AET Group INC & Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo: Home Flood Protection Assessments

Raindrops keep falling on my single biggest investment. Home Flood Protection Program helps keep homeowners above water

It’s something just about every homeowner dreads. For many of us in Canada, the sound of rain instantly conjures up the voice of one of our parents saying, urgently, “I’m going down to check the basement” and with climate change increasing the intensity and frequency of flood-inducing rains, the problem of flooded basements and homes is only getting worse.

The combination of increasingly frequent intense rainfall, aging infrastructure, increased urbanization, loss of natural infrastructure and a lack of flood protection measures at the household level mean that more and more basements are flooding across much of Canada. That’s a costly problem and one the Home Flood Protection Program is setting out to help homeowners address.

The Home Flood Protection Program (HFPP) was developed by the Intact Centre at the University of Waterloo and delivered by trained Home Flood Protection Assessors from AET Group, a Kitchener-based environmental consultancy firm. It is an innovative program that focuses on helping homeowners understand practical and cost-effective ways that they can reduce the risk of basement flooding and reduce damage in the event of a flood.

Home Flood Protection Assessments are done on individual homes in order to best identify specific needs for each unique home and homeowner. This bottom up approach works to empower homeowners by providing an in-depth flood protection report, as well as recommended key flood protection upgrades and seasonal maintenance that should be completed to minimize risk. The HFPP also provides a wide range of third-party information resources from government, academic and non-governmental organizations. Critical training programs for professionals working in the fields of home inspection, realty and insurance are also made available to ensure that residents receive consistent and accurate information about trusted professionals about what they can do at their homes to reduce risk.

By helping residents identify flood risks at home and take action to reduce these risks, the program promises to save just about everyone money. Floods are extremely expensive for homeowners, governments, insurance companies—according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the average cost of a flooded basement in Canada is $43,000. The program also promises to reduce some of the upheaval and the heartbreak of home damage—the irreplaceably precious as well as the valuable are often lost—that floods can bring.

The goals of this program were to field test the effectiveness of the program at raising awareness and driving action at the household level to reduce flood risk. The program was tested in several different communities—Burlington and Toronto in Ontario and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and was evaluated to determine the potential for applying the program at a national scale.  

In 2016, the Intact Centre at the University of Waterloo completed a review of home flood protection literature and consulted with over 100 experts in the fields of municipal engineering, home inspection, plumbing, landscaping, insurance, real estate, law and communications. The result was draft versions of the assessment tool and training programs which were then sent for additional review by field experts. A Community Engagement Plan (community buy-in is key to the success of any plan involving people’s homes, which is so often where their hearts are) was developed and customized with the formal partnership and cooperation of the City of Burlington, City of Toronto and City of Saskatoon. City-supported program promotions have shown excellent results.

The Home Flood Protection Assessment Training Program was honed by the team to include 5 modules of online training and a 2 day in-person training program. In order to successfully complete training each assessor was required to carry out 2 assessments at homes that meet required quality assurance standards. The initial training program was tested in the spring of 2017 with Home Flood Protection Assessors engaged by AET. Participants provided feedback about streamlining the training and making it more effective. The training was updated accordingly and used to train additional assessors in Saskatoon in 2018.

The Home Flood Protection Assessment Secure Online Portal was developed by the Intact Centre in the winter of 2017. This portal serves as an online access point for users of the program including AET customer service representatives who are booking assessments and helping customers with inquiries, AET Home Flood Protection Assessors who are completing assessments and seeking quality assurance approval, quality assurance staff from the Intact Centre who are approving assessments, clients who are checking their reports and Intact Centre staff who are completing data analysis. AET provided testing and careful feedback on all elements of this portal before the project went live.

In the summer of 2018, the Intact Centre partnered with Fleming and Seneca Colleges to develop this training program into a formal, in-class training program for home inspectors and other working professionals. The in-class version of the course was launched at Seneca College in Toronto in September 2018. An online version of the training program was created and launched in March 2019.

To date, a total of 510 HFPP assessments have been completed throughout Ontario and Saskatchewan and a highly impressive 79% of assessment participants who completed a follow-up survey at 3 months indicated they had taken at least one new action to reduce flood risk. While 65% of actions were completed primarily by residents for under $500 (e.g. cleaning out eaves troughs, installing backup sump pumps, improving grading) and the other 40% of actions cost over $500 and were primarily completed with the help of contractors (e.g. replacing eaves troughs and basement windows, installing backwater valves, waterproofing the foundation).

The Home Flood Protection Program highlights simple, cost-effective measures that residents can take reduce their risk of flooding and reduce damage in the event of a flood. The program is helping to take some of the anxiety out of the words “Check the basement,” on a truly national level.