Canadian Underwriter

How to advise your clients on reducing flood risk

November 1, 2019   by Adam Malik

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From left, Intact’s Chris Reid and Blair Feltmate, talk about ways to reduce flooding risk during a town hall discussion at the IBAO Convention in Toronto on Oct. 24.

Helping homeowners assess flood risk is great way for brokers to increase the value they provide clients –  and it’s easy for them to do so, a climate expert says.

All it takes is walking the client through potential hotspots, both inside and around the exterior of the home, and showing where preventive action can be taken so that their basements don’t fill up with water the next time a big storm hits, says Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. Feltmate made the observation while speaking at the 2019 Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) Convention in Toronto last week.

“Some of the initiatives [are] very practical and cost-effective means that you can put in place to mitigate that flood risk,” he said.

Feltmate said it was “shocking” how much work a homeowner can do on their own over a weekend for a few hundred dollars. It can be done “just like that,” he said with a snap of his fingers. “Is it a perfect solution? No, but it’s pretty darn good.”

About 70% of homes have grading somewhere around the house that directs water to the house instead of away, he said. Something as simple as adjusting the slope can make a big difference.

Homes that have sump pumps should be tested to ensure proper working order. Have a client pour a bucket of water into the well and see if it discharges the water outside. Even if it does, Feltmate warned that water will frequently be discharged just a few inches away from the house. When large amounts of water are sent away so close to the home, a lot of it can come back through its foundation.

After checking the sump pump, brokers should ask clients to check that it has a battery backup. When big storms hit, power can often be lost, whether the storm knocked it out, or if the local utility company cut the power to avoid dangers around electrocution.

He also pointed to the issue of drains in the basement. In case of an overflow from the dishwasher, for example, a drain is needed to get water out of there. However, homeowners often install flooring over top of the drains so the water can’t escape.

“In other words, they’re non-functional,” Feltmate said. “All of these things should be presented to the homeowner as an equity investment in the home, because at some point you’re going to sell this thing and you want to point these features out.”

These types of actions are “low-hanging fruit,” but they take a lot of the risk out of the system, Feltmate said. “Working with the individual homeowners to put initiatives in place around the outside of their property and in the basement that will not categorically prevent [flooding], but [it will] put them in a position that when a big storm hits, they won’t end up with a flooded basement.”

For most homeowners, Feltmate said, “it’s not that they won’t do this stuff, it’s that they didn’t know what to do.”

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