How Homeowners Can Prevent Major Losses From Flood Damage

November 18, 2015

Although flooding may happen throughout the year, it is most common in the spring when snow melts. Rain is also typical and adds to the risk. One of the most common weather-related causes of death is flooding. In addition to this, floods are the leading weather-related cause of property damage. After Hurricane Sandy, the National Flood Insurance Program paid out well over $6 million in claims. It is important to take these steps to prevent flood damage.

Use Flood Maps

These maps are drawn and updated by FEMA. They show the locations of flood zones and floodplains, and flood zone risks range from high to low. If unsure about the classification of a specific address, ask an agent. As part of FEMA's modernization program, most communities are receiving new maps with more details and helpful recommendations. Since flood zones may have changed, it is important to look at the newest versions of these maps.

Learn Base Flood Elevation

When property owners know their flood zone, they should also learn their property's base flood elevation or BFE. This is the point where a building has a 1 percent chance of flooding each year. FEMA's newer maps typically list the BFE for different properties. If new maps are not available yet, a local building department may be able to help. When the BFE is known, it is important to determine the elevation of the first floor of the home. Is it below or above the property's BFE? Raising a structure with a main floor below the BFE helps reduce flood risks. This floor plan is typical with some split-level homes and buildings.

Purchase Flood Insurance

When the full risk of flooding is known for a property, flood insurance should be purchased for complete protection. This is especially important for people who live in or close to high-risk flood zones. The federal program for flood insurance is the National Flood Insurance Program. To learn more about this program and how to enroll in coverage, discuss the details with an agent. Some lenders may require people with federally sponsored mortgages to buy flood insurance.

Reduce Risks On The Property

There are several steps to take to reduce risks on the property. Any of the following suggestions will help prevent complications in the event of a flood.

  • Raise all electrical system components. A licensed electrician should be hired to complete this task. All wiring, circuit breakers, sockets and switches should be addressed, and they should all be at least 12 inches above the BFE for the property. In addition to preventing flood damage, this prevents the possibility of fires that occur from shorts after a flood.
  • Channel water away from the structure. The slope of the property should be downward in comparison with the location of the main structure. If it is not, this should be changed. A downward slope helps direct water away.
  • Raise HVAC equipment. Cooling, heating and ventilation systems can be damaged by floodwaters. The severity of the flooding and the length of time when the equipment is submerged determine the extent of the damage. Hire a contractor to move the HVAC equipment to a different floor or to create a flood-proof wall that surrounds it.
  • Add sewer back-flow valves. In some areas, flooding may result in sewage backing up through pipes. Back-flow valves are made to prevent a return flow into the home by blocking drain pipes.
  • Anchor any fuel tanks. If a fuel tank is not anchored outside, it can be swept away in a current in the event of a major flood. To complicate matters, a supply line can be torn and may result in basement fuel contamination.
  • Check sump pumps. When there is a sump pump on the property, it should be examined frequently. Make sure the batteries are charged periodically and that the sump pump is functioning correctly.
  • Have wells inspected periodically. If there is a flood, it can cause a well's water supply to become contaminated. A licensed driller can inspect for potential problems.

To learn more about flood safety and preparedness, discuss concerns with an agent.

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