When it comes to natural disasters, know the risks to your home – and how to mitigate their impacts
In the insurance industry, it’s commonly referred to as CAT season, short for catastrophic — that all-too familiar time of the year when hail, rain, fire and brimstone wreaks havoc on our homes.
While the June 2013 floods provided perhaps the most extreme example, every year has been littered with examples — hail that leveled half of Airdrie in 2015, forest fires in northern Alberta in 2011 and so on.
And every year, insurance companies are in the news as homeowners lament that the most recent damage won’t be covered by their current policies.
In June 2014, Calgary insurance broker the Beaufort Group made headlines when it announced it would be the first in Canada to offer overland flood insurance for homeowners. Beaufort has since been followed by Aviva Canada and Co-operators General Insurance Company.
This summary will detail what to expect from your insurer in the event of natural disaster, as well as how to mitigate possible damage to your home before disaster strikes.
Water can damage a home in ways other than a flood, such as the sudden and accidental bursting of plumbing pipes and appliances. In most cases, this is covered by all home insurance policies.
Coverage for damage caused by a sewer back up is an add-on with most companies, says Mitzi Olsen, insurance broker and partner at Toole Peet Insurance.
However, obtaining this coverage depends on prior loss history. Flood insurance works with similar restrictions. In some cases, homeowners might even be covered for flooding provided their policies include provisions for sewer back-up and if the insurers determine the back-up was responsible for the damage.
Wind and Hail
Damage caused by wind and hail, such as a tornado, is usually covered by home insurance. This includes damage caused by flying debris, falling branches or trees, or water entering the home through sudden openings created by wind or hail.
Every home insurance policy covers damage caused by fire, even if the fire began on a neighbouring property – as long as it wasn’t started intentionally.
What else to expect from the claim process
When dealing with your insurer, be prepared to negotiate. In the 2013 floods, Brian Lindenberg’s home was completely surrounded by seven feet of the Elbow River at its peak – in fact it was in the middle of the river at one point. His family had never had a home insurance claim before, and was surprised to be advised not to accept the company’s first settlement.
The rules may be relaxed a bit, too: for example, Lindenberg’s insurer determined flooding to the first four feet of the basement was caused by sewer damage, but they couldn’t possibly cover only four feet of drywall.
How to mitigate potential impacts to your home
All of this said, it’s best to avoid damage to your home altogether. Toole Peet Insurance president Larry Toole offers some suggestions on how to do so for water damage (he has also applied many of them to his own home).
• If you live in a flood zone, or if you want to prevent water from a rainstorm or an irrigation system from entering your home, Toole proposes installing catastrophe-rated windows in the basement, pumping systems (and generator backups for them), check valves at the main entrance or exit of the sewer line in the house and membrane systems in the basement walls. Check valves can help protect in the event of a sewer backup as well, which often occurs in conjunction with a flood, but can happen independently of one as well.
• To prevent your pipes from leaking, install a product that detects leaks when attached to your main water line, and shuts off the water.
• To mitigate against the impacts of tornado, set up impact-resistant windows and anchor heavy items, such as patio furniture and garbage cans, which could become high-speed projectiles. Secure heavy items to prepare for a hailstorm as well.
• When it comes to fire prevention, take precautions such as keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and check the batteries of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors twice yearly.