guide

How to protect your home from flooding and extreme weather

06 May 2021 | Matt Mostyn

Cleaning up after a floodAs we know all too well, the UK climate can be a changeable beast! And with the effects of climate change causing more extreme weather to hit our shores in recent years, flooding is becoming an ever-more-serious problem. 

Since 1910, there have been 17 record-breaking months of rainfall in the UK – and as many as 9 have happened in the past 20 years. With that in mind, it makes sense to prepare for potential flood events – especially if you live near water, or in an area that’s prone to flooding. 

Having the right home insurance can help with the financial cost of a flooded home – but there’s also the emotional impact and upheaval to consider. That’s why it’s so important to take the right measures to create home flood defences to protect your home. So follow our top tips, to help keep your home, and your family safe.

What are the causes of flooding? 

According to the BBC, more than 5.5 million homes across England and Wales are at a high risk from flooding. The Met Office has said climate change is a factor in the current floods – and projections show that this effect is only going to get worse. With the UK being a densely populated island that’s prone to wet weather, tidal surges and storms, it’s almost inevitable that these events will continue to cause problems.

There are 4 main causes of flooding – including: 

  • Tidal floods – this is where water comes in from the sea and tidal rivers 
  • Fluvial flooding – where water moves in from overflowing rivers 
  • Groundwater flooding – this happens when the earth is saturated and can’t hold any more water
  • Flash flooding – which happens when drainage systems are overwhelmed by sudden heavy rainfall

Where you live can play a big role in how prone your home is to flooding. For instance, if you’re by the coast, near a river, or your home’s been built on a flood plain.

Here’s where to check to see if your part of the UK is at risk:

What parts of your home are the weak points?

Floodwater can enter your home in a few different ways. It can come in through doors and patios, air bricks on exposed walls, and gaps in the floor.

Drains and pipes are another entry point. That’s because the pressure created by flooding can reverse the flow, causing water to back-up and enter through basements, sinks, toilets, or even washing machines.

What to do if your house floods

Protecting a home with sandbags

There are 3 golden rules to follow in the event of a flooded house. STOP, SWITCH OFF and EVACUATE.

It’s also a good idea to contact your insurer (or your landlord, if you rent), document everything, and of course, do a cleanup, if it’s safe to. Here’s more detail on each:

Stop the water at its source

If your flood’s caused by a burst pipe or some other plumbing breakdown, the first step is to find the source of the water, and then turn it off. The easiest way to do that is by turning off the main water valve. It’s a good idea to know where that is before a flood, so you can find it easily.

If you’re flooded by an act of nature, try and seal off any entry points as best you can, using towels, sandbags or plastic sheeting. If you know your home’s prone to flooding, it’s wise to sort these beforehand. You can even invest in flood protection equipment like quick-fit free-standing barriers and guards for doors, as well as air-brick covers, non-return valves, and toilet seat pans.

Turn off the electricity

Of course, this is very important. As you know, water and electricity don’t get on – so find your fuse box and switch everything off. There’s only one time when you shouldn’t; if you have to walk through water to reach the fuse box. In that instance, it’s better to call an electrician.

Read our guide on what to do in case of a power cut

Evacuate

If flooding’s a result of a burst pipe or sewage leak, your next move is outside with family and pets, to find a dry, safe spot. That could be the garden, or the house of a friend or neighbour. 

If the flood’s down to a natural disaster, listen to your local news, or check with your local council for info on temporary shelters, and head there as soon as you can. 

Call for help

Once you’re safe, it’s time to call for help. That could mean contacting anyone from plumbers or electricians, to flood cleanup operators or salvage crews. Now’s also a good time to call your insurance company, to let them know what’s happened, and discuss any emergency accommodation or funds you might need.

Document everything

The first instinct after a flood is often to begin the cleanup. But it’s important to document everything first, so you can show your insurer the extent of the damage. Use your phone to take pictures or video.

There’s one more step before you step back inside. Suit up with protective gear like waders, or waterproof boots and clothing, to protect you from any toxins in the water or other nasties. 

