It’s never enjoyable when your home turns into a modern-day version of Noah’s Ark. Whether you are in the path of a raging river overflowing its banks and are forced to evacuate or whether you are the victim of some burst pipes during a winter deep freeze, it’s not a happy occasion. No matter if it’s five centimeters of water or a meter sweeping into your home – your home can suffer serious damage either way.
Water can leave its mark in many ways. Before you begin remediation efforts, be sure to take photos to document the damage and contact your insurance agent to determine what your policy covers. Next, it’s time to assess the harm done to your property, which should be done wearing rubber boots or hip waders so that you’re protected from toxic materials and aren’t subject to electrical mishaps. Damage may include some or all of the following:
When soil or clay absorbs water, it can do so unevenly, causing the concrete slab on which most homes rest to crack or lift. This shifting can lead to cracked exterior walls, ruptures in embedded pipes and/or a sagging roof.
If the water erodes the foundation from below and the house is poorly secured, it may float off the foundation. If you’ve evacuated your home due to major flooding, it’s best to wait for a structural assessment before re-entering, since it may not be safe.
If your home’s foundation shifts, doors and windows may be affected. The frames may be distorted, and the glass in your windows may break. Doors and windows that don’t open are a sign that damage has occurred.
Water is an enemy of drywall, since it weakens the walls and can feed mould. You’ll need to replace your drywall if it is mouldy, crumbling or soft. It also damages insulation, since the insulating fibres and foams absorb and hold water. They, too, will need replacement, unless your home uses closed-cell foam or other types of insulation that don’t absorb liquid.
Flood water is a nasty brew that contains chemical toxins, sewage, mud and bacteria, because floods often disrupt sewer systems and other repositories for less-than-benign waste.
Porous materials within your home may dry, even if they have absorbed water. However, the contaminants in the water can pose a threat to your health and that of your family. It is a good idea to get rid of items such as upholstered furniture, rugs, mattresses and vinyl flooring, especially if it has been submerged for more than 24 hours. Getting these items properly cleaned will generally cost more than replacing them.
Your glass, plastic, concrete, hardwood and metal items should be usable after a thorough cleaning. The sooner they are cleaned, disinfected and dried, the better.
Carpets and their padding will generally be too waterlogged to clean properly, and laminate flooring will usually peel apart, so they’ll need replacing. Hardwood floors and tile floors, however, may be salvageable, although it will require effort.
For hardwood, you’ll need to remove some of the boards so the others don’t warp as they expand due to water absorption. Any tile will need cleaning and disinfecting. However, you may need to remove both types in order to clean and air the subflooring.
Electricity and water don’t mix, as you undoubtedly learned in elementary school. With luck, you had the opportunity to unplug all of your appliances before the floodwaters rushed in. Nonetheless, if your outlets, thermostats, ceiling fans, light fixtures, fuses, wiring systems, electric heaters or computers were submerged, they will undoubtedly need to be replaced.
The insulation in your refrigerator and your oven will absorb water and become contaminated, so they will usually need replacing. However, you may be able to salvage your washer, dryer, and microwave, but have them examined by a professional first.
Anytime water dampens, there’s the danger that mold will grow. It generally appears within 24 to 48 hours of a flood and poses risks to anyone with breathing difficulties and allergies. Surfaces will need to be cleaned with a mixture of a 10 percent bleach solution and non-ammonia detergent; test its efficacy on a small area before applying it liberally. (Never mix ammonia and bleach or the fumes will be toxic – floods are enough to handle without other issues arising!)
This list of potential damage seems endless and daunting, but you needn’t do it all yourself. There are professional restoration companies that focus on restoring damaged homes to their former glory.
However, before you undertake to remove and replace items, please remember to photograph everything as it was originally so your insurance company can see what needs work and what doesn’t.
Now that you know how bad a flood can damage your property and belongings, it’s time to review some ways that you can prevent flood damage in the first place.
Outlaw crack(s). Check your property for cracks in the foundation, walls, windows and window wells. Seal them tightly. A tar sealant on the inside and outside walls will seal the foundation properly.
Look on high. Angels may not be guarding you from flooding, but clean eavestroughs and downspouts can make the difference. Be sure they aren’t clogged so water can drain properly.
