Most everyone I know has dealt with a flooded basement at one time or another. The worst one I ever went through was as a renter in university. The water was ice-cold and about a foot deep, and I spent an evening helping two housemates with bedrooms in the basement retrieve their soggy essays as they floated down the hall.
Water damage in our homes can cost a great deal of money, and yet I doubt most of us lose much sleep worrying about it. We assume that if we end up with buckets of water gushing into our home, we're covered, right? Not necessarily, said Henry Blumenthal, vice-president of TD Insurance.
Water damage is the No. 1 cause of home insurance payouts in Canada, said Mr. Blumenthal, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all losses covered. And that's twice as much as it was 10 years ago, he said.
"We see that for two reasons. The frequency of storms is higher than before, and it's combined with the fact that Canadians are equipped with more and more finished basements, containing more expensive things," Mr. Blumenthal said.
So between global warming and our propensity to stick flatscreens in our basements, we are claiming more losses due to water damage than ever before. And paying higher premiums, no doubt, as a result. As we head into spring, things are going to get a little wet. There may not be a lot of snow on the ground in much of the country, but April showers will put many Canadians at risk for water damage in their homes.
So what are we not covered for? Flooding, for one thing. If you live next to a body of water and it overflows and the resulting water ends up in your basement, you are not covered, despite what you might think.
"Currently in Canada, there is no coverage for such events in terms of home insurance in Canada," said Mr. Blumenthal. "I know the industry is thinking about offering something in the future, but we're not close to a decision there." In the case of large-scale flooding (such as in Manitoba last summer), compensation comes from municipal, provincial and federal governments (if you're lucky).
What if the bathtub overflows or a pipe bursts? That's covered on standard home insurance policies, Mr. Blumenthal said. If it's sudden or accidental, you're usually okay. But what about a leaky roof or a leaky foundation or a sump pump failure? He says these things are usually covered, but you should check with your insurance company, because policies can vary significantly in terms of coverage.
"Sewer backup is an extra protection you have to acquire," he said. "Every policy is different, so you may have a policy that excludes water seeping through the foundations or through the roof. If you're on the 20th floor of a condo unit, you don't need sewer backup [coverage] but if you're at Yonge and Lawrence [in Toronto] or in North York, there are pockets in that area that are prone to sewer backup claims, and you will want that extra protection."
And if you do spring a leak somewhere, act quickly.
"If the water seeps through your ceiling, just open it up, so the water escapes and it doesn't get blocked and you will prevent additional damage from happening," he said. "There's a 24-hour period that's very important to prevent any potential mould from growing."
The good news is that if you need to spend extra money to clean up the mess (renting dryers, for example), your home insurance will typically cover that cost as well – though it's a good idea to call first to check the terms of your policy.
And to avoid water damage in the first place, Mr. Blumenthal suggests you spend some time this spring inspecting your home to see if there's any openings that require caulking or repair, and check to make sure your eavestroughs aren't choked with leaves. Be proactive, and stay dry.