Hail is a severe weather hazard in Canada, damaging commercial assets, public infrastructure, homes, vehicles, and crops. It’s of particular concern in the Prairie provinces, especially southern Alberta, where hail has caused hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims over the past 25 years, according to the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).
Claims are ramping up, with the three most expensive hail-related events in Alberta totaling more than $1.66 billion in losses, according to the ICLR’s Hail Climatology for Canada report. The damage from hailstorms is expected to increase “due to the increased concentration of assets in Canadian cities and suburban housing developments, and the ever-growing costs of replacing damaged and destroyed property,” according to the ICLR.
Hail is formed inside thunderstorm updrafts, which creates pellets of ice that can range in size from a pea to a golf ball—and sometimes larger. Once hailstones are the size of a quarter or larger, they can cause significant damage to roofing, vehicles, and crops, and wind-driven hail can fall at an angle that rips apart siding and breaks windows. But damage isn’t always obvious; holes in roofing, for example, can lead to leaks behind walls, creating water and mould problems down the road.
While Alberta often makes headlines for its severe hailstorms, hail can affect any region in Canada — typically between June through September. So, what can be done to mitigate future hail losses? We spoke with Andrew Strack, Risk Services Specialist at Northbridge Insurance, to learn what areas on your property may expose you to hail damage and ways you can reduce your risk.
Inspect your A/C units
A common issue is damage to rooftop or unprotected air conditioning units on commercial and industrial buildings. “That’s a huge cost because they’re often not covered and the foils in them are very vulnerable to damage — even strong winds can damage them,” says Strack.
The insurance deductible for rooftop A/C units tends to be high, since they’re so susceptible to damage; in some cases, insurance companies are pro-rating hail damage rather than offering a deductible.
One way to mitigate damage is to place a specially designed cage around the A/C unit that allows for proper airflow. “You can often get your deductible reduced significantly if you shield it,” says Strack. “In Calgary you won’t find a lot of big commercial buildings without protection, even condominiums.”
Addressing potential water damage on your roof
Once hailstones punch a hole in a roof or tear through siding, there’s also the possibility of water damage. “Water damage can be quite significant because the water pools on the roof and drains into a place you can’t see,” he says. “Regular inspections are very important, especially just before hail season, because water damage could end up being a much, much larger claim.”
A longer-term solution is to replace roofing with impact-resistant materials, particularly for properties in a moderate to high-risk hail zone. Proper roof cladding is also essential in protecting against water infiltration. On new builds or when re-roofing, consider Class 4 shingles or impact-resistant materials such as rubber or metal.
Asphalt shingles are the most common roof covering in Canada, but they’re also prone to damage from wind, rain, and hail. Extreme weather from heat waves to snowstorms can cause these shingles to curl or blow off, increasing the potential for water damage.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL), a widely recognized independent organization that provides testing, inspection and certification services, has testing protocols in place for roofing materials, and impact-resistant roofing is covered under UL 2218. To receive certification, the roofing material must be able to withstand a barrage of steel balls that simulates hail. Class 4-rated roofing is expected to hold up against most hailstorms, according to UL. However, ceramic, slate, concrete, and some metals could still suffer cosmetic damage in a hailstorm.
“Steel is a bit heavier and more expensive, but it’s better than aluminum or copper for roofs on commercial buildings because the softer metals will become damaged from hail,” says Strack.
Insurance companies may lower your deductible or give you a break on your premium if you replace your roof with hail-proof materials. “The problem is that the only time to really do that is after a claim is made or when you need to replace your roof,” says Strack.
That’s why it’s important to mitigate risk in other ways, too — such as shielding your rooftop A/C unit and watching weather reports to be prepared for potential storms. Restaurants with patios, for example, should put away their tables, chairs, umbrellas, and heaters if a storm is approaching.
“We’ve seen entire patios absolutely decimated from hail. And of course, that means there’s not only hail damage to the property, but there’s also business interruption because they can’t serve people on the patio until they replace everything,” says Strack. “So it’s more expensive than just replacing a couple of patio tables and chairs.”
Protect your business with the right policy and advice
It’s important to understand what types of damage are covered under your policy and if there are ways to reduce your deductible. Our Risk Services team can help you assess the condition of your roof and recommend ways to help your property withstand hail. However, it’s important to note that while our Risk Services team can provide advice, it isn’t always possible to assess the roof without direct visual inspection — that’s usually left to tradespeople who have the equipment and expertise to access the roof safely.
“If you know or suspect there’s a problem, fix it before it gets worse,” says Strack. “Knowing what’s going on and paying attention can mitigate a lot of risks.” Learn more by visiting our Risk Services page today!