As flood and fire season in the Okanagan approaches, it’s important that residents are aware of how to protect themselves and their property from natural disasters.
Spring and summertime in Kelowna are mostly known for being warm, sunny and all-around beautiful, but the quick changes in weather and dry climate also cause concern. Last year’s floods and fires have residents on edge as another large snowpack begins to melt and hot summer months approach.
Besides doing whatever we can to avoid human-caused fires (please pay attention to campfire bans!), there isn’t much else that we can do to prevent these natural disasters.
What we can do, however, is prepare ourselves by making sure we have the right coverage. As they say, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
We spoke with Donna-Leigh White, an Insurance Expert at Valley First, a division of First West Insurance Services Ltd., to learn more about what insurance options are available for homeowners, renters and vehicle owners.
What unique struggles do we face in the Okanagan as far as insurance goes?
"We see a lot of forest fires and wildfires in the summertime each year all across the Okanagan. In addition, fresh water flooding and rising ground water are becoming more prevalent here, and all across the Country. In fact, water damage (in its various forms) is now the #1 cause of property loss across Canada."
Does basic home insurance offer protection from flood or fire damage?
"Basic home insurance does typically cover fire losses. However, there can be lower limits available for fire department charges. This means that in the event of a large blaze, where other regions need to be brought in to help fight the fire. You may be on the hook to cover the costs of the extra support that was needed."
"Fresh water flooding (overland water) and groundwater are not usually covered under your basic policy. In fact, up until a few years ago, the coverage was not available in Canada. Most companies are now offering it, but each one has slightly different definitions for what exactly they are including. It is a great idea to review this with your insurance broker to understand what you are and are not covered for."
What additional coverage should homeowners consider coming into flood and fire season?
"If you don’t already have fresh water flooding or ground water insurance, be sure to talk to your insurance broker about adding it now. Since insurance is for the unexpected losses, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to add coverage when there is already a natural disaster nearby. You will likely have to wait until the disaster is over, and by that point, the damage is usually done. If you already have the coverage, you are still covered."
Is additional home insurance worth it?
"I always recommend getting the best insurance policy that you are able to afford. Nobody plans for a natural disaster to occur and it can cause significant financial hardship and emotional stress when it does."
"Having insurance, and understanding your policy, can give you that piece of mind when you need it most. If budget is a concern, there are options to save on your premium while making sure you are properly covered, such as increasing your deductible."
How about renters - should they seek any additional insurance?
"This is often an overlooked area for many people, and is equally important. Even when your contents may not be at risk, such as in an upper level apartment unit, you could still be displaced if water were to enter the building."
"We saw buildings last year in Kelowna that had water enter the lower level, and all tenants were forced to evacuate due to possible electrical concerns. If you were to carry tenant insurance with overland water coverage, than you are covered in the event of a mandatory evacuation and could be put up in a hotel while the concern passes."
"Many people do not realize that the landlord’s insurance does not cover this in the event of a claim. Depending on the length of the displacement, the costs could begin to add up."
How about vehicle insurance?
"While properties are particularly susceptible to natural disasters, vehicles can also be affected. Making sure that you carry comprehensive insurance on your vehicles will ensure that you have fire, smoke and water loss coverage."
"Garages can flood, and spare vehicles may have to be abandoned during a fire evacuation. This can lead to smoke damage, if not an actual fire loss. Even automobiles or recreational vehicles that are stored can be at risk."
"Many people believe that their home insurance covers the vehicles in their garage if a theft or fire were to occur, but that it not the case. Making sure that you have a storage insurance policy can protect you in these situations – and can start as low as $30."
Is there anything else that you feel Kelowna residents should know regarding their insurance at this time of year?
"If you are planning on purchasing a property, make sure that your realtor adds an insurance condition to your offer. This allows you the time needed to ensure that the home will be insurable when you become the owner of the property."
"The last thing you want to happen is for a fire to start just outside the city, which might prevent you from getting insurance in time for your home to close. You can insure your property up to 30 days in advance of the effective date, so make sure to get it in place as soon as you are able, in order to avoid any last minute problems."
"Also, don’t forget to insure your condos prior to possession, or to get insurance in place if you do not currently have any. The strata’s insurance will only cover the building itself. Your displacement, contents, liability, or any improvements done to the unit done by you or previous owners, are not covered in the event of a claim. In addition, the strata can assess a portion of their policy’s deductible to each owner, and you want to make sure that you don’t end up having to pay out of pocket."
"The biggest recommendation I have is to talk to your insurance broker. They are there to help you and protect some of your largest investments. Make sure that you understand the coverages you have, and what is excluded, so you don’t end up with any surprises."
If you have any questions about your coverage or what insurance you need to protect your property, you can learn more on the Valley First website here or by contacting one of their insurance brokers.
Valley First is a division of First West Credit Union with locations spanning the Okanagan, Similkameen and Thompson Valleys. Valley First offers banking, borrowing, insurance and investment services, as well as sound financial advice.
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