Flooding is a common (and destructive) natural hazard. As climate change increases the risk of floods worldwide, we’re likely to see more losses related to water damage in the near future.

But your home can be damaged by water in other ways, too — not just a sudden, catastrophic event. A clogged toilet, a failing water heater, burst or broken pipes, a sewer backup or a leaky roof can all cause slow leaks that can generate mold, mildew and dry rot. Any one of these situations can cause as much damage as a single big storm.

Wondering what coverage you have under your current homeowners policy to protect against water damage? It all depends on whether the damage is accidental, sudden or gradual, and on the type of policy you have. Keep in mind that water damage from lack of maintenance typically isn’t covered.

That’s why it’s important to mitigate the potential for water damage by following these best practices:

  • Keep an eye on your water bill. Set a baseline, and if there’s an uptick in your usage month over month, you know an issue exists somewhere.
  • Find your main water shut-off valve. If you live in a colder climate, the main shut-off valve may be in the basement; if you live in a warmer climate, it’s likely attached to an exterior wall or in an underground box. Know where this valve is before you have a burst pipe or other plumbing issue, so you can quickly stop the flow of water when needed. Also, if you’re going away for vacation, consider shutting off your water main — you have less chance of coming home to a flooded house if water isn’t flowing into it.
  • Test your water pressure. Pipes and hoses can burst with high water pressure, so check yours to make sure it’s not set too high. Your local hardware store likely sells water pressure gauges, which can provide a reading. Your home’s water pressure should stay around 40 to 70 psi. A pressure regulator can keep it in check.
  • Install water leak detectors. Just as smoke detectors help with fires, water leak detectors can help prevent water damage. These electronic devices range in cost from around $30 to several hundred dollars, but they’re well worth it. Water leak detectors find low moisture levels or slow leaks that may otherwise go unnoticed for long periods of time. Install them where water damage could start, such as in the laundry room, bathroom, under your kitchen sink or near the water heater.
  • Take care of your pipes. Inspect the pipes around your house regularly to make sure they’re protected from the elements. In colder climates, keep a steady trickle of water flowing through the pipes to prevent freezing and bursting. Disconnect outside hoses, as they can also cause damage to floors and walls when the water freezes within, then enters the house.
  • Look for other outdoor hazards. Standing water in your gutters can also cause problems, as it may freeze or overflow, creating roof damage or puddles on the ground that could damage your foundation. It’s wise to clean gutters and downspouts twice a year and ensure downspouts point away from your home. Also, look for possible problems with tree or shrub roots, as they can wrap around your pipes and break them. If possible, avoid landscaping around utility pipes.
  • Be aware of flood zones. If you’re building a new home, do so above flood water levels and identify potential openings where flood water could come in. Inspect all existing flood prevention systems, such as dikes, flood barriers, etc. Make repairs as needed.
  • Check your appliances. Refrigerators and dishwashers are common culprits and should be regularly checked for leaks, as per manufacturer instructions. Inspect and replace old, crumbling or leaky washing machine hoses to avoid a mess in the laundry room.

How to minimize water damage

Here’s practical advice to minimize the damage to your home should it ever occur:

  • Turn off your water. Shut off your water main to stop water supply to your entire home.
  • Protect your home from further damage. Move furniture and valuables to a safe place and use buckets to catch active leaks.
  • File an insurance claim right away. Your insurance company will send out a water remediation professional in an effort to prevent additional damage.
  • Don’t touch electronics. Resist using all electrical devices: appliances, televisions, ceiling fans, computers, etc. Don’t even unplug one. And never use your vacuum to remove water.

As a homeowner, you are very likely to experience some level of water damage over the years. Whether or not you incur significant costs depends on how prepared and vigilant you are in identifying potential issues. To better understand your homeowners insurance policy coverage or for immediate steps you should take following a water event, reach out to your insurance broker.

Stories about senior citizens getting into car accidents are commonplace. You may have heard of an elderly man who accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake and crashed into another car. Or perhaps the story of an elderly woman who veered off the road and onto a sidewalk filled with pedestrians. And you may wonder about the safety of your own loved one who, at the same time, doesn’t want to sacrifice their independence by hanging up their car keys for good.

But the statistics are unsettling. There are approximately 2.7 million seniors on Canadian roads, a number that is expected to double by 2040. Statistics Canada reports that drivers over 70 cause the most accidents after teen drivers.

Of course, giving up driving can be a difficult decision, and it can affect your loved one’s sense of independence. It’s important to understand red flags that can indicate when giving up driving may be the safest decision.

Medical conditions that interfere with driving

As people age, they might struggle with a variety of medical conditions, many of which make driving more difficult. Examples of medical conditions that may affect driving and safety include dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), vision loss, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, diabetes and hearing impairment.

Prescription medications also play a role in driving performance. Side effects can include drowsiness, confusion, tremors and vision issues. If your loved one is taking multiple prescriptions, it’s critical to understand the potential side effects and how they can interfere with driving.

What are the warning signs of unsafe driving?

Here’s a checklist so you can better understand whether your loved one’s driving habits are becoming a safety hazard.

  1. Speeding tickets or violations. If you’ve noticed changes in your loved one’s driving, ask whether they have received any speeding tickets or violations recently. If the answer is yes, get more details to understand what’s going on. An elderly relative who doesn’t typically receive driving violations but suddenly begins to may be a concern.
  2. Vehicle damage. Periodically check your loved one’s vehicle for damage. A family member who is usually careful about their vehicle’s appearance may suddenly have more dents and scratches.  
  3. More “close calls.” An increase in close calls may indicate that a factor such as deteriorating eyesight or slower motor skills could be responsible.
  4. Changes in mood while driving. If your loved one is feeling agitated, struggling to concentrate or getting angry behind the wheel on a regular basis, it may no longer be safe for them to drive.
  5. Changes in driving behaviour. One of the best ways to understand a relative’s driving ability is frequent observation. Does he or she wait too long to respond to stop signs or traffic signals? Have they suddenly started to tailgate or drift too close to the centerline? Look for behaviours that appear out of line with their previous driving abilities.
  6. Friends are voicing concerns. You may live out of town or be unable to consistently observe your relative’s driving habits. Talk with your relative’s friends and neighbours. Have they noticed any changes? Ask friends and people who live nearby to observe your loved one’s driving habits and alert you to any changes.

