Overland flooding in B.C.

Every year, some areas of B.C. are affected by overland flooding, especially during spring run-off periods.

When water is no longer where it should be – that is, safely contained in pipes and waterways – and is now soaking the floors and walls inside your home, it’s a serious problem. The damage must be quickly and thoroughly repaired or on-going hazards such as mould may occur.

Many people expect that flooding should be covered by their insurance policy, no matter the cause. But your insurance contract considers the more common and less common sources of water damage, and offers options for coverage accordingly.

Sewer backup coverage may be purchased as an add-on to your homeowner’s policy. If sewer or septic systems are overloaded, sending dirty water back into the home through a sewer, storm drain, sump or septic tank, the damage may be covered by your additional sewer backup coverage. Obtain some expert advice on installing backup valves and/or leak detectors to prevent such damage. In the event of a water-damage claim, insurance brokers recommend that you take a photo of the entry point of water into the home to determine the cause. Before filing a claim, consult with your insurance broker. Registering a claim against a policy may result in a loss of your "claims-free discount" and/or an increase in premiums.

Overland flooding occurs when bodies of water, such as rivers, dams and other watercourses, overflow onto dry land and cause damage. Until recently, coverage for overland flooding – resulting in water entering a home, usually through doors and windows – was not available for residential buildings. Some insurance companies now offer it, but conditions will apply. For example, coverage for overland flooding usually cannot be purchased without also buying sewer backup coverage, and homes on or near flood plains may not be eligible for overland flood coverage.

Commercial insurance policies can include flood, but this coverage may be subject to large deductibles (for ex., $10,000 and up). This may also be the case for a strata property's building policy.

If flood is a covered peril on the commercial insurance policy, it will provide coverage, subject to the deductible, on a "form following" basis, i.e., for the buildings and contents specifically named on the policy. If the insured business also has business interruption insurance, extra expense insurance or other policies, these items will be covered if the insured property (buildings, contents) is also covered. In commercial policies, sewer back-up is treated in a manner similar to residential policies in that it must be endorsed to the policy and usually has a $2,500 deductible or higher.

Cars and trucks are covered for losses resulting from rising water under ICBC's Comprehensive and Specified Perils policies. ICBC's toll-free claims number is 1-800-910-4222. For coverage information regarding your boat, motorhome, ATV, motorcycle or other recreational vehicle, consult your insurance broker.

Farm outbuildings are not generally covered by flood insurance. Farm machinery and equipment covered by an All-risk Form may be covered.

In all cases, it is the responsibility of the insured to take reasonable action to minimize damage to insured property. Mitigation measures may include: moving vehicles, contents, vulnerable people and animals off premises; securing premises by sandbagging; installing a sump pump.

For specific information about your insurance policies, what they cover in relation to water damage, and some suggested mitigation measures, please contact your insurance broker. Your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. Your insurance broker is your advocate in the event of a claim and a resource you can rely on for the protection of your belongings. Call your broker to ask about specific coverage issues. Track expenses incurred in minimizing losses, for example, for storage costs, in case a claim is submitted. Document everything. 

B.C.'s Disaster Financial Assistance Program (DFA) helps those impacted by a disaster cope with the cost of repairs and recovery from uninsurable disaster-related property damage. To be eligible for assistance, the damage must result from an event for which insurance is not readily available. Insurable damages, such as sewer or sump pit back-up, water entry from above ground including roofs, windows or other areas of the building that are not at ground level, are not eligible for DFA. For a summary of the program and a list of disaster events currently declared eligible for assistance, please go to the DFA website.

The major flooding that occurred in southern Alberta, Manitoba and southeast B.C. in 2013 was a sobering reminder about the speed, scope and severity of such events. Many affected residents had only about 15 minutes to gather necessary items and evacuate. Organize your critical items for a quick evacuation and easier recovery and claims process. The Government of Canada's Emergency Preparedness Guide provides helpful information.