6 tips to minimize your risk of flood and water damage

Mon Aug 09 2021

A flooded street

How to prepare for a flood

Thanks to its coastline that won’t quit, Florida is the nation’s capital of flooding. And floods are the most expensive natural disaster in the US, according to FEMA. So if you own a home in Florida, it’s in your best interest to make sure you’re protected from the potentially costly effects of flooding and water damage.

Here are six steps you can take to reduce your risk.

1. Figure out your floodplain and risk of flooding

FEMA has mapped the entire country and graded it according to its risk of flooding. You can enter your address to get your flood designation using this search tool and then read about what each flood zone means.

Briefly, if your zone designation starts with an A or a V, you’ve got a decently high risk of flooding. Zones B and shaded X have moderate flood risk, and zones C and unshaded X have the lowest risk (trust us, this will make sense when you use that tool).

Based on your area’s designation, you can find something called the “base flood elevation” (BFE), which, for practical purposes, means how high water is likely to rise in the event of a major flood.

2. Move water-sensitive equipment above the BFE

Once you know how high floodwater is likely to rise, you can take steps to protect the things most likely to be damaged by water. This includes everything from TVs and computers to your air conditioner and backup generator, which may need to be elevated on and secured to a concrete block. You might also want to check your electrical outlets and switches. These should all be at least one foot above flood level.

It’s possible to elevate an entire home using piers or pillars, but doing so is usually cost-prohibitive. Alternatives might include installing water vents to let water flow more easily through your home (rather than rising inside) or sealing external walls to help prevent water from getting in. That said, new buildings in communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program and have a BFE are required to meet some of these specifications based on their flood risk.

3. Update your valves

Even if a storm doesn’t drop enough water to flood your home, it can still cause damage if it causes your sewer to back up and flow into your house. To prevent this, have a plumber install a backflow or gate valve on every sewage pipe that connects to your home. These valves are designed to keep water flowing in the right direction – out.

FEMA estimates that installation can cost between $600 and $1,400, a pretty reasonable price given that a single inch of flooding can cause nearly $27,000 of damage to your home and possessions (or more!).

4. Keep your property in good repair

If you’ve ever experienced a leaky roof, you know how small problems can lead to big damage when water’s involved. To minimize the odds of water damage (in any weather), be sure to take care of essential maintenance tasks on and around your property:

  • Clear your gutters. Make sure they’re hung securely from your roof.
  • Check your rain spouts. Make sure they’re positioned so that water will drain away from your and your neighbors’ houses.
  • Repair your roof as needed. A new roof may cost several thousand dollars, but it can also prevent tens of thousands of dollars worth of water damage. Even better: some homeowners insurance companies may offer lower premiums if you have a new roof.
  • Repair sidewalks and driveways. Crumbling infrastructure around your house could cause water to pool around it. Make sure out-of-date concrete and asphalt aren’t creating a direct channel to your home.

5. Use landscaping to reduce damage

Whether your yard floods from a sudden accident or a stretch of bad weather, the water can easily end up leaching through your foundation and into your basement. Luckily, landscapers have a number of methods for minimizing this risk, including:

  • Sloping your yard away from your home. This entails finding the high and low points on your property and adding dirt so water flows away from your home.
  • Using mulch in gardens. Mulch soaks up rainwater and keeps soil in place. Just be sure to leave a space between the mulch and your home to prevent rotting.
  • Going easy on the mowing. Grassroots absorb water and help reduce flooding, but cutting your grass too short weakens them.
  • Adding drainage to your driveway. Paved driveways can’t absorb rainwater like your yard can, so giving water a place to go is important here. A channel or trench drain is an inexpensive choice for getting this done.

6. Look into wet floodproofing

Most of the tips on this list are about dry floodproofing ﹘ essentially, keeping water out of your house. But you can also try wet floodproofing that actually allows water into enclosed spaces. Wet floodproofing creates a balance between the water on the inside and outside of your home, and that reduces the likelihood of cracks (or worse) in your foundation.

Sounds wild, right? But common wet-floodproofing methods like foundation vents and sump pumps are pretty well known.

If you go this route, however, you should note a couple of important caveats. First, wet floodproofing should only be used in non-livable areas, like crawl spaces. The expense of cleaning and repairing livable areas makes wet floodproofing a poor option. And speaking of cleaning, note that wet floodproofing does nothing to mitigate other flood risks, like damage from flowing water or flood-borne debris and contaminants.

7. Contact your county

If you’ve noticed standing water on the sidewalks or streets around your home after even small storms, you and your neighbors could be at higher risk for flooding. Luckily, many counties pay particular attention to water management. Get in touch with yours (check for the water services or planning department) to ask for action on improving drainage near you.

8. Know what to do during a flood

While it’s important to prepare your home for the possibility of flooding, it’s just as crucial to know what to do once the waters are rising. If a flood is imminent, you should:

  • Place sandbags to block floodwaters.
  • Move valuables and electronics to higher floors or up on counters.
  • Shut off your electricity.
  • Secure heavy appliances or furniture that might cause damage.

9. Review your homeowners' insurance

Standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover all types of water damage. Typically, your policy will include coverage for water damage that originates inside the house, like a dishwasher leaking and ruining your floors.

The basic policy excludes coverage for floods that come from outside – so pretty much anything storm-related. If you’re not sure what your insurance covers, now’s a good time to check with your agent.

If you’re in a high-risk flood zone, you’ll probably need flood insurance (in some parts of the country, you can’t get a mortgage without it).

Regardless, you may be able to get a better rate on your insurance by following the measures we outlined here because some insurance companies reward risk mitigation with lower prices.

Flood risk is increasing pretty much everywhere

The more severe storms we’ve seen in recent years are the new normal, thanks to climate change. And a new study predicts that 40 percent of Florida properties will be “highly exposed” to flooding by 2045. In other words: the time to manage your flood risk is now, while you still have an opportunity to save your home.


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