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Time to embrace reality that climate change is here to stay

The Insurance Board of Canada has pegged last month’s ice storm damage at some $25 million in insured claims, a reality that’s becoming increasingly common as we see extreme weather more frequently.

That number is according to preliminary estimates provided by Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. as of last week.

Woolwich Township CAO David Brenneman says cleanup continues and they don’t have any final figures yet of how much this has cost the township.

Pete Karageorgos, director of Consumer & Industry Relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada says standard home insurance policies cover you for most events that ice storms might bring, like the weight of snow and ice on trees causing limbs to fall on your house, or water damage.

But, it’s important to keep your insurance policy up to date.

“What happens is you may have bought your insurance policy 10 years ago and in that time maybe you put in new kitchen cabinets, a new countertop, you’ve put in hardwood flooring. These are all things that add value in terms of letting your insurance company know. If you do have a fire, a flood, or something like that in your house,  you want to make sure that your policy puts you back into the condition that you were immediately before that event happened. If your insurance company says we’ve got you as having linoleum flooring in your kitchen and now you’ve got ceramic, we’re only going to pay for linoleum because you haven’t advised us,” Karageorgos said.

In light of how many property owners experienced damage from fallen trees, he recommends they look outside their home and see what could potentially cause damage if there was a wind or rain storm. Make sure water slopes away from the home, and trees are trimmed so any overlying branches couldn’t swing into the house if weighed down by ice.

“It’s doing that sort of maintenance outside of the house, and that assessment is important even in the warmer months. Now that we’re getting into, hopefully sooner, warmer weather, things like wind storms, tornados, and even windstorms sometimes will pick up and move things like patio furniture, barbeques, other types of things we all have sitting outside our houses, become projectiles,” Karageorgos added.

He notes that storms that used to happen once every 40 years are happening more frequently. While $25 million in damage across Ontario isn’t typical yet per say, he says it’s starting to become so.

“As an industry, the trend the last number of years that we’re seeing is storms that are impacting homeowners and communities and causing more and more damage. Unfortunately this is becoming the new reality,” Karageorgos said.

He advises homeowners to always report damage to your insurance company as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Late last year the University of Waterloo in partnership with Intact Financial Corporation created the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation.

Blair Feltmate, head of the ICCA, says the focus is to implement cost-effective means to de-risk homeowners and business owners across the country when it comes to climate change and extreme weather events.

“Climate change is real, it has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. We’re getting more and more extremes in weather as a result of that, that are very costly to the country. Of those extremes, the one that’s the costliest by far — by a country mile — is too much water in the wrong place, flooding.  Our primary focus right now is looking at various means to de-risk urban and suburban areas in reference to the impacts of water and flooding,” Feltmate explained.

One of the initiatives includes creating a green infrastructure program to reduce the impact of severe precipitation. Another program is planned to help identify the extreme weather vulnerabilities of some of Canada’s industrial sectors, followed by recommendations for adaptation strategies.

They’ll soon be launching their Home Adaptation Assessment Program, which could save homeowners the expense and headache of flood damage.

“The long and short of it is that a properly trained person could go out and meet with a homeowner and by looking at more or less 40 or 50 points of reference outside a house and then subsequently inside a house they can identify ways in which water could potentially enter into a basement to cause flooding,” Feltmate said.

The inspector will produce a report and identify six to eight things on average that the homeowner can do to lower the probability of having a flooded basement.

“It’s amazing how many of these things, of the six to eight things, three quarters of them can usually be done by the homeowner on a Saturday, maybe a Sunday morning for very little cost, very little physical labour,” Feltmate said.

He claims that for every dollar invested in this system that the average homeowner will save about seven to eight dollars over a 10-year period relative to basement flooding that hasn’t occurred.

They’re going to be launching it in a well-known large city in Ontario on the order of thousands of homes very shortly, but he can’t say just where yet.

It will cost $275 per house and now they’re looking at what the price sensitivity is for homeowners, to determine if they’re willing to pay some of that amount, and how much. They’re also working out if the homeowner pays a portion of the price, if the municipality or provincial government would be willing to chip in.

He notes the average cost of a flooded basement in Canada in 2014 was $20,500.

“We have no luxury of time. Every day we don’t adapt is a day we don’t have,” Feltmate said.

A simple way to help protect your home from future water damage – because more storms will happen – is by disconnecting the downspouts from the eavestrough system that go into the weeping tile, cut them off, put an elbow on them and direct the water 10 or 15 feet away from the foundation of the house. Putting plastic over window wells  is another easy fix to keep water from entering the window well and flowing into the basement.

“A lot of people I think underestimate just how dire or challenging climate change and extreme weather events currently are and that they will be increasingly so going forward. Climate change is here to stay. We really have to embrace adaptation of climate change in the immediate term,” Feltmate said.

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