Sever connections. If possible, disconnect your downspouts from the sewer system. However, if they’re affecting a neighbour’s property or causing pools on the sidewalk, think again.
Keep your distance. Ensure that disconnected downspouts are draining far enough from your home – ideally, about two metres.
Make the grade. Landscape your property so that the land slopes away from your home in order to keep water away from your foundation and drain properly. (Take care not to affect your neighbours’ properties.) Walk around the property and see if water is pooling anywhere, a sure indication that there is a problem.
Go green. Plant more shrubs and plants around your home to absorb water. Use porous pavement that absorbs both rain and snow melt.
Treat tile with care. Be sure to replace or repair damaged weeping tile around your home. Weeping tile pulls water away from your foundation to the local sewer system.
Stay clear. Keep the drainage ditches between properties well maintained and clear of obstructions.
Check and double check. Be sure that your plumbing system is in working order. Be careful when flushing; remember that your toilet is not a trash receptacle. Don’t flush razor blades, dental floss or personal care items such as tampons, even if the package calls them “flushable.” Why risk a back-up? Also, drains aren’t the right place to dump fats, oils, and grease. You can pour cooking fat, for example, into an empty can or jar and freeze it solid before taking it out with the trash.
Be an inspector. Check your toilet, washing machine, dishwasher, and refrigerator hoses and air-conditioning lines and ensure that they are in good shape. Hoses should be replaced every three to five years.
Invest a “sump” of money. You may want to consider installing a sump pump, a device that pumps water collected by weeping tile to the outside of your home. A pump with a backup battery is a wise choice, since storms that cause flooding may also cause a power outage. It must drain at least two meters away from the foundation walls.
Live in a backwater. Consult a plumber about installing a backwater valve, a valve designed to close the sewer line and prevent sewage from entering your home. If the valve is engaged, don’t use plumbing fixtures, including toilets and washing machines, or water will back up into the house.
Know your “enemy.” Understand how your home’s drainage system is constructed and what kind of maintenance it requires. Building codes change over time, so systems vary. Determine the location of the sewer pipe (lateral) that connects your home to the larger sewer system; ensure it is in good condition. Discern whether your system is connected to the storm sewer by a lateral and ensure that it, too, is in good shape. Check to see if you do have weeping tile, which is actually a perforated pipe that follows the perimeter of your property and gives groundwater an outlet. Be sure that it, too, is well maintained.
Unfortunately, floods are often a winter reality, especially in these days of climate change and temperature fluctuations. A warming trend that brings rain during the winter when the ground is frozen may mean that the water can’t be absorbed into the soil. It looks for somewhere else to go, and that spot may be your own home or garage. Intense rainstorms, combined with melting snow, may also cause nearby rivers and streams to overflow their banks and head toward your home.
When there is the danger of flooding or an actual flood, you need to be careful to avoid getting hurt by the combination of water and electricity or by leaking gas. Think about safety before you take any action that could harm you or your family.
Flood warnings can give you some heads-up that a flood is imminent. If the nearby river is almost at capacity, one more rainstorm can cause it to overflow its banks and send water rushing toward your humble abode. If so, you can take precautions in advance. If a flood is in the offing:
Contact a licenced gas contractor to prepare and secure or remove gas appliances; have the contractor remove the electric motor, burner and controls from the furnace.
Locate the shut-off valves/switches for your gas meter and your electrical panel and shut off the gas and electricity likely to be affected.
Have the contractor cap the gas pipes that lead to gas-fuelled appliances and remove those appliances, including your clothes dryer, stove and hot water tank, from the building.
Unplug all electrical appliances and remove them from the flood path. You can ask an electrical contractor to isolate your electrical circuits.
If you have a propane tank, secure it to a stable structure to prevent it from floating off.
Flooding may happen without you expecting it, as I learned from recent experience. If you don’t have much advance warning, here’s what you can do to stay safe:
Find the gas line for each appliance and shut off the supply by identifying the valve and turning it crosswise from the pipe.
Shut off the water leading to and from your hot water tank, rather than draining it.
Secure your propane tank to a stable structure.
Turn off the knobs, switches and valves for all appliances and power systems.
If you can do so safely, shut off your gas at the meter. Use a wrench or another appropriate tool to make a quarter turn to the main valve on the inlet pipe so that it lies crosswise to the pipe.
