozen with no water," he said.
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