Start the cleanup

There’s no getting away from it. Cleaning up after a flood is a long, slow process. The first step is to remove the water, before rescuing whatever personal items you can. Then it’s time to dry out your home, and disinfect whatever the water’s been in contact with. And of course, all of that needs to be done using the proper safety gear.

Floodguidance.co.uk has a handy guide to take you step-by-step through what to do to clean up after a flood.

Prevent mould damage

Mould is another problem after a flood – and it’s not just the type that lurks in a damp basement. Toxic or black mould can be a health risk, so it’s important to tackle it head on. That means drying out your home as quickly as possible, and then treating as much as you can with a cleaner. 

While strong cleaners like bleach are often recommended, there are some eco-friendly cleaning solutions that will also work well. White vinegar is one good option, and you could also try tea tree oil or baking soda. And if you want to enlist the help of a professional mould remover, look for ones that use eco-friendly products.

What if the flood’s deeper than 1 metre?

It may sound slightly crazy, but if a flood outside your home gets deeper than 1m, it’s recommended to let the water into your home. Why? Because water this deep can actually create enough pressure on your exterior walls to cause them to collapse. Allowing it in will prevent this kind of dangerous pressure build-up.

What can you do to limit the damage caused by flood water? 

Uk flood scene

It may not always be possible to hold back the tide when a flood hits your home… but you can still take steps to make your home more flood-resilient. Here are some things to consider when it comes to home flood defences:

  • Make sure electrical sockets, fuse boxes and wiring are at least 1.5m (5ft) above the ground
  • Use water-resistant materials like stainless steel, plastic or solid wood rather than chipboard in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Choose tiled flooring with rugs, rather than fitted carpets
  • Position TVs and other electrical equipment at least 1.5m off the ground
  • Put treasured and valuable items on high shelves

More useful home flood defence tips

Clear drains: it’s a good idea to do regular drain maintenance, to help water flow more smoothly. So make it a regular job to clear gutters and gullies from debris.

Check for weak spots: inspect your home for any weak points. Look for things like leaks that need fixing, or weak points on your roof where water could enter. And keep an eye out for other potential entry points, like cracks or gaps, and do what you can to fix them.

Water sensors: these are very handy for detecting rising water and giving you an early warning – especially if, for instance, a flood happens in the night, or while you’re away from home. You could also sign up to the Environment Agency’s Floodline warnings service.

Plastic wrap: use waterproof bags to protect your valuables from flood water. If you can find ones big enough, you could even wrap your furniture or car. Or you could use waterproof sheeting tied with elastic bands, to protect your sofa, dining table and furnishings. While we’re not big fans of plastic, there’s no getting around this one. But you could at least recycle plastic sheets you might have used elsewhere, and then keep them, to re-use another time.

Find higher ground: move as much as you can upstairs, or even to your attic – and use spare bricks, blocks or wooden pallets to help keep items off the floor. Of course, consider your own safety before trying to rescue belongings, and avoid lifting anything very heavy.

How much will it cost to flood-proof your home?

Home flood defence costs very much depend on the size of your home, and the level of flood resistance you want. But as a general guide, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) reckons that protecting your home against shallow flash floods will cost around £2,000 - £6,0001.

More extensive flood protection, for potentially deeper floods is, of course, going to be more expensive. That could cost up anywhere up to £40,0002. On the flipside, good flood protection will certainly help limit the damage caused by flooding, reduce the cost of repairs, and allow you to return home faster.

Where to get more information

The floods section of the UK government’s website is a good starting point. Aside from its flood warning service, there’s also loads of practical advice on protecting your home, as well as an interactive guide showing at-risk areas, and ways to reduce flood damage. It also gives advice on creating a "flood plan", and tells you what to do if a flood warning’s issued for your area. 

There’s probably no such thing as a completely flood-proof house. But forewarned is forearmed – so put a plan in place and you’ll be better prepared to take on whatever your plumbing, or the elements, throw at you.

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Sources and references

1. https://www.yourmortgage.co.uk/insurance/how-to-avoid-a-flooding-disaster/

2.  https://www.yourmortgage.co.uk/insurance/how-to-avoid-a-flooding-disaster/

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