How to avoid a flooding disaster
This issue has come to light in the UK with recent Storm Desmond causing extreme flooding in parts of England. The Met Office issued 77 weather warnings for the storm, many thousands of people were left without power and some were even forced to evacuate their homes. It caused an estimated £400m-£500m in damage – and far more in emotional strain.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t a unique event. Incidents have been on the rise in the past few years with major floods in 2013 and 2014 too.
Often these events have serious knock-on effects. If your home does get flooded, you may struggle to obtain home insurance, without which you may find it difficult to obtain a mortgage. This can mean when it comes to selling your home, you’ll be limited to cash buyers only – reducing the value of your property.
Flooding can be emotionally devastating, expensive and even life-threatening. With this in mind, how can you best protect yourself from any risk?
How to tell if your home is at risk of flooding?
The best way to avoid a flooding disaster is simply to live somewhere that doesn’t flood. But unless your property is on the banks of a river, the risk of flooding may not be obvious, particularly if the weather is mild when you view it.
Whether you’re looking to move or just want to make sure your home is safe, the easiest step is to check a flood risk map. The Environment Agency provides risk maps for flooding from rivers and seas, reservoirs, and surface water as well as a map of flood warning areas. Additionally, it offers an online postcode search allowing you to see any current or previous flood risks in an area.
Signs to look for when viewing a property
When you’re viewing a potential new home, there are some tell-tale signs that it may have flooded in the past.
The first thing to do is ask the estate agent if the property has ever flooded, as they are required by law to tell you. You should also enquire about any insurance claims resulting from floods or any additional consequences.
When viewing the exterior of the property, look to see if the ground is uneven. Any sudden drops between the ground level and foundations could indicate past flooding. Other exterior signs include water stains on the foundation or walls; their height on the building will hint to the severity of the storm.
Once inside, you should check the plaster for discoloration, spots where it may have crumbled, and softness. Staining on hardwood floors or areas where the wood may be warped are also potential warning signs.
If you’re worried about your potential new home flooding in the future, you should consider getting professional advice. A specialist chartered surveyor can undertake a detailed survey of the property and will often be able to spot signs of flooding or be aware of local trouble spots. Similarly, if your property has recently flooded, they will be able to assess the damage done and advise on repairs.
How to reduce your risk of flooding
As the frequency of floods increases, many properties which haven’t been susceptible before are now at risk. So what measures can you take to limit any potential damage?
Firstly, there are precautions to prevent water from entering your home (flood resistance). Making sure all your drain pipes are clear and using sandbags will help in the short-term. More serious investments include installing removable barriers for doors and windows, temporary seals for doors and airbricks to prevent water from leaking in. Using one-way valves on your drainage pipes will decrease the risk of sewage backing up. If you have a basement, you could install a ‘pump and sump’ system to drain away any collecting water.
Secondly, there are measures that will reduce the damage if the water gets inside your home (flood resilience). To keep destruction to a minimum you could use tiles rather than timber or carpet on the floors. You could also remodel the kitchen and bathroom units with plastic or steel instead of chipboard. Raising electrical sockets and wall mounting your TV at least 1.5m above the ground should keep them safe from any floods.
But you should bear in mind that that these changes are expensive. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) estimate that protecting your home against shallow flash floods will cost approximately £2,000-£6,000, but protection against prolonged flooding could cost up to £40,000.
Finally, make sure you have adequate home insurance which covers you for flood damage. Serious floods could leave you with claims of £50,000 or more, so it’s important to be protected so you won’t be left footing the bill.
Richard Sexton is business development director of e.surv chartered surveyors.