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Public must be educated on basement flooding

ICLR's McGillivray tells PCUC lunch attendees that water damage claims are on the rise

Canadian insurers have seen a four-fold increase in water damage claims since the 1970s, according to Glenn McGillivray, managing director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).

In his presentation delivered to the Property Casualty Underwriters Club at its October Luncheon in Toronto on October 16, McGillivray also quoted a report by Aviva, which found that the average water damage claim in Canada had increased by roughly 117% between 2002 and 2012. According to the report, the average claim in 2002 was $7,100 and had increased to $15,500 in 2012.

See: Photos of the PCUC Luncheon

“Overland flood is not where the water damage is coming from. I’m not talking about insured damage. I’m talking about all water damage: insured and uninsured,” said McGillivray. “Generally speaking, when we have an overland flood in Canada its five houses here, 10 houses there. Very seldom do we have an event like Calgary where you measure lost homes in the 100s. The real problem is urban flooding.

“I think those of you that write homeowners business with sewer backup, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the 600 homes in Ottawa, the 500 homes in Hamilton, the X number in Toronto/Mississauga. Every major urban centre in Canada gets urban flooding and sewer backup. That’s where the problem lies.”

McGillivray focused his presentation on the reasons for increasing water damage claims and ways to prevent basement flooding.

Read: Alberta floods the costliest insured natural disaster in Canadian history

Canada’s aging infrastructure can take part of the blame for the increase in water damage claims, he said.

He cited a 2007 Federation of Canadian Municipalities report, which found that up to 70% of our infrastructure is 100 years old. The report also found that, at the time of its publication, Canada was $123 billion behind in infrastructure spending.

Also, climate change has, and will continue to, affect the amount of precipitation that falls on our cities. “We’re going to see more heavy rainstorm events in the future,” said McGillivray.

Finally Canadians’ changing lifestyles has also added to rising water damage claims costs.

Read: 10 steps to protect against water damage

It is now very common, and often encouraged, for Canadians to finish and furnish their basements.

“The TV is not the problem. The computer is not the problem. The problem is laminate floor, hardwood floor, drywalled walls, drywalled ceilings, pot lights, the high efficiency furnace,” said McGillivray. “That’s the problem.”

To manage these claims, McGillivray stressed that the public needs to be better educated on basement flooding and incentivized to prevent it.

“There’s this misunderstanding that the sewer system is meant to handle all storms. Something must have broke; something must have gone wrong if my basement flooded. What went wrong is you got 175mm of rain in three hours, that’s what went wrong,” he said.

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McGillivray listed several flood prevention and mitigation tips, including disconnecting downspouts, putting emergency power on sump pumps, and the installation of window wells.

“Insurers, we have to incentivize this stuff,” he said.

McGillivray also described structural measures, including building culverts and swales, and green engineering initiatives, such as rain gardens, which can all help mitigate the risk of urban flooding.

For more information on sewer backup and basement flooding visit the ICLR’s basement flooding reduction website.

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