Veteran Fighting Insurance Co. after Water Destroys Property

December 20, 2013 Updated Dec 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM EDT

By edreilly

December 20, 2013 Updated Dec 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM EDT

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) When Leon Martin Jr. bought an income property on Victoria Avenue in Buffalo, he thought it would provide him with money during his retirement years.

But the only thing the home is providing to the 79-year old Korean War veteran is a lot of headaches.

The problems started in March 2013 when Martin had to evict a tenant for lack of payment.

"She owed me close to $4,000," said Mr. Martin.

A few days after the eviction, Martin went to check on the property only to find that a water leak in the upstairs bathroom destroyed the first floor kitchen area, warped wood paneling, ruined new carpeting, and caused extensive damage to the basement.

If the shock of the damage wasn't enough, the Buffalo man was then stunned to learn that his insurance company, State Farm, was denying the claim on the grounds that the house was not kept properly heated.

"Why am I paying you every year for insurance when you don't honor your contract?," added a frustrated Leon Martin.

Martin now plans to file a complaint with the New York State Department of Financial Services.

State Farm tells Eyewitness that they stand by their decision, and while unable to provide specific details about Leon Martin's claim, the insurance company did provide information for homeowners concerning cold weather and water pipes:

Before The Cold

Remember the three central causes of frozen pipes? Quick drops in temperature, poor insulation, and thermostats set too low. You can prepare by protecting your home during the warmer months.

Here's how:
-Insulate pipes in your home's crawl spaces and attic, even if you live in a climate where freezing is uncommon.

-Exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember: The more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.

-Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved by an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and only for the use intended (exterior or interior).

-Closely follow all manufacturers installation and operation instructions.

-Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes, and use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.

-Before winter hits, disconnect garden hoses and, if possible, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.

When The Mercury Drops

Even if you've taken the right preventative steps, extreme weather conditions can still harm your pipes. Here are a few more steps you can take:

-A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.

-Keep your thermostat set at the same temperature during both day and night. You might be in the habit of turning down the heat when you're asleep, but further drops in the temperature - more common overnight - could catch you off guard and freeze your pipes.

-Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

Before You Leave

Travelling in the winter months might be good for the soul, but don't forget to think about your pipes before you leave. What can you do?

-Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F (12°C).

-Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it's warm enough to prevent freezing.

-Shut off and drain the water system. Be aware that if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

If Your Pipes Do Freeze

What do you do if your pipes still freeze, despite your best preventative measures?

First step: Don't panic. Just because they're frozen doesn't mean they've already burst. Here's what you can do:

-If you turn on your faucets and nothing comes out, leave the faucets turned on and call a plumber.

-Do not use electrical appliances in areas of standing water: You could be electrocuted.

-Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame because it could cause a fire hazard. Water damage is preferable to burning down your house!

-You may be able to thaw a frozen pipe with the warm air from a hair dryer. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of pipe.

-If your water pipes have already burst, turn off the water at the main shutoff valve in the house; leave the water faucets turned on. Make sure everyone in your family knows where the water shutoff valve is and how to open and close it.