Reviewed by Jackie Kloosterboer
Updated September 11, 2023
Many Canadian homeowners face the threat of water damage, especially during winter. Months of consistent rain, hail and wind take a toll on your property. But, if you’re considering preventative maintenance, it can be difficult to know where to start, or what to do in case of an emergency. As with most elements of homeownership, it pays to plan ahead. So, here’s how to prepare for wet weather.
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Canadian summers are notoriously short but sweet. With fall on the way, the decision to forgo that last BBQ of the season in favour of cleaning out your home’s gutters can be an agonizing one. But, a few simple home maintenance tasks could save you considerable time and money in the long run. A recent study revealed that most homeowners can significantly improve their property’s flood protection by investing as little as $250. Even better, most homeowners should be able to complete all of the items on the list below in a day or so.
Before the weather turns, be sure to check the condition of your roof. Worn or warped shingles can crack, allowing rainwater to enter your home. If you’re uncomfortable with heights, contact a professional roofer and pay for an inspection. Not only will they highlight any issues with your roof that you may need to address before winter, but they should also be able to give you an idea of your roof’s remaining lifespan and provide an estimate of the replacement cost.
It’s also worth noting that most home insurance policies cover damage to your roof that occurs suddenly (for instance, during a storm). However, damage due to wear and tear is generally excluded. So, be sure to check the condition of your roof at least once a year.
The lowest portion of a property is often at the most risk of rain damage. This is because the earth surrounding your home is not as compact as it was before your property existed, so groundwater naturally filters down towards your foundation, potentially corrupting its structural integrity.
To counter this, most homes feature gutters and downspouts, which are designed to capture rainwater that falls on your roof and carry it away from the home; either towards a municipal drain or far enough from the premises that it won’t affect your foundation.
When fall arrives and the trees begin shedding leaves, gutters often become clogged, which reduces their efficacy. So, be sure to check your gutters and downspouts for damage and blockages at least twice a year.
It’s not just your gutters that require maintenance. If your home features external drains (such as those often found on balconies or below-grade doors), make sure they’re clear of debris. While there’s usually no risk of damage to your foundation, if these drains become clogged, you risk water backing up and entering the home.
While you’re at it, check your nearest municipal storm drain for debris, too. Clearing this will help prevent water from backing up into your property.
Once you’ve ensured that rain can flow freely from your property, consider any other means that water can enter your home. Points of ingress/egress are the next culprit, so be sure to check the seal on your doors and windows.
If the seal is cracked or brittle, or if you’ve noticed any leaks, it may need replacing. Remember, if water is gradually seeping into your home through cracks around your window wells or anywhere else in your home, your insurance will not cover the resulting damage.
A good method to prolong the lifespan of your seals is to install covers on your window wells to protect them from the worst of the elements.
When a storm hits, water damage shouldn’t be your only concern. Consider the items you leave outside your home each night; how likely is it that they could cause damage to your property in the event of a severe wind storm? Repeat offenders such as patio umbrellas or outdoor furniture should be stored in a secure location, such as a garage or shed.
And, damage to your own property isn’t the only risk. Be sure to consider damage to your neighbour’s property, as well as personal injury. If your furniture is blown from your property and causes injury to another person, you may be held liable. So, make sure your home insurance policy provides adequate liability insurance limits.
Similarly, loose branches can easily damage your home in a storm. Old or rotting trees may need to be removed entirely. While this kind of damage is often covered by your home insurance policy, you’ll likely be responsible for the costs associated with removing or replacing any damaged trees. You’ll also have to pay a deductible and may see an increase in your premium as a result of making a claim.
With winter approaching and the increased risk of water damage to your home, the last thing you want is for your heating to stop working. In extreme cases, this can cause the water in your plumbing system to freeze, leading to a burst pipe.
In fact, freezing is such a common cause of burst pipes that many home insurance providers impose requirements on homeowners who are away from their home for extended periods of time during the winter months, such as leaving your heating on, or asking a friend to periodically check on your home. So, if you’re planning a winter getaway, be sure to check your policy wordings before you leave.
And make sure to check your heating system before winter arrives. If your system is over 15 years old, you may also consider upgrading to a more energy-efficient unit.
Chances are, if you experience a flood, there will be some degree of damage to your property. The best defence against this is a comprehensive home insurance policy that includes adequate flood damage coverage. But, what else can you do to protect your home and personal property?
Store important documents off the floor in waterproof containers.
Store chemicals up off the floor so they won’t contaminate the floodwater.
Extend your downspouts further away from your house.
Make sure your yard is properly graded, so water runs away from your home.
Raise your washer and dryer, hot water tank, and furnace off the floor.
Install a sump pump in the basement to remove any standing water. Make sure it has a back-up power source in case of power failure, and don’t forget to test the system periodically.
Install a backwater valve into your home’s sewage line. In the event that your municipal system is overloaded, this will prevent contaminated water from backing up into your home.
Install and maintain a leak detection system that can detect abnormal water usage and shut off the supply at the source.
Seal your basement walls with waterproofing compounds to help prevent seepage.
In some instances, preventative maintenance can only do so much. If your basement floods, try to remain calm and follow the steps listed below:
First, inspect the damage, but make sure you don’t put yourself in danger. If the water is approaching the level of your electrical outlets, turn off the power and leave it to the professionals. Be sure not to step into water that may hold an electric current from frayed or stripped wires. If this is the case, contact your electricity provider and request an emergency shutdown. (Note that you could be shutting off power to your sump pump unless you have a secondary power source.)
Call your home insurance provider as soon as possible. Your adjuster will open a claim and note the details of your loss. At Square One, we guarantee a 2-hour response rate for emergency claims.
Your adjuster will advise you on the best ways to prevent further damage from occurring. This is a stipulation of your home insurance policy and evidence of this may be required later in the claims process.
It’s also a good idea to open any windows to allow air to circulate, especially if you smell gas or hear a hissing sound. (If this is the case, you may also want to cut the supply of gas at the master valve.)
Take some photos of your flooded basement to show your adjuster. This may come in handy during the claims process.
Once your adjuster has recorded the details of your loss, they’ll provide a list of contractors with the expertise and experience to repair the damage to your basement.
If it’s safe to do so, you needn’t wait for professionals to attempt to salvage your belongings. Just be sure to wear protective gear such as rubber boots, gloves, safety glasses and a mask, as flood water may be contaminated with bacteria from raw sewage. And, consider the logistics of removing soaked items of personal property; you don’t want to contaminate or damage more of your home.
For smaller floods, use a wet/dry vacuum or a mop to remove as much water as possible. And roll back or remove rugs that are close to the source of water.
Use fans or dehumidifiers to reduce dampness and the chance of mould.
Be sure to keep all receipts for costs associated with repairing the damage to your property, as your adjuster will need to see these.
Water damage accounts for more home insurance claims than theft and fire combined. In fact, the average price of a flooded basement claim in Canada is $43,000. So, it’s important that your policy protects you comprehensively. But, what does that really mean?
Well, first of all, you’ll need a policy that includes flood coverage. You’ll also need to take into account the deductible for this type of claim, as well as your provider’s reputation for dealing with claims. Finally, you’ll want coverage for additional living expenses (ALE), as significant damage may mean you’re unable to live at the property for weeks or even months.
At Square One, we include coverage against most types of water damage as standard. In addition, we allow you to select the limits and deductibles that fit your needs. So, in the event of a flood, you know you’ll be able to afford your deductible. You can customize your ALE limit; in fact, you can customize all of your limits. And you can do it all online, from the comfort of your own home.
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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