It’s been a very wet spring in Eastern Canada, especially over the past few days in early May. This has led to swollen lakes and rivers and with it, a heightened risk of flooded basements. In a special weather statement on May 2nd, Environment Canada stated, “With the ground already saturated, there may be potential for some local flooding.”
The Government of Canada offers great advice on how to be “Flood Ready” which is a must-read for all homeowners on how to lessen the risks of flooding. Flooding can happen suddenly and if you discover a flooded basement, here’s what to do (and not do) about it right away.
1. Safety First!
Be very careful to stay ‘high and dry’ as you look down into the basement to assess the depth and breadth of the damage, because the water could be electrified or contain viruses and bacteria. It’s best to contact a pro in your area from the HomeStars category Fire & Water Damage Restoration. Certain companies are flood specialist, like Canada’s Restoration Services who have offices across Canada. Keep in mind that any specialist you contact may be busy with other flood emergencies. Follow the steps below for what you should do while you wait.
2. Shut Off Any Failed Plumbing
While most flooded basements are caused by heavy rains and groundwater flooding, some are caused by the failure of home plumbing equipment. If a water heater, washer hose, a pipe or other pressurized water source fails in your home, it can release hundreds of litres of water into your basement every hour. In fact, water may rise so quickly it’s soon coming out the basement windows!
In situations where plumbing has failed, the first step to solving the problem is turning off any failed plumbing. But as mentioned above, be sure to stay ‘high and dry’ as you do this, since the water could be electrified or contain viruses and bacteria.
3. Rescue Your Personal Property
Once the source of the leak is stopped, you’ll want to get valuable possessions out of the water as soon as possible. Again, it’s important to take care when moving items, as your water could be charged with electricity and toxic substances. If you’re not sure it’s safe, it’s best to call in a professional.
Since the basement may be humid for several days while it dries out, you should remove moisture-absorbent items such as photos, documents, clothes, fabrics and area rugs. They may look fine now, but they could grow mould. You should also take ‘before’ photos of the damage for your insurance company, if you decide to file a claim (see next section.)
4. Should You File a Claim or Not?
Water damage is the most common cause of home insurance claims. However, overland flooding is not covered under most home insurance policies in Canada. This means flooding from water that enters your home from natural sources such as lakes and rivers, or large amounts of pooled water are generally not covered. Also, water seepage that occurs by groundwater entering through cracks in the basement floors, walls, roof, windows or doors is generally not covered.
However, floods caused by sewer and sump pump back-up or failed plumbing and appliances may be part of your home insurance policy or added as riders that are purchased for an extra premium.
If you decide to call your insurance agent or broker, don’t panic! Calmly ask hypothetical questions like, “What if my basement flooded? What coverage would my policy provide?” Don’t get them to open a claim until they tell you about your options, as this may affect your future insurance costs. Like credit-ratings firms, insurance companies keep track of your claims history and judge you accordingly before deciding whether to insure you and how much to charge you. A long history of making claims indicates you’re more likely to do it again. That could mean either you’re a risk that they don’t want to take or will take but at a steep price to you.
Insurers track your claim behaviour in huge databases. In the U.S., insurers use CLUE or Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange. But in Canada, CGI provides insurers with two databases: For home insurance, they offer Habitational Insurance Tracking System (HITS) and for automobile insurance it’s called AutoPlus. Each system tracks all the personal auto and personal property claims you’ve made over the last seven years – even those they formally denied. That’s why it’s important to talk hypothetically with your insurer when you’re asking initial questions.
Just like getting your credit rating score from Equifax, Transunion or Experian, you can request your ‘insurance score’ from CGI for both home or auto insurance. Here’s a tip: For faster turnaround, don’t mail it. Scan the completed document and e-mail it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, studies have shown that people with lower credit scores are statistically riskier, so some insurers will combine your credit score with your claims history to weed out riskier applicants.
5. How to Avoid a Recurrence
Minimizing the risk of a flood was covered in a February article on basement waterproofing. If your flood was caused by sewage water backing up, the stench may be horrific and the clean-up even more challenging. From that February article, “To prevent sewage backing up into your home, many municipalities require downspouts to be disconnected from storm sewer lines and installation of backwater valves. And some municipalities offer rebates to partially offset the cost of installing a backwater valve.”
We hope you never encounter a flooded basement! But if you do, these tips will help you be more prepared. Remember to write a review to tell fellow homeowners how you dealt with the aftermath.