Examining Your House for Flood Dangers

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

All homes have some amount of flood risk. Depending on the level of risk, your lender and/or municipality may require flood insurance. Some homeowners mistakenly assume that living outside a required insurance zone negates all flood risk. However, a thoughtful approach to flood control and risk mediation is always a good idea. It’s up to the homeowner to navigate the all-too-common grey area when flooding is a possibility yet insurance is not required.

Understand Your Risk

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) provides a diagnostic tool called Flood Factor to help homeowners make informed decisions. Flood Factor is an online self-assessment tool that provides a good platform for gathering information. It is always good practice to know your home well with respect to any risk. Occasional flooding and water damage are unfortunate realities for many homeowners. Once you know your home’s digital flood factor, you’ll have an idea of how your risk compares to other homes and neighborhoods in the United States.

Another useful website is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) flood map service center. Users can enter an address and view the related property on a FEMA risk map. The visual is helpful in showing how closely your property is located to higher or lower areas of risk. FEMA can also advise on what to do after a flood has taken place and on requesting that your property’s flood status be reviewed.

Assessing Your Home’s Exterior

After you’ve taken the time to learn more about your home’s risk for flooding, it’s time to assess the property. Think of this as a self-guided home inspection. The first item on your inspection is unchangeable: the location. If you’re in a floodplain then you’ll need insurance. However, there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of damage and/or loss to your home and personal property in case of a flood event. Good maintenance and risk aversion are beneficial to homeowners regardless of the location, age of the home, and federal flood plain status.

Start with the chimney and roof (if you can view them safely). Flood usually begin as rain, so make sure your chimney is secure and free of cracks where a deluge of water could seep in and cause damage. Check the flashing, shingles, and gutters for cracks, mold, and rot. Some roof issues can also be seen from inside the attic. A tip from BobVila.com: check the inside of your downspouts for shingle granules. An abundance of granules could signal that your roof is near the end of its useful life.

Next, do a complete foundation inspection. Scan the entire perimeter of your home for foundation cracks and repair them ASAP. If you are unsure of repairing or sealing cracks on your own, consult with a foundation expert or mason for advice. Look for rooted landscaping that could compromise the foundation. If you have a brick foundation, look for areas that need tuck-pointing. Check for evidence of vermin and/or wood-destroying insects.

Make sure your sewer or septic system is serviced and flowing properly. Even if your home is connected to a city sewer system, the lines under your property are your responsibility. Consider having them snaked yearly to prevent back-ups. Also, keep drainage paths, ditches, and sewer grates clear. Although streets and sewer grates may not legally be your responsibility, the practical responsibility often falls on nearby homeowners to keep these areas clear before a storm. Blocked storm sewers can cause flash flooding into streets and even into nearby driveways and homes.

Check basement windows for cracks and seal them if needed. Also, consider having sandbags on-hand if your area is anticipating a major rain or flooding event.

Check for Opportunities Indoors

Inspect the interior of your home for potential flood hazards. You may find several opportunities to prevent or reduce losses if your property ever takes in water. If you have a basement, start there. Repair any cracks in the floor or foundation walls. Also check the interior of basement windows for cracks. Test your sump pump and invest in a battery backup. If your basement has floor drains, consider having backflow prevention valves installed.

Look into the cost of having flood sensors added to your home security plan. Also, move valuables upstairs or to an attic. Many people use their basements for storage and lose things like family photo albums and other heirlooms when a flood strikes. Keep outlets several inches above floor level so they are less likely to get wet if water comes in.

When to Enlist Professional Help

If you choose to make any of the recommended improvements above, it helps to do so under the guidance of a licensed professional. Plumbers can advise on whether floor drains and sump pumps need upgrading. They may also be able to complete the job in a fraction of the time that a DIY project would involve. A professional roofer/contractor can advise on the number of years left until the roof will need replaced. Chimney experts do more than clean – they may see cracks or other safety issues that an untrained eye could miss.

A landscape architect is also a great resource for flood prevention. He or she can advise on changes to your lawn’s grading and plant choices that will help keep water away from your foundation. A professional landscaping assessment is worth the investment if it saves you the headache of a flood next Spring.

If you’re still unsure of your home’s flood-preparedness, consider hiring a licensed home inspector for a full inspection. Most people only think about hiring a general inspector before the purchase of a home, but their services can be useful before any home upgrade. If you do not have a preferred home inspector, ask for referrals from your Realtor and family members.

Expect the Unexpected 

Finally, consider adding a flood rider to your homeowner’s insurance policy regardless of your level of preparedness. Mother Nature is unpredictable and some level of flood risk is always present. Your insurance agent can probably provide a quote over the phone. According to NAR, it is also advised that homeowners contact their town’s Floodplain Manager before committing to a specific insurance policy. You can search for your local manager here. If you have made any of the improvements discussed in this blog, inform your insurance agent as these updates may reduce your yearly premium payment.

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