As you leave the building, avoid all electrical lines and don’t go into the basement or other low-lying areas that might be flooded.
If you have been evacuated:
Stay away. Don’t return home until officials say it is safe, no matter how much you miss your house and your routines. Keep tuned to the radio or television or follow the official posts on social media.
Check costs. Your insurance will potentially pay for a percentage of your stay elsewhere. Determine their limits and choose temporary lodgings accordingly.
Travel safely. Avoid washed out bridges and flooded roads. Again, be aware of them by staying on top of news reports.
Don’t be shocked. Stay away from sagging or downed power lines.
ready for an online quote? Policies start at $12/month if you rent your home and $40/month if you own your home. To see how much you can save with Square One, get a personalized online quote now.
Data collected by the Canadian Animal Health Institute indicate that in 2016, there were 8.8 million cats that were household pets, along with 7.6 million dogs, a pet population that has been on the upswing since 2004. About 41 per cent of Canadian households are home to at least one dog, while 37 per cent of households own at least one cat.
Since it’s clear that we love our pets, we need to be conscious of their safety, come hell or high water – and high water can be a real threat when heavy rainfall and snow melt collide. As you create an emergency plan to deal with the possibility of floods between now and springtime, be sure to include plans for puppy’s safety or kitty’s, too.
Even if flooding isn’t severe and doesn’t require you to evacuate your home, or if emergency personnel advise you to stay put, your pets still need special consideration:
Before the water begins to accumulate, bring pets indoors. Flood water is usual a miasma of dirty water, sewage and bacteria, and it’s unhealthy for your pets to be drinking it or wandering around in it. Even if you have a state-of-the-art dog run, it’s better for your dog to be in the house with you.
Identify the spots where a frightened pet might hide and block them off; also cover fireplaces, vents and pet doors. If you are later forced to evacuate, you may need to do so quickly and spending time looking for a hiding pet could put you both in harm’s way.
If you have noxious chemicals or poisonous items stored low to the ground or in the basement, move them someplace where it’s unlikely floodwaters will reach them. If flood water enters your home, you don’t want to contaminate it any further.
Consider establishing a safe room in your home where your pets can congregate. In addition to their toys, assemble emergency pet supplies there, such as food and water, pet crates and necessary medications. Toys that smell of home will help reassure your pets.
Think about taking your pets to stay with a family member or friend outside the flood zone until the danger has passed.
Before the call to evacuate is sounded, be sure your pet is wearing a collar and identification tags. You should have a microchip implanted, too, with crucial information, making it easier to identify your pet if the two of you are separated.
Prepare a plastic bag with your pet’s microchip number, vaccination records, your vet’s contact details and a photo of your pet and keep it with you. If you have adequate warning, check with area shelters and hotels to see which places are pet friendly so that you can point yourselves toward them. Map out alternate routes in case flooding requires you to take alternate roads.
In addition to packing a bag with clothing and necessities for yourself, put together a pet emergency kit that contains any identification information for you pet, food for four or five days, necessary medications, first aid supplies and a toy or two. Add an extra leash for each dog and a duplicate set of tags. If you have room, bring their bowls and bedding with you, too.
Evacuate before rescue becomes necessary; sometimes, pets aren’t allowed to come along or may be rescued separately.
If at all possible, take your pets with you; it will prevent difficulties in locating them after the waters recede. Being separated may mean a delay in being reunited and will risk injury to your pets.
Remove your small pets from home in suitable carriers; lace a blanket over pet carriers during cold weather and don’t keep water dishes inside. Dogs should be on leashes so they don’t run away in panic.
If, for any reason, you must leave pets behind, shut them into an upstairs room, well above the potential water line, and provide them with plenty of food and water. Leave signs on the doors of the house clearly indicating that there are pets inside that need rescuing. However, be prepared for potential injury or loss.
Your obligation to your pets doesn’t end once the waters recede. You need to ensure that they return home safely and aren’t subject to any hazards once there.
Keep your dog on a leash when you go out. Floods shift things and there may be debris floating around that could injure a roaming pet. In addition, you’ll want to keep your dog away from any wildlife that is lurking on your property or passing through to seek higher ground, such as snakes.
Be kind to your pets. They, too, may be stressed by their experiences and can act out. If behaviour problems continue, pay a visit to your vet.
