Preventing and Dealing With Winter's Water-Laden Legacy

Global warming may be upon us (or not, depending on your point of view) -- but one thing's for sure: winter can wreak havoc on our homes.

Water damage is one of the biggest threats, from the effects of bursts, overflowing rivers and creeks or related sewer backup damage.

PEI WinterIn fact, the past few years have seen numerous weather records fall across Canada, with 2013 going down as the nation's worst ever year for weather catastrophes. From 2009 to 2014, catastrophic events, mostly due to water damage, cost an average $1 billion a year. *

As individuals, we may not be able to do much about influencing the weather but we can sure can do a heck of a lot to protect our homes from floods and the after-effects. And if the worst does happen, there are a number of things you can do to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.

Protecting Yourself and Your Property

Everyone is at risk from pipe bursts but some people are more vulnerable in areas, prone to flooding or sewer backup. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) recommends the following precautions:

  • Store valuable items in upper floors, away from the basement; also, don’t store hazardous items like cleaning supplies or paint in the basement.

  • Install a sump pump with backup battery power and have backflow valves for drains connections. That battery is important, in case you lose or have to turn off mains power.

  • Raise furnaces, water heaters and electrical panels above floor levels or anchor them firmly. Also, anchor fuel tanks to the floor -- otherwise they can tip over or float in a flood, with the risk of spillage or fire.

  • If you know flooding is imminent, shut off power to any areas that may be affected.

  • Use sandbags or flood shields for basement windows and doors.
  • Outside your home:

o Build up ground around your home to try to force water to drain away from the building

o Landscape with native plants that resist soil erosions

o Clear snow at least three to five feet away from foundations

o Keep water out of window wells

o Ensure downspouts extend at least six feet from the basement wall

o Use a rain barrel to catch water runoff.

I mentioned backflow valves. These can be really important to halt sewage from flowing into the basement. Valves automatically shut off when sewage starts to back up. They should be installed so backup cannot reach other water outlets and positioned so you can easily check and clean them to be sure they're fully operational.

If you don't have backflow valves and want to install them, you should check with your local municipality on any code requirements and always use a reputable professional to install them.

By the way, did you know that sewer backups and overland flooding are not generally covered in most standard home insurance policies. Optional addiional coverage is available, however. Contact us if you'd like to discuss this.

What to Do If…..

You need a plan for how to respond if you suffer water damage.

First question: Do you know where the water main shut-off for your home is located? If not, find out right now. If you can't find it, ask a plumber or the water company.

Then you can immediately shut off the supply if water is leaking into or inside your home, or if it's at risk of doing so.

You'll likely need to turn the power off too. Until you do, don't enter a flooded or flooding basement as there's a real risk of electrocution.

Second question: Do you have pets? If so, plan for what you'll do if you have to leave your home because of flooding. In my experience, some temporary shelters or even hotels don’t allow pets. Make a plan for where you will send them.

Another thing to think about before trouble strikes is to have an emergency kit with essentials for everyone in your household, preferably one that would last you all for at least two or three days.

In addition to water and food, this should include a flashlight, radio, batteries and a first aid kit. The IBC has a useful guide at: http://www.ibc.ca/on/home/emergency-preparedness

Having turned off power and water, if your home has suffered severe water damage but you venture inside, take care to avoid risks like potential collapse of walls or ceilings that have been soaked. Try to remove as much as you safely can to dry areas.

Take photos and compile a detailed list of what has been lost or damaged. You'll need these for your insurance claim.

There might come a point where you realize that damage is so extensive that putting things right is beyond your ability. You may need to call in a home rescue expert -- a firm that specializes in disaster recovery. Don’t do this though until you're clarified your insurance coverage and reimbursement.

Protection and Preparation

I'm hoping, as I write this, that you do already have good insurance protection in place. If not, you should definitely speak to us to get yourself properly protected. Alongside this, you should have a detailed inventory of your home contents.

And if you do have insurance, make sure you know and understand what is and isn’t covered. As I said earlier, overland flooding and backflows may require separate insurance which can be added as a rider to your main policy. But even water damage caused by burst pipes may not be covered in some policies. You must check with us or your insurer.

Sometimes, the scale of winter-caused flooding and subsequent spring rains can extend way beyond the level of individual homeowners.

Here in PEI, we do have our own Emergency Measures Organization that has been set up to oversee responses to major incidents. The EMO, as it's called, administers special assistance programs authorized by the island's government and coordinates other actions.

I hope you never need it, but it's worth making a note of the 24-hour emergency line for the EMO -- 902 892 9365.

As with all hazards, it's common-sense to do what you can do to try to prevent them and to know what you'll do if they actually happen.

If the past few years are anything to go by, we can expect more severe and unpredictable weather events on PEI. Being prepared for action and properly protected with insurance is the safest route to follow!

Peake & McInnis LTD, your PEI home insurance experts.  Contact us today at 902-566-5534 for your free home insurance quote!

* Insurance Bureau of Canada

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