ANALYZE YOUR RISK – MITIGATE YOUR LOSS
So your house floods. Now what? It’s time to make some changes. Homeowners will need to analyze their risk of flooding and determine how best to mitigate against loss from flooding – all while protecting their wallet. With knowledge and know-how, many people can help themselves – before flooding wipes them out. Flood insurance is a start, but that alone is not enough. What’s a flood weary homeowner to do? Read on to see what steps you can take to better protect your home, your sanity and your wallet.
STEP ONE: Analyze your risk. When deciding on which flood proofing option to use you need to know the history and extent of the flooding in your area. What is your flood risk? You’ll want to determine your flood designation on the FEMA flood maps as well as figuring out your home’s base flood elevation level (BFE).
With the Biggert-Waters Act that was signed into law in July 2012, it is paramount for a homeowner to understand it’s ramifications. New FEMA maps are being constructed that will have significant implications for some flood insurance policy holders (those with the greatest risk of significant flooding). Be sure to do your due diligence before choosing from the options below.
Refer to my HELPFUL LINKS section for further information on flood maps.
STEP TWO: You need to determine your budget. When you throw a pile of money at a problem, it’s easy to make it disappear. If you don’t happen to have a big pile of money sitting around, you still have options to consider. The WORST option – do nothing and hope you’ll never flood again.
Once you have the first steps figured out, more or less, consider one or more of the following:
- Wet Flood Proofing
- Dry Flood Proofing
- Flood Walls/Levees
RELOCATION: Move the house out of the floodplain. This option begins by lifting the house off its foundation, placing it on a heavy-duty flatbed trailer, relocating it to a new site, and securing it to a newly built foundation. Oh, is that all? Your house will no longer flood as it would be relocated outside of the floodplain area. Typically this scenario is utilized with smaller, less expensive homes where a town or community is receiving special FEMA funding to cover all or at least part of the cost.
ELEVATION: “HOUSE LIFT”: Rise above the flood. In this situation a house is lifted off of it’s foundation, a new foundation is built above the base flood elevation level, and then the house is set back down on the new foundation. Except for the area below the house that is used for storage (and the stored items can be moved during an impending flood) the house will no longer face flooding issues. It almost always results in flood insurance premiums going down (flood insurance rates are based on the height of the first floor in relation to the base flood elevation for the property). And except for the additional space necessary to build new stairs to access the elevated house, this option does not require any more land.
The primary obstacle to this option is cost and, to a lesser extent, aesthetics. Sometimes there is FEMA funding dollars for this, but many times it is paid for entirely by the homeowner. The new height may make the house stand out compared to adjacent homes. However, with savvy landscape design, the house can look incredibly natural, as seen in the picture below.
WET FLOOD PROOFING: The idea with wet flood proofing is to let the water in, but minimize its destructive power. For homes in flood prone areas, this is generally the least expensive floodproofing technique, but it’s also the least effective. The strategies here result in a home still suffering through a flood, but aim to decrease the damage to the building and the contents. Techniques that fall under this definition include installing flood vents to minimize structural damage, relocating the electrical panel and the utilities above the base flood elevation (BFE), anchoring the foundation and any fuel tanks to minimize movement or destruction and protecting the home’s contents (your personal stuff).
This technique requires active participation on the part of the homeowner. Many times, if not most, there are days of warning prior to a flood hitting your home. With the exception of a flash flood and possibly a catastrophic tsunami, you have time to move your personal belongings out of harms way. Get busy! Move your stuff!
One idea is to rent out space at a storage facility located outside of the floodplain. Load up a moving van or a neighbor’s pick-up truck – whatever you have access to, and move your personal items out of the house. Although this may sound drastic, it beats standing knee-deep in your living room with all of your furniture, carpets, and other personal belongings floating in sewage infused flood water waiting to for a dumpster to arrive to throw everything out. Most times your flood insurance will cover this cost after a flood warning has been issued.
A simpler idea is to relocate everything to a floor of your house that will not flood e.g., a second floor or space above a detached garage. Family pictures, important documents, anything you don’t want to be destroyed – move it. It’s exhausting, but well worth the effort. (Scroll down for more tips on this topic)
DRY FLOOD PROOFING: In dry flood proofing the aim is to block the water from entering the home in the first place. Essentially the goal is to seal off the home from flood waters and make it water tight. Unless your house happens to be a submarine, this option is not practical for severe flooding. To clarify, if you drop your house in the bottom of a swimming pool, no amount of mitigation is going to keep the water out. It all depends on how severe the flooding problem is where you live. Examples include installing watertight shields over doors, windows and other openings, backflow valves in sewer lines, the use of sump pumps and watertight sealants. The height of any dry flood proofing measures should not exceed three feet.
FLOOD WALLS AND LEVEES: Flood walls and levees are designed to keep flood water away from a building or home. In some areas, the use of flood barriers are not permitted in residential areas. Be certain to become familiar with the proper building and floodplain codes for your location.
PROTECTING YOUR BELONGINGS DURING A FLOOD: (in more detail) As the MVP of natural disasters, flooding is an event that impacts many people – time and again. If there’s one advantage to this type of disaster over say, an earthquake or a tornado, it’s the benefit of time: time to plan, time to gather items of necessity (e.g., batteries and water) and time to move your belongings out of harms way. Losing your personal items is one of the primary factors contributing to the mental anguish suffered after a flooding event. The good news – many times you can protect most of your possessions.
MOVE WHAT YOU CAN: This might sound obvious, but how many times have you seen an image of someone standing knee-deep in flood water in their living room, with their books and toys floating around them? In extreme cases like Katrina where the flooding was to the roofline, all bets are off. But overwhelmingly, there is much that can be done. For example, move all the items out of your basement or lowest lying floor. Keep empty boxes on hand to facilitate this action.
WATERPROOF FLOOD STORAGE: If you’re going to keep items in an area that may flood, at least consider storing the items in waterproof containers – with tight seals on the lid. The velocity of moving water will cause tables and shelving that is not bolted down to topple over. Be sure whatever lands in the water is not going to spill out by using locking lids. One sure way to secure shelving units is to anchor them into the wall studs. You could then place your watertight containers on the shelves and secure them in place with bungee cords.
UTILIZE CINDER BLOCKS: If you’re only likely to suffer from a few inches of water, most of your furniture could be protected by placing it up on cinder blocks. To protect wood flooring, place cardboard or a towel under the cinder blocks first, then lift the furniture up onto the blocks. The weight of the blocks is sufficient to withstand all but the most fierce of water movement.
OUTSIDE ITEMS: Remember to look around the exterior of your house for other items that may be impacted. Store items on your deck if you have one or a least behind a fence so they don’t wash away.
MOVE YOUR CAR: Relocate your car to an area that does not flood. It doesn’t take much to ruin your vehicle and flood insurance does not cover this loss. Car insurance does not cover a car during a flood, either.
To find more information on building codes contact your local building official and visit;http://www.fema.gov/building-science/building-code-resources.