News Local

Heritage homeowners calling out insurance companies

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Petrolia is known for heritage homes like Bob Gulvin’s on Greenfield Street, but some worry high insurance rates could deter future ownership and maintenance of those homes. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Petrolia is known for heritage homes like Bob Gulvin’s on Greenfield Street, but some worry high insurance rates could deter future ownership and maintenance of those homes. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Bob Gulvin and Susan McEwen have been learning the ins and outs of home insurance. The Petrolia residents each own homes that are well over 100 years old, and while they knew upkeep was a huge factor, they never imagined the stress that would come when it came to insuring their properties.

Gulvin and his wife moved to the area from Toronto several years ago, and the fact that the home was designated as heritage didn’t worry them at the time.

“We were happy that the town did something to maintain the historic homes and buildings,” he said.

But when it came to getting insurance, they ran into some serious bumps along the way. While the couple paid around $250,000 for the home, they are paying a premium for a home of nearly $1 million. Gulvin and McEwen also noted that finding a company willing to insure their homes to begin with was a struggle in itself.

“It’s currently insured for $931,000,” he said. “Every year they increase the insured value by at least five per cent.”

Gulvin said the reason given for it being so high is that in case of total loss, the house would be replaced with like or kind materials, something that he sees as being nearly impossible in this day and age. He has questioned why they can’t pay a lesser premium, and if the house were to be destroyed or damaged, replace and repair with today’s standard materials.

Gulvin has updated several rooms, including the kitchen and bathrooms. Walking inside the yellow brick house, there are a number of hints that show it is a heritage home, including beautiful wooden bannisters and high baseboards. But modern elements show it has been well taken care of over the years.

“We’ve had a new furnace, new air conditioner, all of the electrics updated and approved, all the plumbing updated, fire alarms and fire extinguishers,” he said. “They’ve taken all that into account and still haven’t reduced the premium.”

McEwen said when it comes to insurance companies, you are completely at their mercy.

While her home is not designated, it was built in mid 1870’s. She said when looking to buy the home, they questioned heating costs and property taxes, but insurance pricing never came to mind. Now, she says she would tell anyone looking to buy a heritage home to check insurance prices first, that way any surprise costs can be avoided.

She said those who are upset about insurance rates are those who own older homes – it’s an issue that people in the area have been dealing with.

“They’re biasing against older homes, and as a heritage member that’s not a good thing…you want people to buy these homes and keep them in good shape, restore them, because that’s our culture,” she said. “If we lose those homes because people have to pay ridiculous amounts of insurance, nobody is going to buy them.”

McEwen said it’s counterintuitive to the entire aspect of trying to preserve heritage. She said grants have been reduced, and while the government is working to reinstate those, they aren’t looking at the insurance side of things.

“The trouble started when we had to make a claim…and our insurance more than doubled,” she said. “We’re paying well over $400 a month just on home insurance…it’s ridiculous.”

While the home was purchased for $300,000, McEwen said they are paying a premium for a home worth $2 million. With two young kids and plenty of other bills to pay, they’ve had to tighten up spending elsewhere.

“It was a jump that we weren’t expecting,” she said.

Higher insurance also means less money to go towards keeping up repairs and restoration, and with no other insurance companies willing to take them on, McEwen has found herself stuck with no real solutions.

Both homeowners are hoping an upcoming session with Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada will help them find solutions – they said they have a lot of questions on their minds.

Karageorgos said he hopes to clear up any misunderstandings homeowners may have when it comes to insurance. He said it can often be more difficult to obtain insurance, but he wants to give residents the facts so they can protect themselves.

“Many times some of these older homes are very well maintained and upgraded,” he said. “Our intent and desire is to help them understand that if you do have an older home or heritage home, it may require a little more effort to present enough information to the insurance company.”

With standards being different from today, he said interior features can also impact insurance rates, including plumbing and wiring.

“It may require some additional legwork…so we’ll provide folks with some tips and suggestions on how to ensure that process goes smoothly,” he said.



When: Tuesday April 25, 7 p.m.

Where: The Victoria Playhouse Petrolia

RSVP to Susan McEwen at