Moving forward with greater safety

There isn’t a magical age when people should stop driving. What’s more, losing the ability to drive can interfere with a person’s sense of freedom. How should you handle this scenario? Having a proactive strategy in place can make a difference.

Learn about alternative transportation options and accompany your loved one when they first try one out, such as public transportation or a senior rideshare program. Also, talk to neighbours and family members about providing additional support. Can a neighbour take your loved one to an occasional doctor appointment? Can family members alternate providing transportation for regular outings, such as grocery shopping?

Seek opportunities to build independence and well-being that don’t involve driving, such as volunteering at a school within walking distance. Having a sense of independence and purpose can make the transition from driver to passenger easier.

If it’s not yet time for your loved one to relinquish the keys entirely, talk to your insurance professional about ways to provide the greatest level of safety for them when they are on the road.

Despite the loss of an hour’s sleep, the annual ritual of “springing forward” an hour to kick off Daylight Saving Time is usually a welcome sign that spring and summer are on the way. But if you have children – especially young ones – they probably won’t get the memo about the time shift. That could mean a few rough nights (and mornings) for the whole household.

How to shift your kids to a new springtime sleep schedule

Here are some tips on preparing your kids for the start of daylight saving.

Adjust their sleep schedule gradually

Use the week leading up to the clock change to gradually shift your kids’ bedtime earlier by 10 to 15 minutes each day. That way, when the time change arrives, they won’t be as affected by going to bed a full hour earlier.

Anticipate a delayed bedtime

Adjusting to a time change takes a little while, especially for kids. Be prepared for your children to be more wide awake than usual at bedtime during the first week or so after you move the clocks forward. However, try to encourage them to stay in their rooms and do restful activities (such as quietly playing with a toy or looking at a picture book) until they drift off.

Having your kids sleep in a little longer may be a welcome change the first few days after you move the clocks. But if you (or they) need to be somewhere early in the morning, anticipate that they might not bound out of bed as easily as usual and plan accordingly.

Consider changes in dark and light

Make sure that your child’s room is as dark as possible at bedtime. You might even consider hanging blackout shades in windows to help create a dark environment, especially as the days continue to lengthen. Also, ensure that your child has exposure to plenty of natural light during the day. This helps regulate the body’s natural rhythms.

In some parts of the country, moving the clocks forward means a return to dark mornings for a while, just as everyone was getting used to earlier sunrises. If your child really has a hard time getting up, consider a visual alarm clock that gradually makes the room brighter as wake-up time approaches.

Bedtime rituals for a good night’s sleep all year long

It’s not just kids who are affected by sleep disruptions. According to the United States’ National Sleep Foundation, it’s important to create good sleep habits (sleep hygiene) and follow your routine consistently. The following tips can help you transition during the twice-annual time changes and enjoy good sleep year-round:

  • Avoid alcohol and electronics at night.
  • Create a relaxing routine at night, whether it’s turning the TV off 30 minutes before bedtime or eliminating exercise two hours before bedtime.
  • Eliminate bedroom noise that can interrupt sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature cool, around 15 to 20 degrees.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
  • Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms.

Resetting your 24-hour natural cycle (circadian rhythm) takes some time, and that single-hour shift in the spring and fall can be a bit jarring even for grown-ups. But a little preplanning and consistent sleep habits can get the whole family through with a minimum of disruption and grumpiness.

An ice dam is a thick ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof. It prevents melting snow from draining off, forcing the melted water to seep underneath shingles. The water can leak into your home, damaging insulation, walls and ceilings.

Here are some suggestions from PBS’s This Old House and CAA Quebec on how to remove and prevent them.

Why ice dams form

Ice dams form when heat from your attic warms the roof, but not the eaves. The uneven temperatures cause the snow on the warm roof to melt, then freeze on the cold eaves.

What to do if you have an ice dam

Try the following if you do have ice dams on your roof:

  • Call an expert. A roofing professional can break the dam into small pieces with the least amount of damage to your roof.
  • Rake your roof. Remove the snow from your roof using a roof rake or push broom.
  • Use calcium chloride to melt the ice. Fill the leg of a pair of pantyhose with this ice-melting compound and tie it off. Then place it vertically across the dam, so it slightly hangs over the gutter. This will slowly melt the ice and create a path for water to flow. Don’t use rock salt, which can cause damage.
  • Put safety first! Don’t get on the roof to clear the dam. And don’t stand underneath the dam to chip away at the ice. You can damage your roof or seriously injure yourself.

How to prevent an ice dam

You can clean out your gutters before the first snowfall to reduce the severity of ice dams. But to prevent them, you need to tackle the problem from the inside of your house.

To keep heat from escaping to your roof:

  • Seal air leaks. Cap attic hatches and whole-house fans. Flash around the chimney. Seal ducts.
  • Add more insulation in your attic. Keep the heat where it belongs — inside your house. Check with your building department to see how much insulation you need.
  • Make sure your attic is well ventilated.  Ventilate eaves and ridges. Check to see if insulation is blocking ventilation.

An energy specialist can help you pinpoint the specific source of your problem. You’ll prevent ice dams and make your house more energy efficient in the process!