Over five million people in England and Wales and 100,000 in Scotland live or work in areas at risk from coastal or river flooding. Many more are at risk of flash flooding caused by torrential downpours.
But while you can never fully protect a home from flooding, there are measures that can be put in place that can minimise the damage and speed up the repair time.
We teamed up with Norfolk County Council to install flood resilient alterations to a house in Lowestoft, Suffolk. The objective was to show what can be done to minimise the effect of flooding. Watch our video to find out more.
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Scroll down for more information about flooding or jump to the following sections:
- Flood Resilient Project
- What you can do before you're flooded
- What you can do after a flood
- Frequently asked questions
Aviva teamed up with Norfolk County Council to install flood resilient alterations to a house in Lowestoft, Suffolk. The objective was to show what can be done to minimise the effect of flooding.
The property belongs to Cotman Housing Association and is one of around 20 in the immediate area that have been flooded a number of times over the last few years. The problem is caused by a large drainage ditch behind the houses, which is unable to deal with above average amounts of water.
Joanne Saunders, 38, lives in the house with her three children. They’re used to seeing flood water lapping in their back garden and in the road outside, but Joanne knows that if it breached her home the damage would be severely reduced because of the measures she has inside her house.
When we first moved in here the kids were petrified of it raining, the idea of flooding scared them. But we were shown what had been done to the house and it certainly provided peace of mind for us all.
We are lucky that the house has never been deluged with flood water, but we know that if we were ever seriously flooded, we wouldn’t have to wait for weeks for everything to dry out, it should just be a matter of wiping down the walls, and mopping the floor - even the electrics should be protected as our sockets are half way up our walls.
Aviva spent around £30,000 installing resilient measures in Joanne's house, but making just a few changes to your home could seriously reduce the damage that flood water can do. The cost is also drastically reduced if the measures are carried out when a property is undergoing significant refurbishment or repair - for example following flood damage.
Eleanor McLachlan, flood mapping manager at Aviva says:
If you live in a flood risk area resilient measures could certainly help you get insurance and in some cases keep your premiums down. More importantly, such measures could prevent dirty flood water sloshing through your home and reduce the amount of time you have to leave your home while your property dries out - if you have to leave at all.
Obviously in Lowestoft we refurbished the whole house, but we would advise all those in flood areas to think about small changes that can be made to their homes.
If the flood is likely to be shallow the use of relatively simple low cost measures could even stop the water coming in the first place. As with all structural changes it is important to seek specialist advice, in this instance from professional civil engineers. The National Flood Forum has a list of companies that specialise in this field.
Aviva, and its partners, installed a range of measures to make the property more flood resilient.
- Ceramic tiled floors replaced vinyl and thermoplastic floor tiles.
- The skirting was re-fitted with flood-proof material.
- Walls re-plastered up to 1 metre above floor level with Limelite Renovating Plaster - to limit the dampness seeping into the walls.
- New internal doors, frames and linings were fitted to make them easier to remove.
- All the main appliances are raised on plinths and steel kitchen units are raised off the ground.
- The electrical points have been raised above flood level.
- A new waste system and double-check valves have also been fitted to stop waste water coming through the pipes into the house.
- The front and back doors were also re-designed to accommodate flood guards which help prevent water entering the property in the first place.
Being prepared not only helps reduce the damage to your property, it can also save lives.
Click here for more on Flood Re.
- Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies at the mains.
- Unplug all electrical items and where possible store them up high or upstairs. With heavy electrical items such as fridges raise them up on bricks.
- Put the lid down on your toilets and place something heavy, like bricks on top to stop the water coming in through waste pipes.
- Put plugs in baths and sinks, weigh them down with a sandbag, pillowcase or plastic bag filled with garden soil or a heavy object.
- Make sure all personal and valuable items are moved upstairs or out of the house, as these cannot be easily replaced.
- Keep all important documents in a watertight plastic bag in a high safe place. Consider keeping duplicate copies of documents with family or friends who are not at risk of flooding.
- Move as much furniture as possible upstairs. If items can't be carried, move them away from the wall as this will speed up drying times later.
- Make up a flood kit - including key personal documents, torch, battery, wind- up radio, mobile phone, rubber gloves, Wellington boots, waterproof clothing, a first aid kit and blankets. Also have a list of useful numbers such as the emergency services, local council, your insurer's emergency helpline number and details of the policy.
