Over the last nine years, water damage claims have risen from 20 per cent to 50 per cent of all home insurance claims in Canada. We provide information on proactive measures you can take and examine what insurance does and does not cover.
When you may not be covered
Before you leave your home for any extended period, it is important to understand how your absence can affect your insurance policy.
Whether you are planning a week-long vacation or travelling for several months, if you have a set return date your property is considered unoccupied while you are away.
If there is no one living in your property, it is deemed vacant. For example, you could be using your home as a rental unit and have a gap between tenants, or you may have purchased and moved into a new home leaving your former property empty while you wait for it to sell.
If your property is vacant, you will need to make arrangements for a vacancy permit in order to continue to receive insurance coverage. A vacancy permit offers basic protection against major risks, such as fire. Policy conditions can vary, but there is typically no coverage for vandalism, theft or water damage effective from the first day that the property is vacant, even if you have notified your broker of your absence.
Whether your home is vacant or unoccupied, we recommend having someone check on your property every 24 hours, depending on the requirements of your home insurance policy. Failure to do this can result in your home insurance policy becoming void.
Always be sure to contact your local BrokerLink broker before you leave your property for any length of time. If you don’t do this, your insurance company could deny a claim for damage to your property and your coverage may be affected during your absence.
What to do if you leave your home overnight during the normal heating season:
- Shut off the water supply to your home by turning off the main water supply valve. Then open at least one tap on each floor in your home so any excess water can flow through the taps and drain into your sinks.
- After shutting off the water, flush all toilets to drain the tanks and reduce the likelihood of them splitting.
- If you plan an extended absence, consider draining the entire water system. There should be a ‘stop and drain’ or a valve near the shut-off which allows you to do this. You may also want to add non-toxic anti-freeze to the drains and toilet bowls.
- While you are away, you will need to have a competent person check on your home every 24 hours. Failure to adhere to these conditions can alter the coverage your home insurance policy provides.
- How can you prevent pipes from freezing? One of the ways you can fight against the danger of frozen pipes, regardless if you are home or not, is by adding pipe insulation. Simply wrap exposed pipes with foam insulation to help your pipes retain heat.
Who is at risk for water damage?
Whether due to severe snowfall, power outages, floods, sewer backups, rapid snow melt, frozen water pipes or faulty or aging appliances, all homes including condos and apartments, are at risk for water damage. Winter is a particularly important time to remain aware of these risks, as heavy snow and freezing temperatures present increased opportunities for water damage to occur. Who is at risk for water damage?
Preventing water damage in a home
If there is a power or furnace outage, your home’s temperature may drop severely. This can cause any leftover water in your pipes to freeze and expand, causing your pipes to split. When heat and power are restored, the ice within your pipes will melt and leak through the cracks. A burst pipe can produce enough water to fill a swimming pool every 24 hours.
Most home insurance policies will cover sudden and accidental leaks of appliances and pipes. For example, you likely have coverage if your dishwasher or washing machine overflows.
However, you should be aware that insurance does not cover preventable incidents, such as damage resulting from neglecting deteriorating pipes. Check with your broker to confirm details of your coverage.
Preventing water damage in a condo or apartment
If you live in a condo or apartment, it is important to ensure any exterior facing windows and doors remain closed during the winter months. Insufficient climate control within your unit can cause pipes to freeze and burst. This not only causes water damage for you, but potentially your neighbours should water seep into the units below.
Additional water damage prevention tips for your home
Inspect the roof
- Look for any missing or worn out shingles. Consider hiring a professional roofer to check your roof and complete any maintenance required.
Check the attic
- A poorly insulated attic can allow heat to escape causing snow and ice on the roof to melt. The water drips to the edge of the roof and freezes, resulting in ice damming.
- Check around windows, skylights, air vents and chimneys for leaks and repair them. Make sure your home’s downspouts extend at least 1.8 m (6 ft.) from the building.
Look for leaks in caulk and grout
- Check bathroom walls and tiling for cracked or missing caulk and grout. Remove broken or loose pieces and replace the tile and caulk. Water can seep behind the tiles and leak into other floors or create mould behind walls.
Install window well covers
- Consider installing window well covers to keep window wells free from debris and pooling water.
Talk to your broker
Taking steps to protect yourself from water damage, including adequate insurance coverage will help give you peace of mind this winter. Speak to a local BrokerLink broker to review your home insurance policy and to identify ways you can further protect yourself. Talk to your broker