Canadian Underwriter

Flood risk guidance for commercial brokers coming soon

January 25, 2019   by Greg Meckbach

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A standard on flood resiliency for commercial real estate could be coming out this year.

The Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation is working on a document intended to help commercial insurance brokers and real estate companies reduce flood risk for commercial property, said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre, in an interview with Canadian Underwriter.

The standard “should be finished Q4 2019,” Feltmate said. “It’s deployment of initiatives as simple as, for example, [placing] what look like speed bumps at the top of the ramps that go down into the underground parking.”

Very often, those ramps just come off street level and then go straight down into the underground parking, so water that accumulates outside the building could flow into the underground parking, Feltmate said, citing to a flood that occurred Aug. 7, 2018 in Toronto.

Insurance Bureau of Canada, quoting Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc., reported that the Aug. 7 flood cost the property and casualty insurance industry $80 million.

“We had about 70 to 80 mm of rain over a six-hour period in downtown Toronto,” Feltmate said in an interview. “That caused massive flooding in the underground parking in lots of the commercial towers downtown including, for example, Sun Life. Their brand new flagship building, the whole basement flooded.”

During such storms, water tends to build up on the street, said Feltmate. “Then the ramp into the underground parking almost functions as a conduit to direct water into underground parking. If you were to design a way to put water underground into a parking lot, you couldn’t do better.”

The Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation is a University of Waterloo Faculty of Environment research organization that gets money from Canada’s biggest property and casualty insurer. The centre is working on the commercial real estate flood risk document with two real estate groups, Feltmate said. One is REALPAC, an industry association that includes real estate owners and investors such as pension funds. The other is the Building Owners and Managers Association.

Feltmate made his comments an interview discussing Weathering the Storm: Developing a Canadian Standard for Flood-Resilient Existing Communities, a report released Jan 18 by the Intact Centre. Weathering the Storm is about residential property flood risk, not about commercial property flood risk.

Feltmate describes Weathering the Storm as a “seed document” that would be used as the basis of a more formal standard, which has yet to be developed.

Another Intact Centre seed document is on standards for new residential development.

Using those documents, the National Research Council and the Standards Council of Canada could issue a request for proposals for a contract to take those documents to “translate them to the more formalized structure of a flood resiliency standard,” said Feltmate. “We are halfway through the process right now to get to the final standard.”

Once a formal standard is in place for Canada, it is up to the provinces and territories to decide whether to change laws such as municipal planning laws and building codes, said Feltmate.

Weathering the Storm includes measures like clearing leaves and debris from catch basins and re-grading lots and roads so that water flows away from properties after it rains.


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1 Comment » for Flood risk guidance for commercial brokers coming soon
  1. Robert Muir says:

    The statement “Weathering the Storm is about residential property flood risk, not about commercial property flood risk.” is not accurate – the physical interventions noted in report are primarily municipal or regional system upgrades that benefit any residential or commercial property in a community – even lot grading, flood-prone property buy-outs, and most private plumbing/drainage upgrades in the report can apply to commercial properties too. Specifically, the intervention of “driveway humps” (see page 34 in the report “Where reverse-grade driveways exist, consider introducing driveway “humps” to reduce the risk of stormwater runoff entering private property flowing from the street”) are exactly what is being referred to in this article for commercial property ramps. And more importantly, what is critical to any reverse ramp property (residential or commercial) and its flood risk is not the ramp itself, and its local drainage, but rather major overland flows from the community drainage upstream – all the interventions in the report to address this community drainage system capacity equally benefit residential and commercial properties (its the same municipal system). And commercial properties that are at risk are already implementing the measures in the Weathering the Storm report, including foundation waterproofing, protecting low lying areas (like depressed stairs) with flood walls, etc. – such walls are perhaps more prevalent in commercial areas. Likewise for flood-prone property buy-outs in the report – we are already implementing that in the municipality where I manage the flood control program. Meanwhile, one large flood remediation project in Toronto is being redesigned to avoid residential property impacts and buy-outs. BTW I am identified in the Weathering the Storm report as creating the foundation document for it (link: – in that foundation work, the flood risks and solutions identified are broadly applicable, not linked to property type. It is not clear why Intact Centre has pigeon-holed the Weathering the Storm report to apply to only residential communities. There are other gaps in the Weathering the Storm report, especially on cost-effectiveness of proposed risk mitigation measures (page 33 “cost rankings are not normalized with consideration of performance effectiveness”), so some caution is warranted on what solutions should go ahead when costs are considered. Certainly driveway humps are not a large cost (I identified this in an ICLR publication in 2014 (, but many other measures, like low impact development measures endorsed by Intact Centre (and noted in the Weathering the Storm report despite comments from reviewers) could add over $700,000 per hectare on commercial properties that have to retrofit to manage their stormwater on site. Some considerations of cost and gaps in the Weathering the Storm report analysis are shared here:
    Next steps in developing standards must take a closer look at costs, especially given that the Press Release for the Weathering the Storm report indicates that cost has already been factored in already (i.e., “solutions that can be deployed practically and cost-effectively within communities” but the report writes “capital cost rankings are not normalized with consideration of performance effectiveness”). I’ll present information on costs and cost-effectiveness at this years’ WEAO and TRIECA conferences to help fill this gap.

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