March 2, 2019 7:00 am

The big spring thaw is coming: how to protect your home from flooding

WATCH: The Canadian insurance industry says floods have surpassed fires as the top source of insurance claims across the country. And as Ross Lord reports, there are fears many Canadians are unprepared for the worst.

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After weeks of wintry misery, most Canadians probably say that spring cannot come fast enough.

They should be careful what they wish for, though. Heavy snow accumulation in many parts of the country means a heightened risk of flooding if the weather turns to spring too quickly.

Thawing snow could be an issue in northern and central parts of New Brunswick, eastern Ontario and northern parts of the province, parts of southern Quebec and the south coast of B.C, said Global News meteorologist Ross Hull.

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READ MORE: Here’s how much climate change can cost homeowners in damages

In the Prairies, flooding in parts of the Red River Valley would be nothing new, but snow levels could make things worse than usual this year, he added.

Most of the country will start to see glimpses of spring in the last two weeks of March or early April, Hull said, but it’s too soon to know whether the rise in temperatures will be drastic enough to cause flooding.

Another factor that could compound that risk is precipitation.

“Heavy rain coupled with melting snow makes the perfect flooding storm,” Hull said.

READ MORE: ‘You have a fear of more rain’: Flooding haunts homeowners for years, study finds

Thankfully, that risk appears to be contained for now. Precipitation should stay at normal to below-normal levels in most of the country, according to Hull.

Still, the speed of the transition to spring will be critical.

“It all comes down to whether there’s going to be a very quick melt,” Hull said. “Warm temperatures coming very quickly — that’s what we’ll have to watch out for.”

WATCH: National strategy needed for flood insurance coverage

How to tell if your home is at greater risk of flooding

Around 1.7 million Canadian households — or just under 20 per cent of the population — are exposed to some kind of flooding risk, whether it’s from overflowing rivers, backed-up sewers or above-ground water accumulation caused by melting snow or rain.

That’s according to a recent report by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The study contains a number of factors that increase the chance a home will be affected by flooding — and many items on the list are far from obvious.

You don’t have to be living near a waterway or in an area with a known history of flooding to have to worry about the possibility of waking up to three feet of water in your basement.

Homes built before the 1970s, for example, are also more prone to flooding in the absence of major retrofits, according to the report. So are properties in areas that have seen significant urban development.

WATCH: Why cities flood more easily than rural areas

If you’re living at the bottom of a hill or in other low-lying areas, there’s a greater chance that water from your home — or backyard — will become the new neighbourhood pond.

Finally, if you’re home is connected to a sewer system that carries sanitary and storm water in one pipe, you’re more likely to see some of that backflow into your basement, according to the study.

How to prepare

One of the easiest things you can do to reduce the risk of flooding is ensuring that there are no snow piles obstructing the flow of water away from your property and into the sewage system, said Blair Feltmate, who heads the Intact Centre.

Shovelling snow away from foundations and window wells is also a good idea — as is installing a plastic cover above your basement windows, Feltmate added.

You should also check that your downspout didn’t become disconnected during the winter and that it discharges water at least two or three metres away from the house.

READ MORE: Is the home you’re buying at risk of flooding? It can be hard to find out

If you have a low-lying area in your backyard, you might want to remove the snow from there to reduce the amount of water pooling at the bottom of your lot.

If you have a sump pump, which pumps excess water in your drains away from your home, make sure you have a battery backup handy in case you lose electricity in a storm, Feltmate said. Home hardware stores sell such backup kits for around $200, and the batteries will usually keep your pump working for up to 72 hours.

Finally, Feltmate said: “This would be a good time to find out if you have flood insurance.”

READ MORE: ‘This is a huge shock to us’: What climate change means for home insurance

Flood insurance

Plain, vanilla home insurance typically does not cover damages caused by water seeping up through drain pipes or coming in from doors and windows. You need to add flood insurance for that.

And even regular flood insurance sometimes only includes sewer backups, with homeowners required to get additional coverage for overland flooding. Feltmate recommends buying both kinds.

READ MORE: Flooding, flooding everywhere – do Canadians have insurance for it?

Homeowners should also have a close look at their coverage cap. Unlike fire insurance, which will generally cover up to the cost of rebuilding the home, flood insurance coverage is determined by an algorithm that takes into account variables such as the source of the flooding.

Some homeowners might discover that insurance will only pay up to $10,000 or $20,000, which may be woefully inadequate, Feltmate said. In the Greater Toronto Area, for example, the average cost of flood damage is $43,000.

Canadians who don’t have coverage for flood damages might want to start getting quotes from insurers now — before spring comes.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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