Half a Million Canadians Have No Idea Their Property Is in a Flood Zone

A new study has found that flood damage to Canadian homes could increase fivefold in the next few decades and tenfold by 2100. 
High River; Alberta; Calgary flood; southern Alberta flood
Flooded neighbourhood in High River, Alberta, in 2013. The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

Thousands of Canadians have no idea their homes—or properties they’d like to buy—are in areas at risk of climate-related disaster, and it could cost the country billions if those risks aren’t offset soon, says a new study.

The study, published by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, estimates that at least half a million buildings in Canada are in high-flood-risk areas not identified by government mapping. Flood damage to Canadian homes could increase fivefold in the next few decades and tenfold by 2100. 


But most people don’t know this. Publicly available flood maps in Canada are typically 20 years out of date and only show existing risks; they fail to forecast how climate change risks will worsen in the future, the study says. Even bigger information gaps exist for other extreme climate-related risks, including permafrost melt and wildfires. 

That means homeowners can’t manage existing climate risks, nor plan ahead as global temperatures rise and extreme weather events worsen, the study says. Worse yet, Canadians are still unknowingly building homes and commercial buildings in high-risk areas.

"There's pretty poor understanding of climate risks and really poor risk-disclosure practices across the country," Dylan Clark, a senior research associate at the institute and co-author of the report, told reporters during a media briefing. 

The study looked at climate risks plaguing homes and other buildings, public infrastructure such as roads and electrical grids that are needed so that people can access water and telecommunications, as well as climate models to estimate future outcomes and costs. 

Home damages caused by coastal flooding can be as high as $60 million per year today—but that figure could jump to as much as $300 million per year by 2050 if nothing is done to safeguard homes, according to the study. By the end of the century, if global temperatures and sea levels continue to rise, damages could hit $1.2 billion per year.


Those estimates are “conservative,” the study says. Climate risks and associated costs are likely going to be even worse because the researchers were unable to factor in many of the costs associated with weather-related disasters, including mental health tolls and disaster response and cleanup.

The way forward, according to the study’s findings, is for immediate, upfront investment, so homes can be built in low-risk areas, and infrastructure can be updated so it can withstand extreme-climate events. 

The study estimates that Canada will reduce costs associated with homes in high-climate-risk areas by up to 90 percent—or by $1 billion every year—if homes are built or moved to low-risk areas. Updating or building new roads with climate-resilient materials will reduce climate change-related costs by up to 98 percent, or $5 billion annually over the next few decades.  

Investments also need to prioritize “economically vulnerable” people, businesses, and communities that have less money to adapt to climate change. Otherwise, they’ll be “disproportionately and inequitably impacted by climate-risk pricing,” the study writes. To date, tens of thousands of people, especially those living in many Indigenous communities, don’t have access to potable water, safe housing, and adequate roads, which the government has failed to address adequately so far, the study says.

“The added pressure of climate change will make it even more difficult to rectify this inequality,” the study says. “We need infrastructure that will withstand current and future climate and extreme weather, or we risk more disruption, lost lives, and billions of dollars in costs.”


The research follows a particularly frightening summer in Canada marked by unprecedented heat waves and wildfires. Hundreds of people in British Columbia and Alberta died, the entire town of Lytton, B.C., was burned to the ground by a fire after three consecutive days of recording Canada’s hottest days, and marine mammal life was decimated.

In the U.S., researchers are starting to locate more and more homes at risk of flooding—in coastal cities and inland;  flooding there is the most common and priciest type of natural disaster. Millions of people will soon face major home insurance rate hikes as insurers start to factor in flood risks, the Washington Post reported. 

“It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change; your insurance company does,” Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst for an online mortgage company, told WaPo. 

Unlike in Canada, the U.S. has more readily available data on flood-risk zones. VICE News previously reported how this map shows which U.S. homes will flood over the next 30 years because of climate change. 

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.