Weather patterns are changing around the world, causing more frequent and severe storms and disasters. And these disasters have a real impact on homeowners.
No matter whether you believe that climate change is the direct result of human activity or the result of a natural evolutionary cycle, at the end of the day, it impacts every single person and being on this planet. Here's what homeowners across the US can expect and ways you can help prevent losses fueled by climate change.
What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is a long-term change in weather patterns caused by increasing temperatures on Earth. Increased greenhouse gases trapped by the atmosphere create a warmer surface. This warms water and ice sheets, leading to melting glaciers and an increase in water depths. It affects each area differently.
In areas prone to hurricanes, we'll continue to see stronger storms thanks to warm moisture-filled air meeting cold water. Rising temperatures will cause even more droughts in other areas. Melting ice sheets and glaciers will cause oceans to rise faster, meaning more floods for coastal regions. And the Midwest will see an uptick in tornado activity.
We've already seen these effects take shape. Flooding in the Southeast has increased 27 percent since 1958 because of more rainfall. The West Coast is experiencing a Megadrought that began in 2000 and isn't letting up.
While it's easy to feel defeated in the face of a worldwide issue, you can take some steps to protect your home. That begins with understanding how climate change might directly affect you.
What Homeowners Can Expect from Climate Change
Whether it's rainfall, rising oceans, wildfires, or tornado activity, climate change will impact both your home and homeowners insurance. These are some key changes to anticipate:
- More risk. The average Florida home is six feet above sea level with many at three feet. Under normal conditions, many Florida communities are already at risk for flooding because they are low to the ground and because of poor drainage systems.
- Increased home insurance premiums. Insurers price insurance policies based on known risks. The closer someone lives to the coast or forested area, the more expensive insurance becomes because the risk of loss is higher.
- Fewer coverage options. More than 1.7 million of California’s 8 million homes are prone to wildfire damage. Many insurance companies are responding to increase wildfire risk by refusing to cover homes in “wildfire zones.”
- Declining home values. The Florida housing market for beach properties could be in jeopardy, too. The $3.5 billion worth of coastal property in the area could see a dramatic drop if waters rise and inland canals are too high to allow boat masts to clear bridges. Mortgage companies could potentially stop writing loans in the area and prices could plummet – and that's without a hurricane hitting the area.
That last point is significant – climate change's long-term effects on the real estate market won't be limited to Florida. Fewer buyers may be willing invest in homes that are hard to insure because of their flood or wildfire exposure.
Some estimate that Florida coastal homes could see a 15 percent drop in value by 2030 thanks, in part, to rising sea levels. In 2016, President Obama’s administration provided $48 million in funding for a Louisiana town that was sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the risk in Florida, with its sizable coastal population, means that a federal bailout is unlikely.
California real estate agents know the struggle to sell a home in a wildfire zone; buyers can make an offer on a home only to withdraw it when insurance is unattainable. This is affecting homes in small rural areas as well as in newly developed communities.
However, homeowners can take some measures to protect themselves as the climate invariably continues to warm and risks continue to increase.
What Homeowners Can Do to Prepare for Climate Change
You know climate change isn't going anywhere, but you don't want your home to be a sitting duck. You're not alone. Here are some ways every homeowner can start planning ahead:
- Buy the right homeowners insurance. Make sure you are covered for flood, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Not every insurance policy covers every peril, so do your due diligence to get the right coverage. Hurricane insurance comes standard with all Kin policies; flood insurance and earthquake insurance must be added on.
- Evaluate your home’s surrounding landscape. If you live near open spaces, make sure you clear brush regularly and maintain defensible space. Some counties require a minimum of 30 feet clearance. A no-brush barrier of 100 feet provides more protection from wildfires.
- Check out virtual reality programs. These walk you through changes in the topography of your community to determine what mitigation systems may help (e.g., sea walls, raised homes, or better drainage systems).
- Consider migrating inland. If you plan on moving to a coastal region like Florida, consider property farther inland and at a higher elevation.
- Get involved. Speak up about rising sea levels at your town halls or city councils. Ask city officials to take measures to fortify beaches, improve city sea walls, and improve drainage systems throughout the area.
5 Ways to Fortify Your Home for Climate Change
Improving your home's resilience to climate change reduces the chance and severity of major damage (and subsequent claims). These are five ways to prepare your home:
- Elevate and anchor equipment and systems in flood zones. Water heaters, gas tanks, and air conditioning units should be above your property’s flood level and anchored to prevent movement. Move all sockets, switches, and circuit breakers to higher levels. It's smart to keep sockets at least one foot above an anticipated flood level.
- Modify water valves. Install backflow valves both inside and outside all pipes that lead into the house. This helps prevent water backup from city sewers and plumbing from overtaking the home’s internal pipe system.
- Assess property drainage. Find the natural drainage pattern of your property. Update landscaping and downspouts that have pooling problems and make sure all water will flow away from the house rather than toward it.
- Retrofit your home based on its risks. Flood retrofitting often means raising the home or installing foundation vents. Earthquake retrofitting reinforces the walls and overall structural integrity of your home.
- Do regular home maintenance. Clear gutters, drains, and downspouts to improve drainage and mitigate flooding. Clear debris on and around the property and build a wildfire barrier if you are close to open space.
Homeowners may not be able to prevent every climate change claim but by taking smart measures, they take back some control over Mother Nature.