A new study has calculated the lost time from work and the mental health impacts resulting from basement flooding.

Of all extreme weather events in Canada, flooding is currently the costliest, causing millions of dollars in property damage. Nonetheless, the impact of basement flooding on time off work and the mental health of impacted homeowners has barely been explored, until now.

The research from the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation, at the University of Waterloo, and funded by Manulife and Intact Financial Corporation, quantified the health impacts to homeowners in Burlington, Ontario, following a major storm in August of 2014 when 3,500 homes were flooded. These findings are published in the report released today: After the Flood – The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health and Lost Time from Work.

For households that experienced basement flooding, the study indicated the following statistically significant findings:

  • Flooded household members were forced to take days off work due to flooding. More than half (56 per cent) of flooded households with at least one person working took time off work, for an average of seven days per flooded household. This is 10 times the Ontario average for non-flooded households (see below).

Average Number of Days Off Work Per Worker for One Month in 2014
 Graph showing Average Number of Days Off Work Per Worker for One Month in 2014

  • Flooded household members were still worried years after a flood event. Three years after their home was flooded, almost half (48 per cent) of respondents from flooded households were worried when it rained, compared to three percent of respondents from non-flooded households (see below)

Responses from Flooded and Non-Flooded Households ~ 3 Years After Flood Event on How Worried They Are When it Rains
 Graph showing Responses from Flooded and Non-Flooded Households ~ 3 Years After Flood Event on How Worried They Are When it Rains

  • Flooded household members experienced significantly higher worry and stress than non-flooded household members. Within the first 30 days of experiencing a flood, 47 per cent of flooded household members were worried and stressed, compared to 11 per cent of those who had never experienced a flood.

“This study adds a new dimension to our understanding of the pernicious impacts of flooding – long term mental stress, combined with lost time from work, underscore the need for all levels of government to act with haste to promote home flood protection across Canada,” said Blair Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation and a professor at the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment.

“Being prepared for unexpected expenses allows us to deal with issues as they arise,” said Dr. Georgia Pomaki, Leader, Mental Health Specialists at Manulife. “By strengthening the psychological resiliency of Canadians through programs focused on mental health awareness, prevention, intervention and recovery, we are preparing our clients, their employees, and their families with the tools they need to thrive.”

The researchers say this study indicates that all parties involved - homeowners, businesses and government – must take action now to reduce flood risk. Without action, the mental health impacts profiled in this study will significantly worsen as greater numbers of homeowners across Canada experience the “horror show” that is residential basement flooding. Homeowners should talk with their insurance provider to understand their coverage, ensure they are financially prepared for emergencies, and take action to reduce their risk around their home.

At a national level, current efforts underway to reduce flood risk must continue immediately.  This includes developing and adopting codes and standards and training and certifying home inspectors on flood risk.

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