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Homes hit hard when hail freezes over

By Jay MacDonald · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Posted: 10 am ET

Racquetball anyone? A large hailstone about 2.36 inches in diameter (Photo courtesy NOAA)

Hail is the Rodney Dangerfield of home insurance hazards: It gets no respect.

On the scream-o-meter, it barely moves the needle compared to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. It’s rarely deadly, and its hit-and-run nature usually eludes TV crews, leaving only home video or snapshots of hailstones sent in by viewers to the evening news as evidence that Big Ice Daddy passed through town.

But there are two groups of people that don’t take hail lightly: those who’ve witnessed its wrath firsthand and their insurance agents.

State Farm says that among its 25 highest claim payouts ever, eight involved significant damage caused by hail. The company's fifth-largest payout, a whopping $245 million, went to cover 68,000 claims from a hailstorm that hit Fort Worth, Texas, in 1992. The only single catastrophic events to top that on State Farm’s books were hurricanes Andrew and Hugo, the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles and the 1991 wildfires in Oakland, Calif.

Hail not only wrecks havoc on a home’s roof, but in hail-prone areas of the Midwest and Great Plains, it brings its icy wrecking crew through routinely, usually in the summer. State Farm says in some areas, hail-struck homes have been reshingled two and three times in 10 years.

Weather geek break: According to the National Science Extremes Committee (who knew?), the largest hailstone in the U.S. was a seven-incher nearly the size of a soccer ball that fell in Nebraska in June 2003. Colorado leads the nation in destructive hail, with the most storms with hail larger than 1.5 inches.

Since insurance companies can’t change the weather, they hope to cut their hail-related losses by encouraging their customers to upgrade to impact-resistant roofing. The Institute for Business and Home Safety, or IBHS, and Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, established a testing standard (UL2218) that rates roofing materials on a scale of 1 to 4 based on their resistance to various sizes of hail.

The State of Texas took the longhorn by the horns in 1998 and ordered home insurance companies to discount premiums by up to 46 percent for policyholders who replace an old roof with an impact-resistant model. State Farm and other insurers offer discounts for roof upgrades to customers throughout the Midwest and even hail-prone Canadian provinces.

Unfortunately, it can be expensive to upgrade to a Class 4 impact rating; since most home insurance policies only pay to replace a roof with similar materials, it would be up to the homeowner to pay the difference.

Still, depending on your location and the length of time you plan to live in your house, the upgrade could more than pay for itself in reduced premiums. Check with your agent to see how much an impact-resistant roof might shave off your premium. If you’re shopping for home insurance, you can compare insurance rates at InsureMe.com, a Bankrate company.

Have you had a brush with Big Ice Daddy? Were you pleased with your insurance settlement? And would you upgrade to lower your home insurance premium?

Follow Jay MacDonald on Twitter.

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