At home, as in life, there are so many things out of our control: Floods, wind storms, breakdowns, the list goes on. When it comes to floods, however, there are things you can do to protect yourself, and your home.
Make Sure You’re Covered
It can be costly repairing or renovating after a flood or water incident, which is why it’s so important to protect yourself financially from costs you might occur through damage.
“More and more homeowners are creating living space in the basement, turning what used to be a storage space into living space. So there’s the potential if you do have water in a finished basement, that it will do more damage than if it wasn’t finished,” says Pete Karageorgos, Director of Consumer and Industry Relations at Insurance Bureau of Canada.
To protect your investment, insurance protection that covers water damage is key. “The first step for everyone as a homeowner is to review your insurance coverages,” says Karageorgos. “A standard policy covers basic water damage, such as a burst pipe, a sink or toilet that overflows, water that enters the house because perhaps a tree has fallen on it, or when water enters the house during a rainstorm.”
Then there are additional coverages a homeowner can purchase. “There’s now newer coverage where you can get extended water coverage that can include sewer backup coverage and overland flood coverage,” says Karageorgos. Both of these instances require additional coverage or endorsements, so don’t assume you’re covered with a basic insurance plan. “You have to purchase extra coverage for overland or sewer backup,” Karageorgos insists.
Reduce The Chance Of Flooding
Almost as important as insurance coverage, perhaps, is decreasing the odds of flooding in your home in the first place.
“Water can enter a home in a few different ways,” explains Karageorgos. “There’s an overland flood, as we’ve seen in Ottawa when a river overflowed. And recently Bolton, Ontario, because of ice damming. There’s also last year’s Grand River event near Brantford and Cambridge, where water overflowed the banks of the river and ended up getting into people’s basements that way. That’s the most extreme type of flooding that occurs.”
Next, he says, is sewer backup. “If large scale weather happens, it can overload the sewer system and water gets into someone’s home through the sewer system and floods the basement,” says Karageorgos.
To stop water from entering your home, there are a couple of measures you can take, Karageorgos says. “Many municipalities and governments are encouraging homeowners to install sump pumps and backwater valves to minimize the likelihood of being impacted by a flood event or sewer backup situation,” he says.
“A sump pump typically takes water from the weeping tile system. The water from the weeping tile goes into the sump pump pit, and the sump pump pushes the water out so it doesn’t go into the basement. This is especially effective in areas with high water tables,” Karageorgos says.
As for the backwater valve, “It’s designed so that when water comes back toward the house from the sewer line, the flap will come up and close off the valve, so it prevents sewer water from coming up floor drains in the basement,” says Karageorgos.
“It depends on the municipality and building code, but you are seeing newer developments built with backwater valves installed, and in some cases sump pumps as well. In older homes, backwater valves just didn’t exist,” he adds.
One thing to keep in mind with backwater valves, however, is that they work both ways. “If you have a situation where a backwater valve is activated, you have to be careful in the house because you can’t use water in the house when the valve is closed, or the water can’t exit and could end up going through the floor drain in the basement,” warns Karageorgos.
An Ounce Of Prevention
Besides installing a sump pump and backwater valve, there is also maintenance you can do around the house to prevent water from coming inside. “Now that you’re seeing spring weather and melting snow, look around the property, and make sure that no snow is gathered near the foundation,” says Karageorgos. ‘Make sure the foundation and any areas there are caulked. Make sure water doesn’t gather at window wells, and that water drains away from the home. Lot grading is something that should be reviewed and considered as well.”
Karageorgos adds that many municipalities are disconnecting downspouts, as they are typically connected to the sewer system or weeping tile of the home. “By disconnecting, you’re diverting that water away from your home, away from the foundation and away from the sewer system, and minimizing the underground potential infiltration of water, either through the sewer or through the weeping tile system,” he says, adding that, “In older homes, you may get cracks in the foundation, or the weeping tile has collapsed or is not operating as it should. Water then seeps into the basement, and leakage and seepage aren’t covered under most insurance policies,” Karageorgos says.
“Some municipalities are encouraging residents and have programs in place to have eavestrough downspouts disconnected. But also make sure that they point away from the home so water doesn’t gather. And make sure downspouts don’t point to a neighbour’s property either,” says Karageorgos.
Not sure where to begin? If you’re shopping for a home, it’s worthwhile to hire an experienced home inspector to assess the home for potential water issues. “A home inspector is qualified to look for potential water issues that could damage the home,” says Karageorgos.
James Porteous is a certified home inspector with A Buyers Choice Home Inspections in Burlington. He says that inspectors look at the home drainage system, grading and swales to ensure water is shedding from the roof and discharging at least six feet from the foundation. “A swale can be a ditch at the side of your house that carries water away, and grading on the lot should slope an inch for every foot. Your weeping tiles make up a drainage system around your house, but they can get overloaded with junk and debris and then overflow with water,” he explains.
“Overloaded perimeter drainage systems can put unwanted hydrostatic pressure on foundations and cause moisture problems,” Porteous adds. “We recommend backflow prevention and sump pumps when needed, and we test sump pumps too to ensure they are performing as they should. We also utilize infrared cameras and moisture detection devices to try and locate concealed leaks.”
With unpredictable weather on the rise, it’s a good idea to assess your home or purchase for potential water issues, take preventative measures and make sure you’re covered for whatever might happen.