Floods can happen anywhere. Communities that are at low to moderate risk of a flood receive one-third of federal disaster assistance for flooding, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Everyone should be prepared for a flood, no matter where you live. A flood of just one inch of water can cost a homeowner $25,000 in losses, according to FEMA. Flood insurance will cover most of the cost of damage caused by a flood. Additionally, flood-proofing your home can reduce the potential for damage to its foundation and your personal belongings.
4 steps to protect your family and home against flooding
Whether you live in a high-risk or low-risk area, getting insurance coverage and bolstering your home’s structure to prevent flood damage can save you thousands of dollars in damage repair costs.
Here are four steps you can take to protect yourself and stay safe in the event of a flood.
Step 1: Measure your level of risk
Different regions have varying exposure levels to flooding. Densely populated areas, and communities near rivers, dams, and mountains are at particularly high risk. Knowing the risk level can help you assess the necessary steps you can take to keep you and your home safe.
You can use FEMA’s flood map tool to determine your region’s risk of flooding. Some regions are marked with color codes indicating the likelihood of flooding there.
Blue zones and red with blue striped zones are areas at the highest risk of flooding. High-risk areas face more than a 1% probability of severe flooding (often referred to as a 100-year flood) in any given year, according to FEMA. People who live there are likely to see at least one significant flood in their lifetimes. Blue zones might experience floods of 1.5 feet to 3 feet. However, certain areas are subject to wavelengths of 3 feet or more.
Orange zone areas are at low to moderate risk of flooding. These areas face a 0.2% chance of significant flooding with depths less than 1-foot or with drainage areas less than 1 square mile. While orange zones are deemed low risk, experts still encourage you to take preventative measures to keep you and your home safe.
Source: Risk data from FEMA
Step 2: Insure your property
Flood insurance will cover the cost of damage directly caused by a flood, minus your deductible. Most homeowners and renters policies don’t include flood insurance. You might need to buy flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) administered by FEMA.
The damage floods cause to your home can be expensive. Without flood insurance, a 4-foot flood in a 2,500 square foot, 2-story house, can exceed $100,000 in water damage. It’s also important to note that FEMA disaster assistance usually only gives $5,000 in grants for each household. On the other hand, the average flood insurance payout is $40,000. Federal disaster aid is scarcely enough to recuperate the cost of water damages. That’s why it is critical to ensure your home is covered before a disaster.
Under the National Flood Insurance Act, homeowners in high-risk flood areas are required to purchase flood insurance. For homeowners outside of high-risk flood areas, experts encourage that you protect your home with flood insurance. FEMA says that 40% of flood-related insurance claims are by communities outside of high-risk flood zones. If you live in an area of undetermined flood risk, you can get a document called an elevation certificate that details how susceptible your home may be to flooding.
The best time to buy flood insurance is well before a flood is most likely to occur, as it takes 30 days for a policy to go into effect. This is especially important during hurricane season. To sign up for a policy, call your insurance provider or an independent agent to purchase flood coverage. You can use FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program provider locator to find a provider in your area.
Flood insurance is available to homeowners in 24,000 NFIP participating communities. You can see if yours is one of them here. You can also check out Floodsmart to see if your area participates in discounted flood insurance rates.
Step 3: Prepare your home to resist flooding
“In preparation for a flood, homeowners should prepare their home to minimize the damage it will cause,” says Darren Craft, founder, and president of Worth Insurance. Craft recommends all homeowners — even those in low-risk areas — ensure that water can flow away from their homes by properly cleaning gutters and drains. Homeowners are also encouraged to take pictures of their homes and valuables before flooding occurs.
Here are some of FEMA’s recommendations to protect your home from flooding:
Outside the home
- Maintain proper water runoffs and drainage. Gutters, downspouts, and splash pads keep rainwater on your roof from flowing into your home. Be sure to keep runoff systems and drainages clean and properly operating.
- Install a rain barrel. A rain barrel collects rainwater from your roof. You can use the water in the barrel to water plants or wash your car.
- Elevate utilities and service equipment. Elevating utilities and service equipment will prevent home damage and electrocution during a flood. Craft recommends raising electrical outlets, switches, and sockets at least 1 foot above the estimated flood elevation in your area. Craft also recommends raising outdoor equipment like air-conditioning units, and pool equipment above flood level.
- Anchor outdoor fuel tanks. Fuel tanks, if carried by floodwaters can leave people, property, and the environment susceptible to injury and damage. Attach your outdoor fuel tank to a heavy item like a concrete slab so the tank stays in place.
Inside the home
- Protect valuable items. Keep important documents and valuables in a watertight security deposit box above the anticipated flood elevation level. Take pictures of important household items and personal valuables, as well.
- Install foundation vents or a sump pump. A sump pump transports water from your basement away from your home. Be sure to purchase a battery-operated backup sump pump in case of a power outage.
- Apply sealants or coatings to your home’s foundation and basement walls. Seal any cracks and gaps where water could seep into your home’s foundation. Also, coat the walls in your basement with a waterproofing compound to keep water from seeping through.
- Prevent sewer backups. Install drain plugs in your basement floor drain or install sewer backwater valves for all pipes entering your home. These devices prevent contaminated water from entering your home through toilets, sinks, and other drains.
Step 4: Stay safe during and after flooding
Preparation before a flood is key to minimizing damage to your home and preventing harm to you and your family. Here are some things to keep in mind during and after a flood:
During a flood
If you can, evacuate as soon as possible. Tune into your local radio or NOAA weather radio for emergency alerts. If a flash flood warning is issued in your area, move to higher ground immediately. If the water begins to rise above your feet or if moving rapidly, stop and turn around.
Craft encourages those in high-risk areas to have an evacuation plan in place. If you are leaving your home, turn off the electricity at the breaker panel to avoid water damage. Craft also mentions that those in low-risk areas should anticipate power outages and have several days of food and water supplies stocked up.
While evacuating, if your car gets trapped, stay inside. Go to the roof of your car if needed. If you require medical attention, stay where you are, call 9-1-1 and listen for further instruction.
After a flood
Turn on the NOAA weather radio or your local radio station for updates and instructions. Don’t attempt to drive in a flooded area. Even six inches of rushing water can result in loss of control of your car.
Beware of electrocution. If you are wet or are standing in water, don’t touch electrical outlets and plugs. Also, avoid traveling in water. Floodwaters may be contaminated with sewage, oil, and other dangerous debris. Sanitize anything that might be contaminated and wear appropriate hazard attire (e.g. work gloves, protective clothing, boots and face masks) while you clean.
Floods — even in low-risk areas —cause significant damage to homes. Not taking the necessary precautions could be costly and dangerous. Insuring your home with flood insurance and flood-proofing your foundation can save you thousands of dollars. Don’t wait until there’s a flood to take action, the best time to protect your home is now.