Flooding is the most common and most expensive natural disaster in the U.S., according to FEMA. And the risk of catastrophic floods in the U.S. is only rising as climate change intensifies downpours in areas like the Northeast and Midwest. In the West, flooding risks rise following major wildfires that denude hills of trees and undergrowth.
In addition to threatening personal safety, floods can cause significant structural damage to residences. According to the National Flood Insurance Program, just one inch of water can cause up to $25,000 worth of damage to an average home.
But homeowners can mitigate the damages of flooding in a few key ways, from advance preparation to damage control after the fact.
Read on for some actions useful for defending your home from floods.
DO: Take steps now to protect your home from future flooding
- Assess your level of risk. Search for your address in FEMA’s map to see how high the risk for flooding is in your area. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security simply because you live in an area with low or moderate risk. Even in these lower-risk areas, your home is still five times more likely to experience a flood than a fire during the next 30 years.
- Seriously consider getting flood insurance. Most homeowner insurance does not cover damages from floods. Waiting until the last minute to get flood insurance doesn’t work: It typically takes about 30 days to take effect. (There are some exceptions to this waiting period.)
- Document and store important files and keepsakes in a safe location. Keep photographs of especially valuable property. Keep a digital copy of important documents and photos in a safe off-site location.
- Compile an emergency kit, using the Red Cross Flood Safety Checklist as reference.
- Coordinate with all family members and residents on your property on an evacuation route and emergency contacts plan.
- If you live in a floodplain, work with a professional to take further actions to safeguard your home like:
– Elevating or anchoring critical appliances like your furnace and water heater.
– Building barriers like a levee or flood wall.
– Waterproofing the basement, installing a flood alarm, maintaining a battery-operated sump pump, and installing flap or check valves to temporarily block drain pipes.
DO: Take swift action when a flood watch or warning is announced
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio for important updates.
- Confirm that your emergency kit and evacuation plan are up to date and accessible.
- Clear gutters and use sandbags if needed to divert water away from the foundation of your home.
- Move valuables to a higher or otherwise safer room.
- Prioritize personal safety, and don’t walk, swim, or drive through floodwater.
DO: Address flood damage after the fact
- Avoid contact with floodwater, which may contain sewage or other contaminants or materials such as timber or solid wastes.
- Call your insurance provider as soon as possible. If you’re renting, call your landlord instead.
- When the weather dries, open windows to improve ventilation and help your home air out.
- Immediately discard anything that may pose a health risk, including food, clothes, rugs, and other belongings. (For insurance purposes, you’ll need to take pictures of some items first, including serial numbers on major appliances.)
- Check in and around the home for structural damage. Look for loose power lines and foundation cracks. Sniff for gas. Use extreme caution if you notice sagging ceilings or floors, and/or damaged stairs.
- Make whatever temporary repairs you can before insurance repairs can kick in. For example, you may need patch holes or brace walls.
- Address mold safely by cleaning up with personal protective equipment, including an appropriate face mask, rubber gloves, and rubber boots. EPA has more details on how and why these precautions are so important.
* For more resources, visit FEMA’s “How to Prepare for a Flood.”