Protecting yourself and your home from landslides

Reviewed by Daniel Mirkovic

Updated May 15, 2024

Thousands of landslides occur every year in all parts of Canada. They can be lethal and cause damage to roads, communication infrastructure, pipelines, buildings, and natural resources. According to Natural Resources Canada, landslides account for an estimated $200 million to $400 million in direct and indirect costs every year.

With this in mind, could your home be at risk to landslide damage? Will home insurance cover damages caused by a landslide? Read on to learn more about landslides, what to do if one occurs in your area, and how to prevent damage to your dwelling.

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What is a landslide?

A landslide is generally defined as any type of downward movement of rocks, boulders, soil, sediment, or trees. These materials can fall, topple, slide, spread or flow down a slope. Sometimes they crawl along imperceptibly slow, and sometimes they move at a rate greater than 100 kilometres per hour. Common causes of landslides include natural ones like excessive rainfall or earthquakes. Human activity, such as mining, deforestation, heavy lawn watering, or construction near steep slopes, can also cause landslides.

The volume of debris can be anywhere from a few cubic metres to millions of cubic metres. The Frank Slide, which occurred in Alberta in 1903, covered an area of 44 million cubic metres and killed an estimated 70–90 people.

How to protect your home from landslides

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the land around your home.

Storm water drainage, slopes, rocks, stones, creeks, brooks, streams, or rivers can all show tell-tale signs of a potential landslide. Visible precursors of a landslide include cracks and bulges in the slope of the land, the unusual seepage of water on a slope, sudden changes in waterway flow, and small stones falling or sliding.

Don’t be your own worst enemy: avoid actions that could increase instability of the land. Don’t build near steep slopes, close to cliff edges, or waterways. Minimize lawn watering and make sure to direct water runoff from driveways, gutters, and downspouts away from slopes.

Consult a certified professional for advice on preventative measures for your home, such as flexible pipe fittings and the design and construction of retaining walls. Proper landscaping is key to ensuring adequate water drainage on your property.

What to do when a landslide happens

You should always be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice—not just for landslides, but for any natural disaster. Prepare an emergency package with a first aid kit, radio, flashlight, seasonal clothing, non-perishable food, and water, plus any supplies specific to your household’s needs.

You should leave your home and the area immediately if you hear a rumbling sound that increases in volume, trees cracking or boulders knocking together.

If you don’t have time to get out, find cover in the part of the home that is furthest from the approaching landslide. Take shelter under a strong table or a bench. Hold on firmly and stay put until all movement has stopped.

If you are outdoors, move quickly away from the likely path of the landslide, keeping clear of embankments, trees, and power lines. Curl your body in a tight ball and protect your head and neck. Stay away from the landslide area, as the slope may keep moving for hours or days afterwards.

After the landslide, listen to the radio or follow your local news outlet and emergency officials on social media for further instructions. Stay away from the landslide area until local officials declare it is safe to re-enter.

When you are allowed to safely return, check your home’s foundation, structures, and surrounding land for damage. Replant damaged ground as soon as possible—erosion caused by loss of vegetation can lead to flash flooding.

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Landslides and insurance

Home insurance policies in Canada, including those sold by Square One, do not cover damage from landslides. In your policy wordings, you will see an exclusion for damage caused by “movement of the Earth,” or something similar. It’s difficult for insurers to cover landslides because of their unpredictability and the extensive damage they can cause.

Fortunately, there are government programs that may provide financial assistance to communities after a disaster. For example, Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) is a federal government program that provides funding to provincial and territorial governments, which in turn provide financial assistance to communities and individuals.

However, government financial assistance programs may not cover your costs for damages after a disaster. Just like insurance, there are limits, exclusions, and restrictions on eligibility. The programs vary by province and territory, too.

Also worth noting:

While a claim filed with an insurance provider may take days or weeks to settle, settlements from government financial assistance programs can take years.

Here’s a list of several provincial and territorial disaster assistance programs:

Commonly asked questions

What is the difference between a landslide and a mudslide?

Landslides occur when masses of rock, soil and debris move down a slope. Mudslides, also known as debris flows, are a type of fast-moving landslide that tends to flow in channels.

While landslides are caused by disturbances in the natural stability of a slope, mudslides develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground and results in a surge of water-saturated rock, earth, and debris.

What areas or regions of Canada are more susceptible to landslides?

While landslides occur across all regions of the country, the most destructive landslides happen in the mountain ranges of British Columbia and Alberta, as well as some parts of Quebec and Ontario.

I am considering purchasing a home. How do I know if the home is in a landslide hazard area?

There are several things you can do to find out if the home is located in a landslide hazard area:

  • Speak with the seller or neighbours to learn more about the area’s history.
  • Hire a registered geotechnical engineer or geoscientist to conduct a site assessment.
  • Look for any landslide or flood control structures that may be protecting the property, such as retaining walls.
  • Check with the land title office to see if there is a registered covenant regarding potential landslide hazards on the property title.

Want to learn more? Visit our Home Insurance Basics resource centre for dozens of helpful articles to guide you through the ins and outs of home insurance. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.

About the expert: Daniel Mirkovic

A co-founder of Square One with 25 years of experience in the insurance industry, Daniel was previously vice president of the insurance and travel divisions at the British Columbia Automobile Association. Daniel has a bachelor of commerce and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He holds a Canadian Accredited Insurance Broker (CAIB) designation and a general insurance license level 3 in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

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