Mental health impacts for homeowners with flooded basements long after water recedes, says study

The victims of basement flooding continue to be stressed out about it long after they've finished cleaning up, according to new research released by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

On average, people miss 7 days of work to deal with flooded basements

Flooded living room
Hundreds of homes in Windsor and Tecumseh, Ont. were flooded after storms pummelled the region in August last year. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Victims of basement flooding continue to be stressed out about it long after they've finished cleaning up, and many miss work to deal with the issue.

That's according to new research just released by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

The study surveyed people living in Burlington, Ont. — an area doused by two months' worth of rainfall in one evening back in 2014. Some homeowners experienced heavy flooding in their basements while others hs none at all. 

"Even three years later, people were documenting that on a scale from one to five — five being the worst— when it rains that day, when there is a heavy rain that day or night they are stressed," said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre and a professor at the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Environment.

"About 50 per cent of people ranked [themselves] as highly stressed, saying they would be up in the middle of the night checking the basement, looking for potential flooding."

The amount of stress appears to be related to the depth of water they had downstairs, and there were no statistically significant differences in the physical health of flood victims and people who had never had a flood.

Researchers also found there were economic impacts associated with flooded basements.

Tanya Windibank walks through some her most valuable belongings that were ruined in a Windsor, Ont. flooding event last summer. Homeowners experience stress about flooding long after the water is gone, a recent study shows. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

On average, 56 per cent of flooded households with at least one person working too time off of work to deal with the issue. On average, those people missed seven days of work, which is ten times the Ontario average for non-flooded households.

"That was for people with or without insurance, it didn't matter," said Feltmate. 

Home inspectors' course 2018

With the research in hand, Feltmate said he is working closely with Ontario colleges to develop a program mandatory for those studying to be home inspectors. 

He said it needs to be a factor when people are buying a new house.

"Home inspectors have little expertise to make that determination," said Feltmate. "What we're developing is a new course ... that will be part of the curriculum and training for home inspectors."

Currently, home inspectors receive little to no training in basement flood risk assessment, he said, but this new program will be available in September of 2018.

A home ravages by a summer 2017 storm event in Windsor, Ont. Homeowners miss about seven days of work to deal with flooded basements, according to a new study. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Less insurance for flood victims

The focus of the study is timely, said Feltmate, because there is an urgency to mitigating the damage flooding can cause.

"Homeowners across Ontario and indeed Canada are finding themselves positioned —due to repeated basement flooding —where the availability for flood insurance on a home is limited," he said. 

"Of all the extreme weather events being in the country today — flood, drought, hail, wind, ice loading — the number one cost in the country is due to flooding and flooded basements."

Feltman hopes this research will motivate politicians on all levels of government and locally to lower the probability of people experiencing flooded homes. 

"With this information in hand, I think it will very much resonate well with politicians that 'Oh boy there's another major driver here.'"


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