- Make sure neighbours, especially elderly or infirm ones, know there is a flood on the way.
If you live in an area prone to flooding then you probably already know about it. The Environment Agency runs Floodline on 0845 988 1188 which gives real time flood warnings and advice. It is worth updating yourself regularly if you think you are about to be flooded. You can also gain information from the website www.environment-agency.gov.uk/floodline.
Once the shock of being flooded has passed it is time to clear up the mess and get the house habitable. There are also a whole range of measures that can be taken to reduce the impact of the next flood.
- Find out the risk of flooding to your property
Contact your local authority or Floodline for information about the type of flooding the property has experienced, such as the water height, cause of flooding and frequency. Find out the risk of it or any other form of flooding happening again. If others are affected, consider forming a local flood association so that you can help each other. Contact the National Flood Forum (www.floodforum.org.uk) for advice on how to do this.
- Find out what can be done to reduce flood risk in your area
It is important that you find out if there are any plans to reduce the risk of flooding in your area. Again the National Flood Forum will advise on who the responsible authorities are and how you can press for action to be taken.
- Consider what you can do yourself
Flood defences fall into two categories - flood resistance and flood resilience. Flood resistance helps stop the water getting into the property in the first place. Making a house flood resilient will reduce the amount of damage caused by any water that gets into the house.
You can install these measures at any time, but if you are implementing them as part of the repair costs following a flood you will probably find that you will be expected to pay the extra cost of the alterations while your insurer pays the cost of the like-for-like restoration.
Where suitable, at Aviva we offer basic resilient repairs as standard in homes that are affected by flooding.
- Raising electrical sockets higher up the wall
- Replacing plaster with a water-resistant version
- If replacing timber floors, where there is shallow void, offering to fill the void and replace with a concrete floor
Before you start making changes get advice from a specialist flood surveyor or civil engineer. They can carry out a comprehensive flood assessment and make recommendations for the most appropriate flood defences for your particular property.
The National Flood Forum's Blue Pages feature companies which specialise in this work.
Flood resistant measures
- Pump and sump systems
A pump which sits below the ground floor to pump out water which enters through the ground. The pump removes water at a faster rate than it can enter.
- Flood skirts/barriers
Barriers are erected around any potential inlet for water including windows, doors and air bricks. These are permanently fixed on to the building, but need to be pulled/slid into position and fixed there when there is the threat of flooding.
- One-way valves
No-return valves can be fitted to water outlet pipes to prevent water backing up into the property in the event of a flood.
- Water resistant sealants
These can include the use of silicone sealants around door and window frames, or anywhere where there may be small gaps which would let water in. And it also includes sealants that can be painted onto porous materials such as bricks and mortar to prevent water penetrating them.
You can also buy a number of ready-made flood defences to minimise damage. We recommend use of accredited products such as those with a Kitemark - supported by the Environment Agency - as these have been tested and found fit for the job
Flood resilience measures to consider:
- Replacing timber floors with solid floors and cover with tiles. Tiled floors with rugs that can be moved will suffer less damage in a flood than carpet.
- Replace chipboard kitchens and bathroom units with plastic, steel or solid wood. If not, raise cupboards up on stilts so that water can flow beneath them.
- Fit water resistant door and window frames.
- Replace usual plaster with a more water-resistant version such as lime plaster or cement render.
- Always use waterproof sealant on external walls and water resistant paint on internal walls.
- Buy airbricks with removable covers - put them on during the flood, but remember to remove afterwards to help the drying out process.
- If possible move expensive electrical equipment to a higher level - some items do not have to be housed on the ground floor, for example, boilers can be moved to higher levels to reduce the possibility that they may be damaged in a flood.
- Raise electrical points above likely flood levels.
- Use denser concrete screeds on concrete floors - screeds can be damaged in floods and resistance can be improved by using a denser proprietary concrete screed.
- Replace insulation - mineral insulation rots after flooding, but it can be replaced with cell insulation which will survive a flood.
- Wall joists can be protected by installing a chemical damp proof course below the joist level. This will limit water seeping upwards and causing more damage to the rest of the property.
Where can I find out about measures that can reduce the impact of flood damage?
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors www.ricsfirms.com will be able to give details of an expert in your area.
