The cost of protecting homes from flooding … who pays?

Published: June 15, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



Canada is starting to rethink building strategies and will increasingly move to construction projects away from flood zones and at-risk areas. However, that change will come too late for thousands of neighbourhoods that are already in these locations. Properties currently in flood zones cannot all be relocated, so protection must be the remedy.

Pilot projects are already springing up in an effort to retrofit homes to withstand rising water and overland flooding. One such project is in Durham Region and Burlington in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario.

Blair Feltmate is the head of Intact Centre for Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. He is among a team that is working on a national standard for retrofitting homes with the ability to combat floods. Feltmate spoke at the 2017 Flood Risk Summit and presented the cost for assessing retrofits, and who would pay for it.

We’re applying this (retrofit assessment) program to 4,000 homes in Burlington,” Feltmate said. “The cost per home is $275. Then the question now becomes… who pays?”

“Is it a combination of the province, the municipality, the insurer and the homeowner?”

While the projected cost may seem affordable to many owners, there will be many more who will not be able to afford it.

“If it’s a very low-priced home where, perhaps the person living in the home lives right on the edge every month, $275 is a lot of money to a lot of people,” Feltmate said. “At some level of pricing need, should there be a subsidy from the province, the municipality, the insurer, perhaps the bank? Who pays the homeowner to operationalize this program?”

Retrofit efforts include fitting sump pumps, rain barrels, and removing down spouts. The latter costs around $25, but costs could run up to as much as $2,500 for a backwater valve installation.

“In many communities in Canada there is a subsidy offered by municipalities to help the homeowner with that installation,” Feltmate added. “But the problem is the uptake – even in communities that have 100% subsidies offered for down spout disconnect, backwater valve installation, sump pump installation, the uptake in cities across the country is only around 47%.

“However, when you actually go to the door with a little pre-emptive work to fertilize the landscape, the uptake on the home flood protection program by homeowners is about 65% to 70%. Three-quarters of homeowners operationalize about two-thirds to three-quarters of the recommendations borne from the home assessment program within a six to eight-week period.”