Reviewed by Jackie Kloosterboer
Updated September 11, 2023
Water claims have become the number one cause of home insurance losses in the country, and disaster relief payments have more than doubled every five to ten years since the 1980s.
With extreme weather and flooding events on the rise, there has become a greater need to provide Canadian property owners with proper protection against flooding and access to adequate flood insurance.
A flood map shows which areas are prone to flooding in the event of water level rising to a particular elevation. In a nutshell, a flood map provides stakeholders with the necessary data needed to make smart decisions about asset management, urban planning, and flood risk management.
In terms of insurers, up-to-date flood maps enable them to more accurately assess their risks when considering flood insurance options.
Recognizing that on a federal level, Canada lacked effective flood hazard maps, IBC along with other partners, collaborated on a national flood program led by the private sector. And their main focus was the creation of current flood maps.
These maps took into account river gauge and rainfall data to measure flood extent and depth, flood defense information, historical flood records, snowmelt and terrain data. And then incorporated address data, residential replacement costs, and peril information.
In other countries, like the UK, there are online tools that allow anyone to view the flood risk for their particular region. Simply enter in your location and you can view a very detailed map that highlights likely risk areas. This is certainly a feature any homeowner would review when weighing the pros and cons of relocating to a specific area.
As of February 2016, the IBC now has flood maps that let the bureau and insurance companies assess the flood risk right down to the residential level for both fluvial flooding (which occurs when excessive rainfall over an extended period causes a river to exceed its capacity) and pluvial or surface water flooding (caused when heavy rainfall creates a flood event independent of an overflowing water body).
The data revealed that 20% of Canadian households could be qualified as high-risk, and of those, 10% could be considered very high risk. That’s 1.8 million households.
In 2009, the United States Global Research Program determined that the average precipitation in the U.S. has increased approximately five percent the past 50 years, which leads to increased danger of floods.
Changes in land use also contribute to the potential for flooding; as an area becomes built up, there is less permeable land available to absorb water. Both the U.S. and Canada have seen their urban centers become denser with the sprawl reaching further from the downtown cores.
No big deal, you may say. Most people, don’t believe that a flood will ever affect them. It’s an event that they watch on the news.
Even if it’s statistically unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a flood, it’s unwise to ignore the possibility, because if it does happen, it can wipe out possessions or investment properties in a matter of minutes.
In fact, even though you may consider your property to be at low risk, flood risk is spread across all types of terrain, across income levels and in both rural and urban locations. Some insurers are finding themselves paying more for sewage backups, given that the infrastructure in many municipalities can be overwhelmed by torrential downpours.
If flood insurance is available to you, you may want to consider it if you are endangered or feel vulnerable. The first step is to determine if you live in a flood zone.
The United States has flood maps available online for homeowners to review. Flood maps indicate which areas generally flood if water rises to a certain level. They allow both homeowners and policymakers to make informed decisions about asset management, urban planning, and flood risk management.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema.gov) provides flood mapping services and their maps form the basis for flood insurance rates. More than 20,000 U.S. communities have been placed into flood zones, allowing homeowners there to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Insurance rates are determined by risk of flooding. In the two most risky flood zones (V and A), homeowners must ensure that:
The lowest floor elevation must be at or above the base flood elevation — the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood.
Enclosed areas below the lowest floor can’t be use as living space.
Electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing and air-conditioning facilities must be elevated to or above the base flood elevation.
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Until recently, Canada was the only G8 country that didn’t offer flood insurance to homeowners. This meant that it was up to the federal and provincial governments to assist citizens when disaster struck. Luckily for homeowners, change is coming as the incidence of flooding increases.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada recently took part in a private sector effort to the create a new collection of flood maps that take into account river gauge and rainfall data to measure flood extent and depth, flood defence information, historical flood records, snowmelt and terrain data.
The new maps, which were ready early in 2016, are now used by insurance companies to assess flood risk for both fluvial flooding – flooding when excessive rainfall over an extended period causes a river to exceed its capacity — and surface water flooding that is caused when heavy rainfall creates a flood event independent of an overflowing body of water body.
These new maps, which aren’t yet available to the public, indicate that 20 percent of Canadian households are in high-risk areas and 10 percent of those are considered very high risk.
Property flooding is Canada’s leading cause of natural disaster, despite the prominence given to the destruction done by forest fires. Therefore, be certain to determine whether flood damage is covered by your homeowner’s policy.
If you live in a flood zone, insurance can be a godsend. As you think about the necessity for flood insurance, consider these flood facts:
Flash floods can send walls of water from 10 to 15 feet (about 3 to 5 metres) speeding toward your home.
It takes only two feet (about two-thirds of a meter) of rushing water to carry away a vehicle, a frightening thought if you’re inside.
A few inches of water in your home can cause damage that costs many thousands of dollars to repair. This comes out of your pocket if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
Floods can be caused by a variety of events, including as hurricanes, winter storms, snowmelt or heavy rains that don’t drain well.
Don’t be cavalier about the potential damage flooding can cause. Investigate whether it’s something you, as a homeowner, need to address before it’s too late to save your property.
Until the Flood Hazard Mapping Program is available to the public, the best way for a property owner to minimize their risk of flood damage is to conduct a flood risk analysis on your building. You must know the base flood elevation and your building’s finished floor elevations. If your finished floor elevation is above the base flood elevation, you are at low risk of flooding. If the finished floor elevation is below you are at very high risk of flooding.
While you may think your property is at low risk, it is interesting to note that flood risk is spread across all types of topography, in rural areas and cities both young and old, across different income levels and can affect all kinds of buildings and property types.
For instance, despite Vancouver’s rich real estate, relatively young building infrastructure and high livability score, it is the world’s tenth most likely city to suffer flooding.
So, while governments tackle infrastructure and insurance companies conduct risk assessments, a property owner’s best line of defence against flood damage will hopefully soon be that they are properly insured.
Generally, the areas at highest risk of flooding are those at low-lying elevations, located close to water, and those prone to heavy rainfall or snow accumulation. To check specific flood risks, check with your home province or municipality for local flood risk maps.
Some telltale signs that a home has been flooded in the past include: cracks in the foundation, stains on basement walls or flooring, buckled floors, and the presence of mould. When in doubt, consult a qualified home inspector.
Many home insurance policies in Canada do not automatically include coverage for overland flooding, though sewer backup and other water damage may be covered. Always consult your home insurance provider for specifics about your coverage.
Want to learn more? Visit our Home and Personal Safety resource centre to find more information about protecting your family and your home. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.
About the expert: Jackie Kloosterboer
Jackie Kloosterboer runs a speaking business called Survive It. As a disaster preparedness expert, Jackie facilitates upwards of 100 preparedness workshops annually to individuals and groups, working with them to prepare for whatever disaster comes their way. Jackie is the recipient of the Queens Jubilee Award and the Northwest Preparedness Society Award of Excellence, recognizing outstanding dedication to providing emergency support services and disaster preparedness education.
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