Matt Hands, VP, Insurance and MoneySense
In IBC’s study, researchers suggested a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hitting British Columbia would result in total damages of about $75 billion dollars. They also created a model for the Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec city corridor where a 7.1 magnitude earthquake would result in $65 billion dollars in damages. Despite it being a relatively small area in relation to all of Canada, 40% of Canadians live in earthquake zones.
According to government studies, by 2054 (or within the next 34 years) there is a 12% and 21% chance a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Vancouver and Victoria, respectively. There is a 5-15% chance a structurally damaging earthquake hits St. Lawrence River valley to the Ottawa Valley, including Quebec City, Montreal, and Ottawa.
When a magnitude 7 earthquake strikes, a well designed building will have minor damage. The damage will be considerable in poorly built buildings. You can expect cracked chimneys and fissures in exterior brickwork, drywall and plaster falling off the walls, and heavy furniture and appliances to be overturned.
Living near a danger zone is cause for concern, especially if you can’t afford the high deductible should an earthquake occur. Compare your perceived risk of experiencing an earthquake, the quality of your home’s structure, and your financial situation following a catastrophic event.
Currently, the federal government doesn’t provide much financial aid to victims by way of a disaster relief fund, but you may be limited to low interest loans (which you have to pay back).
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Earthquake insurance coverage includes more than seismic activity cracking your foundation and the resulting damage to contents within your home. It also covers ‘Fire Following’, meaning if a gas line breaks as a result of the earthquake which causes a fire, you have protection. If your house is built on sandy soil, it may also cover landslides and liquefaction which could cause your home to slip into a sinkhole creating severe foundation problems. You may also be entitled to additional living expenses which pays for you to live elsewhere while your home is being repaired. Despite its sudden occurrence resulting from an earthquake, earthquake insurance doesn't cover tidal waves or tsunamis. Ask your insurer if their flood insurance policies would cover you for those situations.
When speaking with your provider about adding earthquake coverage, be sure to ask about any potential gaps in coverage. If your home was flooded as a result of a burst pipe from the earthquake, would regular home insurance protect you or would you need special flood insurance? Sometimes a fire following an earthquake is included in a standard policy. Ask your broker or insurance provider about limits on the contents insurance portion of your policy, and if so, should you increase it? Always seek clarification from your insurance broker or agent.
The cost of earthquake insurance varies based on your risk. Square One Insurance, a specialty home insurance provider in Vancouver, gave us some annual estimates for major cities across Canada based on a house worth $300,000 and its contents.
- $15 in Toronto, ON
- $25 in Winnipeg, MB
- $178 in Montreal, QC
- $284 in Edmonton, AB
- $213 in Halifax, NS
- $332 in Vancouver, BC
- $515 in Richmond, BC
Know that earthquake insurance doesn’t come with a standard flat rate deductible. An earthquake insurance deductible is typically between 2-20% of total damages. If you have a $300,000 house, expect to be out of pocket between $6,000-$60,000. The deductible range will depend on the structure, age, and location of your home.
Earthquake insurance is not included in most home insurance policies. If you live in a Canadian earthquake zone like BC or in the Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec corridor, consider adding-on earthquake coverage to your home insurance policy, if available. You may need to consider a new insurance provider that offers earthquake coverage.
How to get home insurance with earthquake coverage.
Each year, Canada experiences around 4,000 earthquakes. You can view all Canadian earthquakes, and their magnitudes, in the last 30 days here. Most are small and imperceptible to humans, but over the last 3 centuries there have been at least 24 earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 5.0. In the image below, you can see most of the major earthquakes happen in British Columbia. According to the Richter scale, anything above a magnitude 6.0 is enough to cause major damage. An earthquake above 8.0 can destroy entire communities near its epicenter.
*from Insurance Bureau of Canada”s (IBC) commissioned earthquake study
Limiting the damage an earthquake may cause is a smart way to reduce the financial burden.
Here’s some quick tips to help earthquake proof your home:
- Hire a licensed building engineer to inspect your home for any weaknesses and areas that may require a retrofit.
- Keep moisture levels consistent. Direct water away from the foundation ensuring it flows into drains and not under your home.
- Check in your crawl space and or attic that the sill plate (the first piece of wood which connects your home’s framing to the concrete foundation) is anchored in place. The bolts should be every 4-6 ft along the plate.
- If your home is pier or post foundation, hire an engineer to ensure they are cross-braced together to provide even distribution of support across your entire house.
- Instead of drywalling the basement or crawl space (cripple wall) use plywood on the interior to brace the wood studs together providing more support.
- Modern homes are built with reinforced concrete. Homes built prior to 1930 may have stone rubble foundations, or lack the rebar which strengthens the foundation. Consider adding steel framing on the exterior to support the house or underpin your basement with rebar connecting old to new foundation.
- Test the mortar between your bricks, if you push in and the mortar turns to dust, replace it. Have a mortar specialist come and re-tuck point your home.
- Install flexible gas (yellow pipe) and water (pex) piping to reduce the risk of breakage. Older piping made of copper or galvanized steel may break causing leaks or fire.
- Install shut off valves that are activated by a tremor so no water or gas escape due to any seismic activity.
- Install special brackets for your mechanical systems including your hot water tank, furnace, air conditioning. Use metal bracing and attach it to the wall studs or directly into the concrete.
- Add extra support to fridges, washer/dryer units, stoves, bookshelves, and even pictures hanging on the wall. Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from flying open. Wall mount your television and strap down other expensive electronics. It doesn’t take a massive earthquake to have things shift inside your home.
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Matt Hands, Business Director of Insurance
With 6+ years of experience at Ratehub.ca, Matt’s focus has been on growing its newest business unit, Insurance. He is a thought leader and a valuable resource to respected publications across Canada. read full bio
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