texas winter storm

NBC 5 Responds: What Consumers Should Know During Winter Storms

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Throughout NBC 5’s coverage this week, we’ve highlighted how this week’s winter storm is different, in many ways, from the one that left so many Texans without power last February.

Still, hard-learned lessons are fresh on consumers’ minds as another freeze settles into North Texas.

Read on for answers to key questions for consumers.

Are we going to see big electric bills?

After the February 2021 winter storm, consumers showed NBC 5 Responds big electric bills. One consumer faced a bill of more than $17,000 for a few days of electricity usage.

Many consumers with extreme bills were on retail electric plans that relied on wholesale prices.

Since last year, the legislature banned those types of plans for residential and small commercial customers.

Some customers may be on plans with variable rates or plans with some portion that can fluctuate with the market, but consumers shouldn’t be on one-to-one wholesale plans.

The Texas Public Utility Commission recommends fixed-rate plans for residential electric customers.

If you’re on a fixed rate, you can make sure you’re still under contract. Some plans can shift customers to month-to-month plans with variable rates if contracts have lapsed.

Every winter storm is different, but there are some things that do not change when it comes to filing a claim after damage from a winter storm.

What if my pipes freeze?

If you have damage because your pipes froze, burst and flooded your home, save the evidence. If a plumber cuts out the section of the broken pipe, hang onto it.

Your policy may require you to allow the insurance company to inspect it. It also shows the insurance company the damage was not related to a pre-existing condition.

While you already know to take photos and videos to document the damage, you’ll want to save the rug or furniture that got wet. If you can, place them in a garage.

“A sofa, if it was damaged around the bottom, insurance companies sometimes will get a restoration company to make it new again,” said Eddie Bermea, an insurance agent with State Farm. “Sometimes customers threw it away; I thought it was ruined. That's not always the case.”

“Keep that flooring, keep that carpet. If you do fix a pipe, keep that portion of the pipe that you may replace,” said Rich Johnson with the Insurance Council of Texas. “Anything that you can do to hold on, to protect yourself and really show what that damage was will be a lot easier on you in the long run.”

With ice in the forecast, “ice dams” can cause roof leaks.

“Maybe it rained before it freezes, then it thaws a little bit when the sun comes out and that water actually backs up underneath your shingles and then at night it'll freeze again,” explains Johnson. “That can cause damage to the surface of your roof, but also start to leak and get under your roof and into your home.”

If you have roof damage, make emergency repairs to cover any leaks and save receipts.

If you have to file a claim, save all communication with your insurance company.

If the communication happens by phone, follow up with an email highlighting what you discussed. This helps you create a record for yourself.

What about food losses if there’s a power outage?

While checking on customers during last year’s winter storm, Bermea said some didn’t realize they had coverage for things like spoiled food.

“The food in the refrigerator was lost due to the power being out,” said Bermea. “Call your agent and have these discussions with them. Don't just assume that what happened to you isn't insured.”

Read your policy or ask if you have coverage for food spoilage.

“Many policies will actually cover it without a deductible. So, that's something that you could just make a claim for. They'll reimburse you and it's usually a set amount, $200 - $500,” said Johnson.

A note about home inventories

A simple step consumers can take any time is to take a home inventory.

It can be as simple as walking around your home with your phone, taking videos as you open closets and drawers. This shows the condition of your home and helps you inventory what you have. Pay special attention to valuables and serial numbers.

Upload the videos to the cloud or email them to yourself so you don’t lose your inventory if something happens to your phone and keep your inventory updated.

The Texas Department of Insurance has this checklist to help get you started.

There are free apps online like this one and your insurance company may offer one too.

NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and a resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.

Contact Us