How to Prevent Home Flooding

As many as 15 million United States homes are at risk for flooding, according to data from the First Street Foundation analysis of flood risk, with other floods possible due to plumbing or water line malfunctions. Understanding that flooding is a potential threat in more places than you might expect is the first step to getting the home flood protection you need.

Protecting a house from a flood is a multi-tiered process, requiring research, preemptive changes to the home and smart interventions if a flood appears imminent. Because houses flood and traditional home insurance doesn’t cover the damage, it’s key to know your own risk level, consider flood-specific home insurance, and make choices to lower your risk of catastrophic damage.

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      How big is the risk of home flooding? 

      FEMA assesses flood risk, allocating different areas into colored “zones” based on how often a major flood event happens in that area. Blue zones are those with at least a 1-in-100-years risk, while orange zones are 1-in-500-years risk of a major flooding event. FEMA has established these zones and they will impact how expensive it is to get flood and other forms of insurance in your area.

      [ See: Understanding Home Insurance Quotes ]

      These risks sound low, but if you live in a home in a blue zone for 20 years, you’re looking at a 20% chance of major flooding during your time there, which sounds much more impactful to many people. Flooding in some areas is getting more common, so it is increasingly becoming worthwhile to make a plan to mitigate flooding houses.

      However, there are areas that aren’t surveyed in the flood maps, usually marked in yellow. You’ll want to ask local authorities about the flood risk of these areas, especially if a particular area of a neighborhood tends to back up if the rainwater sewers get clogged or another event prompts a localized flood.

      New companies like Flood Factor are trying to interpret past data as well as potential changes due to climate change, like sea-level rise or increased rain, which could make more zones of the United States into flood risks. While the risks will seem low for many homes flooding, knowing your risk is a good way to start the process.

      How to prevent and be better equipped for a flood

      If you determine that flooding is a present risk for your home, you may want to invest in some major flood-proofing renovations, but even if flooding isn’t likely in your area, there are inexpensive maintenance choices that can help you to be better prepared for a flood.

      • Find out if you’re a candidate for a sump pump or other basement changes: Depending on your area, basements that can flood may have foundation vents installed to get floodwater moving and out of your house, or there may be a standard way of installing sump pumps to quickly remove standing water during a flood.
      • Seal all potential cracks and leaks: Your foundation and the walls of your home will be sturdier with the correct coating or sealant applied, even without a flood, and in the case of a flood outside your home, they will keep your home drier for longer.
      • Install check valves or other recommended ways to avoid drain backup: some areas have problems with sewer systems backing up water into homes via their basement drains. Make sure that, if this is a present issue in your area, you have check valves installed that allow for flow out without letting flooding sewage flow in.
      • Assess the water situation around your foundation: Everything from the outflow of your gutters to the slope of your lawn affects whether water pools near your home during heavy rainfall or flows away from the foundation. During a heavy rain, assess how water is moving across your property, and take photos to show a gutters or landscaper to get advice on how to avoid standing water that could seep into the foundation.
      • Move appliances that are in easily floodable spaces: The cheapest and smartest move to do immediately, however, is to find ways to raise your appliances, especially those in a floodable basement, above the flood level. Placing HVAC units, washers/dryers, water heaters, and any other appliances on cinder blocks or other sturdy elevating material will ensure that, even with a few inches of flood water, the elements of those appliances won’t be compromised.
      • Make sure that you are properly insured: Look into exactly what your regular home insurance and your flood insurance cover, to see any gaps that might merit starting to save up a flood emergency fund.

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      What to do during a flood

      Floods still happen even with the best of prevention, so your preparation should also include a plan of what you’ll do if a flood seems likely or you start to see water pouring in.

      [ More: Here’s What Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Cover ]

      Remember that, if at some point the water overwhelms your efforts to avoid any damages, you should take photos and videos to show your insurance company the extent of the damage.

      Here are just a few of the best ways to safeguard your home as a flood is in progress.

      • Evaluate the source of the water: If it seems to be from plumbing, shut off the water main. If it is from a point source in a basement or other part of the base of the home, move previously-allocated sandbags to the location to attempt to slow or stop the water.
      • Remove items from the water’s path: Move all valuables and items that can be moved out of the path of the water or up to a higher floor of the home. If there are electrical components in the water’s path, shut down the power at the breaker box. If water is coming in higher in the home, check gutters and the drains for any back-ups and clear them to avoid water backing up onto the roof or other areas where a leak may be happening.
      • Begin removing water: Clear out the drains if they are flowing slowly, and start a sump pump in order to clear any standing water (you can also use a shop vacuum if you do not have a sump pump, or a wide broom to push water toward drains). When there is no longer rain coming down, opening the windows can be a good way to start drying spaces, as can box fans or a whole-house fan, if you have one.

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      Laura Leavitt

      Contributing Finance Writer

      Laura Leavitt is a writer and teacher in Ohio. She has written personal finance stories for Business Insider, The Billfold, The Financial Diet, and more.

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      • Nashalie Addarich
        Nashalie Addarich
        Insurance Editor

        Nasha Addarich is an editor at The Simple Dollar and a former attorney who specializes in home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance, and savings. She is a former contributing editor to