Flood damage is something no Canadian homeowner wants to deal with. It’s particularly scary these days when recent high profile floods like those in Calgary and Toronto remind us just how vulnerable our homes are to natural disasters.
The simple fact of the matter is, that floods are a common natural hazard in Canada and are the most costly natural disasters in Canada in terms of property damage. And furthermore, experts say that urban flooding is likely to worsen in Canada.
Today, more people are living in areas at risk of flooding, and in municipalities across Canada, outdated storm and waste-water infrastructure has resulted in increased flood damage to homes. So, what steps should you take if your home has been flooded?
Your first task should be to contact your insurance agent. Most agencies have a 24-hour hotline. Ensure that they know what is happening. They will be able to advise you about coverage for temporary lodgings or specific procedures that must be followed for reimbursement.
In the aftermath of a home flood, it is important to clean up as soon as possible to protect your health and prevent further damage to your home and belongings.
The first thing that you may want to manage is your own expectations about your property and a realistic timeline for recovery. This may take months rather than weeks because houses need to be thoroughly dried out before any repair and restoration can start.
Remember, mold is the last thing you want to deal with after you’ve done repairs, so attention to detail in this area is critical. Also, some parts of your home may have to be gutted before the drying process can start.
Visiting your flooded home for the first time may be a very emotionally upsetting experience. As soon as the water levels have subsided, your home may be wet and muddy. Also, it may smell terrible, especially if there was sewage in the flood water.
There may be dangers in and around your home that are new or unexpected, so it’s imperative that you take as many precautions as possible. Wear waterproof clothing, including gloves – remember, there may be sewage, oil or other harmful substances that were in the water.
It’s best to return to your home during the daytime so light issues are at a minimum. A battery-powered flashlight will come in handy here. And do not turn on the lights or do anything that could cause a spark.
If, for any reason, you suspect gas is leaking, do not enter your home. Contact your gas company or call 911. If you do not suspect gas is leaking, and are able to turn off the gas supply, you should do so. If your water comes through a mains supply, follow the advice of your local municipality regarding the safety of the supply.
Be very cautious when navigating through your home, especially with your flooring and stairways. There could be loose floorboards or holes in the floor and nails sticking out.
Also, look above you and make sure that you are not placing yourself in danger from sagging ceilings that may be ready to fall.
This can be a very chaotic time and it will be easy to overlook or forget important details, so document the damage in as much detail as you possibly can. This will help you to prioritize and deal with things that are urgent.
Use a marker to draw a line on your walls so you have a record of how high the water reached in every room affected by flooding. Plaster and drywall may not show these obvious signs in the weeks to come so it is important to do this as soon as you can.
It’s highly likely that any floor coverings, like carpeting, need to be taken up and put outside so that the floorboards or concrete below have an opportunity to properly dry. Keep in mind, you may be shoveling mud before you are even able to see your flooring. You may need to cut carpeting into sections to remove it, as wet carpets can be too heavy to remove without doing so.
You may be able to gather some valuables and family mementos that were not affected by the flood waters. Any items that were touched by flood water need to be put in plastic bags so that they can be properly cleaned when the time comes.
Food from your fridge will likely need to be thrown away, whether it was ruined because flood water got in, or because the power went off. Bottles and jars and any medicines or cosmetics that came into contact with the flood water should also be thrown out.
Water is the essence of life; we couldn’t survive without it. It’s crucial to keeping the body running well, and we depend on it for all kinds of other reasons: staying clean and preventing the spread of germs; and our homes and our food, to name just a few. Yet, water isn’t always welcome, especially when it comes unbidden in great quantities and floods our property.
If your home is flooded, it will take time, effort and money to set everything to rights. Be patient, because even though governments may be accustomed to dealing with disasters, the wheels of bureaucracies can move more slowly than you’d like.
You’ll need to look after a number of tasks, including removing the water, salvaging items and cleaning, so be prepared to dig in for the long haul. The following suggestions should help you to understand what’s involved and how to approach a seemingly impossible job.
Now that you’ve contacted your insurance provider and began preparing and inspecting your home after the flood damage, here are some steps you need to take to get started on recovering your property and belongings.
Safety first. Check for structural damage before entering your home. You don’t want to risk it collapsing around you.
