In 2009, the United States Global Research Program determined that the average precipitation in the U.S. has increased approximately five percent the past 50 years, which leads to increased danger of floods.
Changes in land use also contribute to the potential for flooding; as an area becomes built up, there is less permeable land available to absorb water. Both the U.S. and Canada have seen their urban centers become denser with the sprawl reaching further from the downtown cores.
No big deal, you may say. Most people, don’t believe that a flood will ever affect them. It’s an event that they watch on the news.
Flood Zone Determination
Even if it’s statistically unlikely that you’ll be the victim of a flood, it’s unwise to ignore the possibility, because if it does happen, it can wipe out possessions or investment properties in a matter of minutes.
In fact, even though you may consider your property to be at low risk, flood risk is spread across all types of terrain, across income levels and in both rural and urban locations. Some insurers are finding themselves paying more for sewage backups, given that the infrastructure in many municipalities can be overwhelmed by torrential downpours.
If flood insurance is available to you, you may want to consider it if you are endangered or feel vulnerable. The first step is to determine if you live in a flood zone.
Flood Zone Maps – the US Model
The United States has flood maps available online for homeowners to review. Flood maps indicate which areas generally flood if water rises to a certain level. They allow both homeowners and policymakers to make informed decisions about asset management, urban planning, and flood risk management.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema.gov) provides flood mapping services and their maps form the basis for flood insurance rates. More than 20,000 U.S. communities have been placed into flood zones, allowing homeowners there to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Insurance rates are determined by risk of flooding. In the two most risky flood zones (V and A), homeowners must ensure that:
- The lowest floor elevation must be at or above the base flood elevation — the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood.
- Enclosed areas below the lowest floor can’t be use as living space.
- Electrical, heating, ventilation, plumbing and air-conditioning facilities must be elevated to or above the base flood elevation.
Buying a House in a Flood Zone
Until recently, Canada was the only G8 country that didn’t offer flood insurance to homeowners. This meant that it was up to the federal and provincial governments to assist citizens when disaster struck. Luckily for homeowners, change is coming as the incidence of flooding increases.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada recently took part in a private sector effort to the create a new collection of flood maps that take into account river gauge and rainfall data to measure flood extent and depth, flood defence information, historical flood records, snowmelt and terrain data.
Flood Insurance in Canada
The new maps, which were ready early in 2016, are now used by insurance companies to assess flood risk for both fluvial flooding – flooding when excessive rainfall over an extended period causes a river to exceed its capacity — and surface water flooding that is caused when heavy rainfall creates a flood event independent of an overflowing body of water body.
These new maps, which aren’t yet available to the public, indicate that 20 percent of Canadian households are in high-risk areas and 10 percent of those are considered very high risk.
Property flooding is Canada’s leading cause of natural disaster, despite the prominence given to the destruction done by forest fires. Therefore, be certain to determine whether flood damage is covered by your homeowner’s policy.
If you live in a flood zone, insurance can be a godsend. As you think about the necessity for flood insurance, consider these flood facts:
- Flash floods can send walls of water from 10 to 15 feet (about 3 to 5 metres) speeding toward your home.
- It takes only two feet (about two-thirds of a meter) of rushing water to carry away a vehicle, a frightening thought if you’re inside.
- A few inches of water in your home can cause damage that costs many thousands of dollars to repair. This comes out of your pocket if your insurance doesn’t cover it.
- Floods can be caused by a variety of events, including as hurricanes, winter storms, snowmelt or heavy rains that don’t drain well.
Don’t be cavalier about the potential damage flooding can cause. Investigate whether it’s something you, as a homeowner, need to address before it’s too late to save your property.