Extreme Weather and Your Home
The number of climate change deniers is trending downwards as everyday people are experiencing more and more extreme weather events. These climate-related events are destroying homes, businesses, and lives at an alarming rate. The insurance industry is reeling as their claims skyrocket - and everyone is obliged to pay more for home coverage, if they can even still get it.
While governments are finally reacting to the threat of climate change, it will be many years before we accomplish all that needs to be done to mitigate the human causes. And we will still be left with some long-term climate effects that will provoke changes in where and how we build new homes. Meanwhile, we need to protect as much of our existing housing stock as possible. The major risks of climate change, and this is not a complete list, can be summed up as follows:
- Water damage from an increase in precipitation; overland flooding caused by snow melt and "atmospheric rivers".
- Wind events that impact roof structures and cause power disruptions when trees fall across power transmission lines.
- Ice storms that also create prolonged power outages and extensive tree damage.
- Drought caused by higher-than-normal temperatures and diminished rainfall; wells run dry, wildfires increase in numbers and ferocity, livestock and crops perish.
- Extreme cold in communities that have not had prior experience with very low temperatures will lead to water mains and domestic plumbing freezing and bursting; causing extensive damage and potential health consequences.
- Rising ocean levels will cause increasing shoreline erosion and, combined with more frequent storm surges, endanger homes that are now too close to the ocean.
- High summertime temperatures can cause critical health issues and put a strain on our electrical power grid as we increase our use of air conditioning.
The thought of these climate change consequences can be daunting, and while we cannot avoid all of those risks, there are some measures individual homeowners can take to mitigate them.
Let's start with water damage avoidance.
If the ground around your home is sloped away from the foundation, you are already off to a good start. If that is not the case, then look at what practical steps you can take to improve the situation. It may involve digging to install French drains or the creation of swales to draw surface water away from your home. Make sure your roof drainage is directed away from your foundation.
Check the condition of your roof covering. If it is excessively worn it becomes more susceptible to wind damage. Losing some or all of your roof covering in a rain and wind storm will result in roof leaks and possibly significant interior damage.
If you live on a flood plain, an area near a river or lake that routinely overflows its banks, you will need to take more serious measures. These could include having a high capacity sump pump in your basement and a ready supply of sandbags.
If you install a sump pump, remember to have a backup power supply for the pump. Heavy rains that cause basement floods are frequently accompanied by power interruptions.
Wind damage is a significant threat in some parts of the country.
Apart from damage to your roof covering and the consequential leaks, if a large tree near your home is blown over you may experience significant structural damage and/or vehicle damage and/or personal injury. Consider removing large trees or branches, particularly on older trees, that are too near your home. Falling trees may also take down your overhead power lines and this can lead to a prolonged interruption of electrical service.
A backup generator for key electrical components in your home can be critical in providing light, heat, water supply, internet, cooking, and refrigeration. This can also be helpful in the event of an ice storm when extended outages frequently occur. There are many options on the market and prices vary considerably. In any case, you will need to engage a licensed electrician to do an installation that is safe and reliable.
If you live in an area that is experiencing tornadoes, once a rare occurrence in Canada, you will need to consider building a storm shelter on your property. These are usually below ground and stocked with emergency food, water, and other amenities to keep your family fed, warm and dry. While tornadoes' durations are short, the winds are ferocious, and your home may not be habitable until repairs are completed.
Parts of the country are experiencing much higher snowfalls than in previous winters.
In these areas, homes and infrastructure may not be designed and built for that condition. Reassess your property bearing in mind that your roof may experience heavy snow loads; some revisions may be in order to prevent structural collapse. Invest in snow removal equipment. It could be something as simple as the right shovels or, if needed, a snow blower.
If you are unaccustomed to heavy exercise, there is a danger of overexertion when removing snow from your walks and driveway. Emergency rooms often get very busy with cardiac failures after a heavy snowfall. If you cannot get in shape for snow removal, hire someone who can do that work.
Living by the ocean has become more challenging.
During a recent hurricane in Atlantic Canada, several homes and buildings were lost to wind driven tidal surges. This kind of problem will become more frequent as we begin to experience rising ocean levels
If your oceanfront home or outbuildings are too close to the shoreline, there are some measures that you can take to avoid catastrophic losses. You can seek permission from the government to build a seawall; to prevent shoreline erosion and overland flooding. If this is not practical, consider relocating your home and/or buildings further back from the ocean. While these solutions may be expensive, replacing buildings that are damaged by wave action or even swept out to sea will be even more costly. Also bear in mind that property insurance coverage may be very expensive, or even unavailable as insurance companies reassess the insurability of oceanfront homes.
Extreme summertime heat in some locations is also an aspect of climate change.
This can present serious health issues if your home is not air conditioned. People will succumb to heat stroke when they fail to stay adequately hydrated. Pets and livestock are also susceptible to health concerns in extreme heat, so measures need to be taken to enhance their safety; access to a plentiful water supply and shade can help.
Extreme heat can cause drought conditions that will affect forests and fields; creating a landscape that is very vulnerable to wildfires. Homes and lives are being lost with greater frequency than before because of fire conducive conditions. If you live in an area where this is becoming a problem, look at the vegetation near your home. Keep dead and dry vegetation cleaned up. Take down trees that are too close to structures on your property. Make certain your home can produce enough water flow to soak down structures should a wildfire advance toward your property.
Some general precautions should be considered.
- Confirm with your insurance company the coverage you have for damage from extreme weather events; it may need to be revised.
- Equip your home with fire extinguishers; one on each level.
- Avoid using candles during power outages. Battery powered lamps are a safer alternative.
- Have an alternative heat source in your home; one that does not rely on electrical power to operate.
- Have a supply of bottled water on hand; enough to last for at least a week.
- Have some ready to eat food in the house; something that does not require cooking.
- Make sure you and your neighbours have a plan to support each other in a weather crisis; exchange phone numbers and create a check-in protocol.
- Know your community's emergency plan and what facilities will be operating for food, water, and shelter; such a plan probably exists.
- Keep your vehicles well-fueled and properly equipped.
- Have an evacuation route planned and a safe destination to which you can go.
- Most importantly, have an emergency "go bag" ready in the event that evacuation becomes necessary. It should contain, to name a few things, preserved food and bottled water enough for a few days, flashlights and batteries, blankets, spare clothing, phone chargers and cash. If you have a tent and camping equipment, keep it ready.
No one wants to leave their home to the mercy of the elements, but it may become necessary. You can always rebuild a home, but not a lost life.
CAHPI qualified home inspectors can help you assess the readiness of your home and property in preparation for extreme weather events. Have a qualified arborist look at the trees on your property to determine if measures are needed to improve safety. Your local government has plans in place to deal with a variety of community wide emergency occurrences. Most of us may be spared from experiencing extreme weather, but the certainty of that is dwindling. Have a plan ready just in case.