Most people agree that climate change is a serious issue for the world at large, but on a more granular level it could also become a significant problem for homeowners in the UK.
From more frequent storm damage to roofs, patios, garden awnings and outbuildings, to a higher risk of flooding for homeowners near rivers or on the coast, as climate change begins to alter the weather conditions in the UK the risk of damage to property could begin to rise quite significantly.
The UN recently warned that the world has just 12 years to act to prevent a 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures, and stressed that more extreme weather events, higher sea levels and a host other problems will be the likely result if action is not taken.
For homeowners in the UK, the most likely consequences of climate change will be:
- Stronger and more frequent storms, which could significantly increase the amount of damage properties in the UK sustain to their external structure and outbuildings
- An increased risk of flooding, which could cause a lot more damage to homes in flood plains
- The possibility of droughts in summer, which could cause damage to gardens and lawns
- Health dangers from hotter summers
All of which means people in the UK will need to prepare for the potential perils of a changing climate – and double check that their home insurance policies cover them for these new risks.
Storms and floods: the new normal?
In the past the UK generally didn’t suffer from the kinds of storms that have been very common in parts of the USA, Canada, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and Indonesia, but as the climate continues to change powerful storms could become the norm in the UK rather than an aberration.
Major storms and heavy rain in recent years has seen places ranging from Cockermouth in Cumbria to Hull and Sheffield in Yorkshire to Hertfordshire in the South East and Carmarthenshire in Wales suffering severe flooding, inflicting significant damage to homes and even resulting in fatalities in some cases.
Some blame the construction of homes on flood plains and it is true that this is part of the problem, as concreting over land does make it harder to drain. However, extreme rainfall and higher tidal surges have been a major factor too.
Flooding: the tale of the Thames
In London, where 1953 brought massive, once-in-a-generation flooding, a number of repeats have been avoided only due to the Thames Barrier – but as floods become more frequent and more dramatic some argue that the Barrier needs to be replaced with an even more substantial solution to protect the capital.
The Thames Barrier opened in 1983 and was expected to be required two to three times each year. In fact, it was only used four times by the beginning of the ‘90s – but as storms increase in frequency and severity, the Barrier is now being used as many as 40 or 50 times a year.
Whether London needs a bigger, better barrier, though, most other parts of the country are not so well protected from the risk of future flood damage. What does this mean for homeowners in Wales, Scotland, the Midlands or the South West? As the climate continues to change will their home insurance cover them?
Storm damage: the insurance implications
The good news first: provided your home insurance policy includes buildings cover (ie you haven’t taken out a contents only home insurance policy) it should protect you from the risk of storm damage to your roof, patio, awning, outbuildings etc. And if you opt for a combined buildings and contents insurance policy then the contents component of your insurance should also cover some of the cost if some of your contents are damaged during the same storm.
Now the bad news: since these types of storms are likely become more frequent in the UK, there is a strong possibility that many home insurance providers will be forced to raise their premiums to reflect this elevated risk.
Flood damage: the insurance implications
The issue with flooding is a little different, because if your home has been built on a known flood plain there is a possibility that some home insurance policies might already impose exclusions for flood damage to your property, which would mean if you took out that policy you might be covered for a wide range of other insurance risks but wouldn’t be covered if your home was damaged by flooding.
If you shop around for quotes it may still be possible to find a suitable home insurance policy that will pay out if your house suffers flood damage, but there’s a strong possibility your premium will be a lot higher to reflect this elevated risk. And if you’ve had to claim on your insurance for flood damage in the past your premium will rise higher still, which could become a growing problem as climate change increases the frequency and severity of flooding in the UK.
The solution: be prepared
If you’re planning to buy a new home it be a good idea to use to use an online flood map (such as this one from the UK government) to check whether the property you have in mind is in a known flood plain.
If you already own a property that is in a high flood-risk area, though, there are still precautions you can take.
Installing anti-flood doors and other permanent flood defences, for instance, could significantly reduce the risk of flood damage to your home – and if you ensure the flood doors you install meet the appropriate industry standards (such as the BSI’s PAS 1188 standard, for instance) there’s a possibility these cautions will also help to reduce your home insurance premiums too.
Beyond the risk of flooding, there are also precautions you can take that can help to reduce the risk of storm damage to your property, which can in turn help to keep your home insurance premiums low by avoiding an insurance claim.
Having your roof inspected on a regular basis by a roofing specialist, for instance, can help to prevent damage by identifying loose tiles or slates and fixing the problem before a storm hits.
If you have trees on your property it might be a good idea to hire a tree surgeon to trim the branches each year too, which could reduce the risk of loose branches damaging your home during a storm.
Of course, no matter which precautions you take there is still the risk that the country’s increasingly severe weather conditions could damage your property at some point, which is why it’s so important that you invest in a suitable buildings and contents insurance policy to protect your home.