08/29/2013 04:22 EDT | Updated 10/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Insurance Policies Changing In Wake Of Floods

Carol Armstrong, left, and Don Armstrong sort through water-damaged photographs as they help clean their son's home in Rideau Park after flooding in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Monday, June 24, 2013. Water levels in Calgary subsided and crews are working to restore power as officials confirmed a fourth fatality in the worst flood in Alberta's history. Photographer: Keith Morison/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Insurance companies are rethinking what coverage they offer, and at what cost, following the heavy rains and flooding that swamped Toronto and parts of Alberta this summer.

Water damage is now a “major issue” for insurers, unlike years past when such coverage was often tacked on to policies as an after-thought, according to Greg Robertson of R. Robertson Insurance Brokers in Toronto.

“Back in the day, water coverage was inexpensive because water wasn’t as big an issue,” Robertson said Thursday on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. “But now the changes to weather patterns cause rains to come on strong, sudden, and to dump extreme amounts of water.”

The total cost of the flooding in Alberta is estimated at over $5 billion. The cost to insurers from Toronto’s flood is pegged at $850 million.

People are also putting a lot more money into their basements, Robertson added, as the threadbare carpets, concrete walls and beaten-up furniture of the past give way to fully and expensively tricked-out living spaces.

“People are spending extreme amounts of money in the basement,” which has led to a huge increase in insurance claims, he said. The recent flooding in Toronto saw claims for flooded basements between $30,000 and $50,000, he said, adding that one claim was $90,000.

Calgary-area general contractor Vaughan Wallace says people there are still busy repairing damage from storms that occurred last year.

“Probably a good 80 to 90 per cent of their work right now is insurance claims, and it's insurance claims from a year, a year and a half ago — so both hail, wind, rain,” he said.

Even before the flooding in June of this year, Alberta homeowners were already seeing their rates go up.

“A lot of the insurance companies have been increasing their rates, changing their deductibles,” said Calgary insurance broker Emad Rizk. "I've heard figures anywhere from 30 to 60 per cent."

The province has seen fires, floods and a lot of hail in recent years. “So it seems like we're not getting a break when it comes to natural disasters and weather-related losses. And it seems like it's becoming harder to predict weather,” Rizk added.

Robertson says insurance companies were rethinking water damage long before this summer’s extreme weather, and that some firms have already scaled back what coverage they offer, or are charging more to those who live in areas with a history of flooding.

From now on, location is going to be “a huge factor” in insurance policies, he says, “because certain territories are just more prone to water damage claims.”

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