‘A lot of water in basements’: Growing number of climate disasters causing problems for homeowners

BOSTON — 28 weather-related disasters each created more than a billion dollars worth of damage last year across the country.

That set a record for the United States.

One of the problems is much of the infrastructure wasn’t built to handle so many storms of such high magnitude.

This leads to problems when roads, bridges, and dams become severely compromised, and people lose property like their homes and cars.

A storm of epic proportions hit Needham last August. Roads and neighborhoods that don’t usually flood were overwhelmed with a sudden deluge of rain.

Residents tell Boston 25 News that dozens of basements flooded, and homeowners reported leaky roofs.

Standing on the banks of Alder Brook, DPW Director Carys Lustig explained how the water rose over the embankment and into the main garage.

“We ended up having water, about six inches of water in the building itself which has not happened before.”

Alder Brook was created in the 1800s as part of the town’s water supply.

Lustig said it couldn’t handle today’s circumstances.

“Older projects maybe didn’t have to accommodate storm water as much”

“There really is substantially increased rainfall”, said Professor Carrick Eggleston, Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, the Environment, and Architecture at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“The run-off is greater than some of the drainage systems in our cities are designed to handle and it’s obviously happening more frequently.

He said 100-year storms are now coming every eight years.

The consequences can be particularly devastating in older cities, like what happened in Leominster last September.

In Needham, they’ve assembled a task force to assess the new reality they’re now facing.

Lustig says there are no simple solutions.

“I think the old approach was sort of stick a bigger pipe in the road, which is very expensive.”

Lustig says that it can run about $1,000 per foot of installation and that she has to be selective about how many roads she can tear up.

All the property damage associated with these weather events is wreaking havoc on the insurance industry.

“It’s forcing a lot of issues in terms of the premium increases that everyone is starting to face,” explained John Hegarty, President/Owner of Commonwealth Insurance Partners, LLC, in Quincy.

All those destroyed homes and crushed cars need to be paid for one way or another.

Hegarty says consumers need to start thinking differently about their policies and consider changes like getting a higher deductible to lower their costs.

“You really have to look at your home policy as a catastrophe policy. You don’t want to look at it as a maintenance policy. The stuff you can afford to fix on your own, fix on your own. You don’t want to put those claims in because you’re going to get canceled. That’s just what happens.”

Much of the damage homeowners are facing from rising waters is in their basements.

Lustig thinks it’s time to re-think how this space is used.

“I know a lot of people during COVID ended up renovating their basements and using them as additional living space, and I think what we’ve been suggesting to people is to not invest significantly in expensive millwork and other things, and instead hardening their electrical systems or heating systems.”

Professor Eggleston believes it’s a good idea to do some research on where you live as conditions change.

“Massachusetts has a lot of topography and wetlands and so I think it’s worth looking at flood maps and thinking what could flood if things go up higher than you imagine.”

He said there’s no question it will cost a lot to improve the infrastructure, adding “It’s not just a question of doing more of what we already do. . . one of the consequences of climate change is that it makes existing problems worse”

The American Society of Civil Engineers does an annual report card on infrastructure and gave Massachusetts a C- for the state of systems here.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW

Comments on this article