Power down. Turn off the power in your home until an electrician says it’s safe to flip the switch.
Enter carefully. Beware of the presence of snakes or animals that have sought higher ground to avoid the water.
Utility check. Inspect your utilities. If you hear a hissing noise or smell gas, open and window and leave immediately. There is danger of an explosion when gas is confined. Try to turn off the main gas line outdoors and call your gas company. They must turn the gas back on to ensure that it is done safely. Turn off electricity at the fuse box or main circuit breaker, especially if you see frayed wires or sparks. Don’t wade through water to do so; call an electrician. Get the “all clear” from the electrician before using appliances, heating or cooling systems again. Check for damage to sewer and water lines. Avoid using the toilets if there appears to be sewer damage; if water lines are harmed, boil water or drink from melted ice cubes. Call a plumber for assistance.
Let the waters recede. Remove the water from your home, draining it in stages. Remove no more than one third of the water out daily, because if the ground is still saturated, removing water too quickly could cause the walls to buckle. Bail out the standing water using buckets; finish up with a wet/dry shop vacuum.
Protect yourself. Wear hip boots and gloves as you remove items and clean the premises to avoid bacteria and contaminants.
Rescue documents. If you have important documents that you’ll need as the process unfolds, store them in the freezer to dry them out without damaging them further.
Structural integrity. Ventilate and humidify the house until it is completely dry. Remove drywall, paneling and insulation at least 50 centimetres (20 inches) above the water line.
Clear the decks. Remove any debris, as well as items that are soaked and dirty.
Swab the decks. Wash all surfaces with water and unscented detergent to clean and sanitize.
Check for mould. Mould can cause serious health problems. You may need to have your home professionally cleaned, but check with your insurance company regarding coverage.
It’s important to have to your gas and electric systems checked and repaired if they are damaged. You may need to make arrangements for furniture and other possessions to be put into storage, until all the repair and rebuilding work is completed.
So how do you go about drying your home?
The most common method for drying out buildings involves the use of dehumidifying equipment. Be patient here, as this method can take a long time to complete.
You can also opt to dry naturally – if you have central heating. Set your temperature to 20-22°. Keep doors and windows open as much as possible. Fans and industrial heaters can also be used to dry out your home. If you are using dehumidifiers, be sure to close your doors and windows.
Dealing with your home after it has been flooded is going to be stressful at the best of times. Be sure to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, take your time to plan out your next actions, and get professional help when jobs or tasks are outside of your skill-set.
So, you’ve taken all these precautions, but, lo and behold, your basement has flooded anyway. What now? Here’s what the City of Toronto recommends:
Assess. Inspect the damage and record it on film or video so that you can provide visual evidence.
Report. Alert the municipality so they can assess the source of the flooding. Notify your insurance company immediately and let them know what has been damaged.
Collect. Keep receipts for any work you have done.
Understand. Generally, you are responsible for damage caused by a blocked drain pipe, leaking foundation walls or poor lot drainage on your property. Prevention is vital!
Once the flood waters have receded and it is time to return home after the affected areas have been cleaned up and restored, there are a few extra areas you’ll want to verify are cleaned from the flood
Have a certified professional/technician inspect your home and your appliances. Do not attempt to air dry your appliances and turn them on before they are inspected. If moisture remains in the electrical components, the appliance could have a short circuit or you could sustain a serious injury from an electric shock.
Don’t turn on your heating or cooling system until it has been cleaned and checked by a Heating, Venting and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) professional or it could spread mould throughout your home. The cleaning will prevent mould from growing and spreading. Once the cleaning is done professionally and it is deemed safe to run, your HVAC system should be useful in removing excess moisture from the premises.
The water has receded and the water supply has been inspected and given clearance for use.
All rooms contaminated by flood waters have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
There are adequate toilet facilities available as affirmed by the health department.
Contaminated dishes and utensils have been washed and disinfected.
Even if your refrigerator and freezer are running, they may still be susceptible to mould because insulation dries slowly. You may want to have them checked for mould before filling them again.
ready for an online quote? Policies start at $12/month if you rent your home and $40/month if you own your home. To see how much you can save with Square One, get a personalized online quote now.
