Canadian Underwriter

ICLR to showcase homes demonstrating wildfire, flood risk reduction methods

May 13, 2014   by Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

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The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) is aiming to “influence” the construction of new homes in Canada and plans to demonstrate loss mitigation methods on two homes this year in Western Canada.

In May 2013, ICLR showed the public a home in Quebec City, as part of its Showcase Homes program. The Quebec City home was retrofitted in order to make it more resilient to earthquake risk and winter storms.

Next month, ICLR will announce two Showcase Homes — one in Calgary and the other in Kelowna, B.C. —  ICLR founder and executive director Paul Kovacs said Tuesday during ICLR’s annual general meeting in Toronto. He noted the showcase home in Calgary will be designed to prevent water damage while the one in Kelowna — to be showcased this fall — will be designed to prevent wildfire damage.

Educating homeowners on how they can protect property from flooding, strong wind, earthquake and wildfire risk is one of the three main priorities of ICLR, Kovacs said.

Another priority — reducing basement flooding — is the “main focus” of ICLR’s work, added Kovacs, who is also president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Property and Casualty Insurance Compensation Corp. ICLR, which Kovacs founed in 1996, is affiliated with Western University in London, Ont.

ICLR’s third priority is to “connect with the building community and to try to influence the next generation of buildings,” Kovacs said.

 “It’s the most ambitious, but one of the most challenging parts to what we are doing,” he told members attending the AGM. “It’s a whole new area to try to influence new construction.”

ICLR plans to release this year a paper intended to explain to stakeholders how to prevent basement flooding and sewer backup in new developments. ICLR commissioned University of Toronto building science professor Ted Kesik — whose academic specialties including building envelope design — to write the paper.

Kovacs suggested it is more expensive to retrofit an existing home, in order to make it more resilient to natural catastrophes, than to build a resilient home in the first place.

“It’s almost no cost if you do it during new construction,” he added.

ICLR estimates about eight million homes in Canada are connected to a sewer system and have basements.

“Eight million homes are at risk and most of them do not have protection,” Kovacs said. “A lot of the people who own those homes don’t know what to do to protect themselves.”

But Kovacs suggested a recent experience shows this may be changing.

“I was getting a cab ride in Mississauga recently,” Kovacs said. “We had a terrible July last year and the taxi driver lectured me on how to prevent water damage. He was telling me what to do and he did a really good job. Our science is getting out there and getting picked up in a positive way.”

During Tuesday’s AGM, four executives from the insurance industry were elected to the ICLR board by acclamation: Louis Gagnon, president of service and distribution for Intact Financial Corp.; Sharon Ludlow, president and CEO of Swiss Re Canada; Barbara Bellissimo, senior vice president and chief agent in Canada for State Farm; and Kathy Bardswick, chairperson of the ICLR and president and CEO of The Co-operators Group Ltd.

Bardswick noted that last year, Canada had $3.2 billion in insured losses from severe weather events. She alluded to the June, 2013 floods in southern Alberta, and the July 8 rainstorm in Toronto, which rank first and third respectively on the list of costliest natural disasters in Canadian history, when measured by insured losses.

“Clearly, 2013 was one of those years that certainly confirmed the significant need for and critical requirements associated with the work that ICLR does,” she said.

ICLR stated in its AGM notice that Western University president Amit Chakma appointed three faculty members to ICLR’s board: engineering dean Andrew Hrymak, social science dean Brian Timney and science dean Charmaine Dean. As executive director, Kovacs is automatically a board member. ICLR bylaws stipulate that Western will be represented by at least one (and not more than three) board members.

ICLR uses research from Western University’s Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel, the Insurance Research Lab for Better Homes (IRLBH) and the Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment Research Institute (WindEEE RI), located off campus in London, Ont.’s advanced manufacturing park.