This winter’s exaggerated freeze-thaw cycle has taken a toll on Ottawa’s aging infrastructure. Broken water mains under roads and frozen pipes inside homes have left many business and home owners knee-deep in financial worries. Even those not directly affected are feeling anxious — could their place be next?
In downtown Ottawa, Elgin Street has closed twice in a week already this winter due to broken water mains. About a dozen businesses suffered a loss of sales, including Fresco Italiano, a charming little bistro we were introduced to this summer — located smack-dab in the middle of the trouble.
Owner Jim Bickford says he had to cancel about 160 reservations due to the burst. He estimates the restaurant lost between $10,000 and $12,000, but he says because the pipes were fixed within 48 hours, his losses aren’t covered by his insurance. He’s asking the city for compensation.
Although the Elgin Street pipes date back to 1874, it’s not just the ancient cast-iron ones we have to watch out for. Newer ones on Woodroffe Avenue caused upheaval last winter, with a sinkhole there adding insult to injury: It swallowed the truck of workers sent to fix the main.
I’m sure we’re not the only ones taking a good look at our basement this winter, re-examining our insurance policies — and checking the status of our home maintenance fund. If pipes — old and new– can suddenly give way, what might that mean for our home?
When it comes to flood damage, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation warns that mold is the bigger danger. CMHC recommends the following if you suffer flooding in your home:
1 — Contact your insurance broker
First, call your insurance broker or agent and report the water damage. You can expect to discuss these questions and issues:
- How did the water damage occur?
- Is this damage covered by your policy?
- Did the damage occur during the period your policy was in effect?
- Are you reporting the water damage promptly (within 24 hours) to allow quick drying and repairs?
2 — Hire a Contractor
Hire a contractor to clean up the water and make repairs as needed to your house. Your adjuster can recommend contractors, but you must confirm the selection with your adjuster — the contractor reports to and is paid by you. You need to be sure that the adjuster and the contractor are following the best possible procedures to look after your concerns.
(For more information see CMHC’s factsheet: http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/momo/momo_007.cfm )
The potential for home and business damage due to frozen pipes underlines the need for a financial plan. Some experts say each year you should be setting aside between 3% and 5% of the value of your home for home maintenance.
That’s a lot to tuck away, but here’s a lesson learned from frozen pipes that will cost you nothing: Lena works at my local physiotherapy clinic. A broken water pipe and flood in the basement of their home uprooted her and her husband, sending them to live with his folks and in hotels while repairs are underway. She says the flood has taught her she can live without all those boxes and boxes of things she thought she needed. Since it happened, she says she’s put her spending on hold so she can direct her savings toward what really matters: less stuff, and more experiences.