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.
In 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
- Use sandbags or flood shields for basement windows and doors.
o Build up ground around your home to try to force water to drain away from
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
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:
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
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