Worried about flood damage to your home? Here’s what you can do

Click to play video: 'How can you flood-proof your home?'
How can you flood-proof your home?
WATCH ABOVE: How can you flood-proof your home? – May 8, 2024

Despite a dry winter for much of Canada, attention is turning to flood risk as the country thaws out and spring storms blow in. 

Environment Canada warned of heavy rainfall sweeping most of southern Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan through Wednesday. Already this year, heavy rain prompted evacuations in New Brunswick as well as flooding in Quebec.

For those worried about flood damage to their properties, experts suggest taking actions to protect against the effects of such extreme weather events.

“Flooding is the most frequent and costliest climate related disaster that we’re seeing across the country,” said Jason Clark, national director of climate change advocacy at the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“Currently, there’s 1.5 million households in high-risk flood zones that don’t have access to household flood insurance.”

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A recent report by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo said between 1983 and 2008, insured losses in Canada averaged $456 million a year.

Since 2008, losses have surged and now regularly exceed $2 billion per year, mostly due to water-related damage. In 2023, severe weather damage in Canada exceeded $3 billion for the second year in a row.

The Okanagan and Shuswap, B.C., area wildfires and Nova Scotia flooding were two major weather events that contributed significantly to the damage last year.

Along with the stress and damage flooding can bring, it can also have a major impact on real estate value.

Another study examining areas that experienced catastrophic flooding found houses sold for an average of 8.2 per cent less and sat on the market for an average of 13 more days in the months after a flooding event.

Steven Harris, a licensed insurance broker and expert at, said, people incorrectly assume that fire is the biggest risk to a house. “Water damage is by far the most consistent cause of loss, and it can be very severe as well,” he said.

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Climate change is affecting the housing market: report

How can you flood-proof your home?

The Intact Centre has a simple three-step guide to cost-effective home flood prevention: maintain what you’ve got; complete simple upgrades; then complete more complex upgrades.

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Anabela Bonada, director of climate science at the Intact Centre, said most of the measures in the first step are things families can do over a long weekend.

“Clean out your eavestroughs, clean out anything from your drains so that they’re not clogged,” she said.

Many of the measures “are just maintenance” that can help prevent disaster.

“Make sure you clean out your back water valve if you have one. And check that your sump pump is working. Not a lot of people do that and then a flood hits and their sump pump is not working.”

She said knowing if your basement is at risk of being flooded is key.

“You don’t want to have anything right on the floor in the basement. Put it up higher on shelves. If your basement does flood, you could at least protect your belongings.”

Other steps, she said, will require some money.

“Install a backwater valve if you don’t have one. But also think if you’re in a property that has enough space for you to have a rain garden. That’s a really great way to add greenery to your space and to reduce flooding that could go to your home. It also helps for extreme heat.”

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But what can you do if you don’t have time to retrofit your home and a flood is on its way?

“There are many 72-hour kits online that you can look at. The Government of Canada provides a checklist of everything that you should be packing,” Bonada said.

While some of these measures may seem expensive, Bonada said they’re worth it in the long run.

“It’s a couple thousand to prepare your home for a flood, and it’s $43,000 out of pocket if your home floods. And that’s just what you’re paying to bring your basement back to condition, but you’ve (also) lost everything that was in that basement.”

She said Canadians should consider the cost of taking days off work to deal with a flooded basement and the emotional cost of flood damage.

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Check your insurance

Harris, the insurance broker, said most base policies offer protection from basic water damage, such as from a burst pipe or a dishwasher leak.

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“But we have different types of water coverages,” he said.

Harris said these included sewer backup, which causes flooding caused by a block in plumbing or sewer overload; surface water damage, which is caused by heavy rainfall that accumulates and has nowhere to go; groundwater damage, which is when the water table becomes so saturated that the water enters your home through the basement floors and walls; and flood damage caused by swelling in a nearby body of water.

“My recommendation is to top up on coverage. But you can have that conversation with a licensed broker,” he said, adding that users must select their insurance company carefully, too.

“If you’re in an area where an insurance company has incurred many claims, has had a poor loss experience in an area, you may not have access to that coverage.”

The first step, he said, is to figure out what the level of risk in your area is.

“In the last few years, there’s been availability of flood maps. If you’re … purchasing a house, you could do that due diligence and try to understand. ‘OK, well, what is my exposure to water damage or flooding in certain areas?'”

The question Harris raised is top of mind for many Canadians. A recent BMO report said 39 per cent Canadians said extreme weather events such as floods can affect where they choose to live in the next five years.

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Policy changes coming

The federal government said it plans to implement a long-promised national flood insurance program sometime next year, setting aside $15 million in the 2025-26 fiscal year in its latest budget on April 16.

Clark of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said it would work like a partnership between private insurers and the federal government.

“Those households that currently are at too high a risk to access flood insurance in the private market (will) receive a flood insurance directly through their existing providers. … They would then receive standardized coverage,” he said. “That would be through the insurer and supported by the federal government.”

Bonada said cities should also require construction bylaws to have greater climate adaption measures built into them.

“Even though it might cost more at the start to make the buildings resilient to climate, it’s the saving in the long run when they’re more resilient to climate effects as they go forward. We’re looking at buildings standing for hundred years or more. So it’s a good investment.”


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