The rustic house in the woods is like a vacation cabin, but it’s home. The shade of the leaf cover keeps things cool in summer. The big stone fireplace provides warmth in winter, fueled by the woodpile just outside the back door.
It’s a year-round retreat for the family but a knot of risk to unravel for the homeowners insurer. The area has high exposure to wildfire, so the cooling forest canopy could quickly become an inferno when conditions are right. And in a strong storm, the trees themselves could drop large limbs or topple entirely onto the house.
More than 10 percent of U.S. residential properties have dense tree coverage close to the home.
Large trees on residential properties across the United States are generally considered an asset to quality of life and property value. But millions may fall or lose large limbs every year, mainly due to severe weather; for example, the Ohio Insurance Institute reported that fallen trees accounted for more than half of property claims stemming from Hurricane Ike in 2008.1 Many of those claims likely involved roofs. Additionally, based on Verisk’s defensible space data from aerial imagery, more than 10 percent of U.S. residential properties have dense tree coverage in close proximity to the home.
Dense trees also make critical questions harder to answer, even with the help of aerial imagery.
What’s the roof condition? Are there other fuels or liability hazards on the property? Are there additional structures that require coverage?
Powerful analytics tell an in-depth story
Verisk aerial imagery solutions provide nearly 100 percent coverage of the United States to help insurers incorporate tree analytics across the policy life cycle. These analytics can help insurers manage and mitigate exposures to wildfire and other perils, such as wind and hail, by:
- Detecting the proximity and density of trees around the structure
- Identifying tree branches overhanging the roof that pose a risk of damage
- Indicating property maintenance issues from overgrown or unmanaged vegetation and buildup of debris
Additionally, ground-level imagery analytics can help identify unhealthy or dead trees.
Aesthetically and environmentally, removing trees can quickly become problematic. But, as the frequency and severity of weather events increase and drive property losses, there is a greater need for insurers to proactively manage and reduce risk. Mitigation strategies for the potential damage from trees can make a sizable impact on reducing the risk of loss and personal injury.
A key element in a mitigation strategy is understanding the proximity of trees to a structure and the risk they pose, thereby guiding appropriate risk-reduction steps such as:
- Trimming away trees from the roof and clearing loose branches and debris
- Routine tree maintenance, including pruning dense crowns and removing dead trees
- Maintaining proper clearance of trees around structures to reduce potential fuel sources for wildfires
Legislation and regulations in California could add further incentive to strengthen tree analytics. Insurers may be required to give homeowners adjusted wildfire risk scores and premium credits for completed wildfire mitigation, which may encompass the management of trees on a property. Verisk models incorporate mitigation analytics to help capture a fuller picture of the risk.