And if you are looking at options for protecting your home from water damage, our standard home insurance policy automatically includes protection against most types of water damage, including water backup. In most cases, it also protects against damage from inland flood.
We sat down with Daniel Mirkovic, President and CEO of Square One, to ask him a few questions about flood insurance in Canada, or the lack thereof, and what Square One is planning in terms of offering Canadians flood insurance coverage.
Q: Why don’t Canadians have access to flood insurance?
A: If you were to ask most home insurance providers, they’re going to give you three reasons. First, is that there are incomplete flood maps, so, unlike many of the other developed countries that have invested in flood maps and keep flood maps up to date, Canada hasn’t, and it’s kind of been on a province by province basis.
So, without complete flood maps, home insurance providers believe it’s tough to assess the risk and charge the right price for the risk. Another reason is…they’ll site is improper zoning.
Really, it doesn’t make sense for communities to allow homes to be built on flood plains, but that, unfortunately, is happening and has happened. Then, it’s a question of when a loss is going to occur, not if a loss is going to occur…which makes it very difficult from a pricing perspective.
And then the final reason is that there is a lot of outdated infrastructures. And this really varies by community across Canada. Without governments continuing to invest in storm and sewer lines…and updating those lines as required…it makes it hard to assess the risk and charge the right price for the risk because it’s a matter of when the loss is going to occur, not if.
Really, it doesn’t make sense for communities to allow homes to be built on flood plains, but that unfortunately is happening and has happened.
Q: Why is Square One interested in offering flood insurance?
A: The reason that Square One wants to offer flood insurance and is developing our own in-house flood insurance product, is because frankly, people need it. The government disaster financial assistance programs are not providing adequate coverage for people.
They typically will assist those affected by flood on a needs-based adjustment or loss reimbursement. They’re not going to rebuild your home to the way it was before the loss, they’re going to rebuild it to a standard that they deem sufficient. They’re also not going to cover some types of property. So, if this is a vacation property that you own or a rental property that you own, you may not be able to get reimbursed through government programs.
The government disaster financial assistance programs are not providing adequate coverage for people.
Q: Are there other country models that impressed you?
A: Absolutely. Almost every other developed country in the world offers flood insurance to its residents. Canada is the one country that relies on the government and the disaster financial assistance programs. We’ve looked at the Australian model the closest and we’re using that model as a basis for what we plan on doing here in Canada.
Q: Are you getting feedback from clients about flood insurance?
A: We are getting a lot of feedback from clients indicating that they clearly do want flood insurance. What we’ve learned though, is that people don’t really understand the difference between flood damage and water damage. So often, we’ll hear people say “my home is flooded” when a pipe has burst…when in reality, from an insurance perspective, that’s not overland flood. That’s considered water damage.
So, part of what we’re working on now is building a site that has a lot of information on not only flood damage but water damage…and explaining the difference between the two. And also explaining what flood insurance might offer when it’s introduced in Canada.
Q: Can you give us a brief overview of the definition of flooding, as it relates to home insurance?
A: When it comes to overland flood, there are actually three different components to it. So one, is for example, a river or a lake breaching its banks and water overflowing onto normally dry land and ultimately into your home.
Another one would be considered urban flooding. And that is usually when there is a heavy rainfall and the sewer systems can’t accommodate the water and as a result, water enters your home…cause it has nowhere else to go.
And then the final one is commonly called coastal or surge storm. What that relates to is events…usually hurricanes or as a result of an earthquake that causes waves or tsunamis to come in.
So, looking at the three different components there…depending on where you live, you might not be close to a coast, so storm surge may not be a concern to you. But almost anywhere, this concept of urban flooding will apply.
So, as you start looking for home insurance and flood insurance that is offered under a home insurance policy…that it covers the various types that are of most concern to you.
Almost anywhere, this concept of urban flooding will apply.
Q: Where should people go if they want to find out about flood insurance?
A: We’ve developed a special website, and the URL is getfloodinsurance.ca. And that site is dedicated to everything people might need to know or want to know about flood damage and water damage. A subset of water damage is water backup related losses and that too is described there.
On that site, we describe what’s currently available in Canada. We’ll also look at some options for what we’re looking at offering to our clients across Canada. We look at other countries and the models they have for flood insurance.
Finally, we provide a whole bunch of information that can help you protect yourself against both flood and water damage.
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