There are few people who can forget the shocking sight of the floods that struck the south-west of the UK last year, bringing months rather than days of misery to those whose lower floors were under over a foot of water for considerable periods of time. If you are considering buying a home, perhaps thinking about building your own, or even already own an existing property, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that floods do not become a major problem to you.
Research the Location
As the old real estate saying goes ‘Location, location, location’ and this is particularly true of flood avoidance. If you buy or build a home in an area that is at sea level (or below) and you are situated right next to a river or the sea, then your home automatically is at a higher risk of flooding than a building perched atop a mountain, or simply considerably above sea level. However, not all homes at risk of flooding are by a body of water, and floods can and do occur high above sea level! Do not just take the seller’s word for it that the area has never been flooded: they may be desperate enough to off-load the property that they will either lie outright, or perhaps fudge the truth a little. Local libraries will have news archives that you will be able to search for weather and flooding information and local insurers may also have detailed records of flooding in the area. Failing that the Environment Agency will be able to tell you if an area is likely to suffer from flooding issues.
Build it Properly
If you are choosing to build, for whatever reason, in an area where floods are likely to happen, then build and decorate with future flooding in mind. Laying ceramic floor tiles, raising electrical sockets, fitting tough steel or plastic kitchen fixtures and installing no-return valves (these will only allow water to flow out of the home, not in) on the relevant pipework, will ensure that your home can recover quickly and cheaply from any flooding that does occur. It may also be an idea to build a sturdy wall around your home (much as builder Sam Notaro did in late 2013) to keep the flood water at bay for as long as possible.
Upgrade Your Existing Home
If you have bought an existing home that is now prone to flooding (always be aware that homes that have never yet flooded are in no way guaranteed to never flood!) there are changes that you can make to ensure that any future floods do not cause too much damage to the property. These include serious renovations such as raising plug sockets on the ground floor (to a height of around 1.5 metres) and plastering the walls with lime based plaster instead of the more common, but water-soluble, gypsum. Watertight windows and doors can be installed and make it a habit to keep irreplaceable items (family photos, precious mementoes etc.) on high shelves or even upstairs. Check the exterior of your home carefully and make sure you know where all the ventilation air-bricks are. Do not keep these covered all the time as they are protection against carbon monoxide poisoning, rising damp and a host of other issues, but DO buy and fit covers when a flood is imminent. You can also buy commercial ‘door covers’ which work much like the air brick covers on a larger scale, keeping flood water from seeping under your doors. For larger properties, you can buy pumps that can return the water to the outside world as fast as it comes into your home: however, if there is nowhere for that water to drain off to, there is nothing you can do to prevent it returning! (Speak to your local hardware/ building supply store about the various models and brands of pump on the market: you can choose between a cheap and cheerful small model to an enormous, almost industrial-sized pump, depending on the size of the property, your budget and the amount of water expected!)
Help, a Flood is Coming and I’m not Prepared!
With a couple of days warning and a little cash, even the most defenceless home can be protected against the worst of a flood. Move valuables and electrical items upstairs as soon as possible, and roll up any carpets or rugs that can be moved. Go outside your home and make sure that the nearby drains and gutters are completely clean, clear and ready to carry a lot of water. Sweep away or move any piles of bricks, leaves, planks: anything that could potentially dam up the water and create rising pools. Speak to your local council about sandbags and flood sacks. (Sandbags are, obviously, bags of sand, while flood sacks (permeable bags filled with an absorbent polymer) are light to carry and manoeuvre around until they get wet, at which point, having absorbed a certain amount of water they work effectively to block the passage of any more water. After each flood, as long as the flood sacks have not been contaminated, they can be dried out and stored safely for the next time.) Physically blocking or rerouting the path of floodwater can be an effective way of ensuring that your home is safe. Great lengths of plastic can be ‘wrapped’ around the house, keeping the water away from accessible areas like doors and air-bricks.
In some cases, local government may advise that the area be evacuated. Keep a list of contacts handy, saved into a mobile phone or jotted on a piece of paper that is tucked into your wallet, so that you can call family members, neighbours, council offices and emergency services quickly when the need arises. Have an evacuation plan and make sure that even your youngest children know what to do. If possible, evacuate in a timely manner, securing your home as best you can against both the vagaries of nature and those criminal elements who may seek to take advantage of the flooding to indulge in a spot of opportunistic burglary or theft.
Flooding can be traumatic, expensive and dishearteningly messy. However, it can be survived with the application of a little common sense and forward planning. Make sure that you are weather ready in all seasons!