The National Flood Forum's Blue Pages has contacts of specialist flood experts. www.floodforum.org.uk
- What are the most likely impacts of flooding?
The impact of flooding is two-fold - the emotional and the practical. On a practical level the impact can be devastating. In some cases properties are gutted by water which completely destroys fittings such as kitchens made of MDF or chipboard, and carpets or soft furnishings are ruined by contaminated water damage. Even once these items are dealt with the fabric of the buildings takes a long time to dry out. The emotional impact is even more devastating. The loss of possessions and property and the inability to return home for some time causes great stress and disruption. Plus the strain from worry such as the impact on house prices and the risk of future flooding, all take their toll. By following our advice to install protective measures homeowners are limiting the emotional as well as the practical impact of a flood.
- What do I do once I've been flooded to get back into my house?
It is important not to return to your property until it is safe to do so. If water is still present there could be health and safety issues from contaminated water or hidden dangers if the gas and electricity have not been turned off or isolated. First seek advice from Floodline, your Local Authority or the emergency services if they have been involved with the flood to confirm you can return home. Next contact your insurer. Call its emergency helpline and follow the advice you are given. Most household policies will cover the cost of alternative accommodation until your house becomes habitable, but check your policy details. Talk to your insurer/loss adjustor about resilient repairs and what can be done to your home to help prevent future damage.
- What methods of protection are there that householders can use?
There are two forms of protection - flood resistance and flood resilient techniques. Measures that provide resistance help prevent water getting in to buildings. Measures that provide resilience are to ensure minimal damage occurs if water does get in. Ideally buildings should be fitted with both. Examples of flood resistance measures include pump and sump systems, which drain water from below floor level faster than it rises, or flood boards, which are installed around doors for resistance against flash floods. Flood resilient measures include replacing timber floors with concrete and carpet with tiles. Perishable materials such as MDF or chipboard kitchens can be replaced with plastic or steel alternatives. Gypsum plaster is susceptible to water damage and can be replaced with more water resistant materials such as lime plaster or cement render. Similarly items which can be damaged by flooding and which are expensive to replace or repair can simply be placed out of harms way by raising them above likely flood levels - such as boilers, wall sockets and meters. One-way valves on drainage pipes decrease the risk of sewage backing up into a building during a flood.
- Why do I, a homeowner, need to think about protecting my property?
Buildings and contents insurance will protect homeowners for the majority of the costs incurred through flood damage (please check your policy for more information) but no insurance policy will be able to replace items with significant personal meaning or sentimental value. Similarly no policy will be able to spare some homeowners the inconvenience and disruption of being forced from their homes for days or weeks during and immediately after a flood. Therefore the onus is on all homeowners who live in flood risk areas to find out what steps they can take to protect their properties from flood damage as far as they can. There are a number of ways homeowners can do this which will drastically reduce the level of damage that properties sustain. In addition, homeowners can help to control their buildings and contents insurance premiums if they can show they have taken steps to minimise the potential damage.
- Do homeowners have to employ specialist builders to undertake this work?
It is advisable for homeowners to seek expert advice before carrying out any major work. A professional civil engineer will be able to advise on what kind of modifications are best for the property. However any good building firm will be able to make structural alterations such as moving boilers or installing pumps. And many of the other measures, such as erecting flood boards, can be done by homeowners themselves as needed - these types of product are designed to be erected in minutes after a flood warning has been issued.
- Can I make any of the changes to my property myself?
Some changes are possible without major work required. For instance it is possible to raise some items off the floor (for example fridges) using props. This will provide protection in the event of shallow flood water entering your property. Homeowners do not need to wait until their property is flooded to install resilient techniques, they can be done in normal DIY situations - i.e. if you fit a new kitchen. For work involving fitting specific equipment or making structural changes we advise seeking expert advice and assistance.
- Aren't these modifications ugly and damaging to the aesthetic appeal of a house?
Many of the changes are mainly hidden - such as the under floor pump and sump system. And some are temporary which only need to be erected when a flood warning is issued such as using door guards or airbrick covers. Some changes are permanent and visible - for example placing sockets half way up a wall - but can be disguised and are certainly more preferable to the alternative.
- How much do flood resilient measures cost?
The cost of purchasing and installing products to keep flood water out of your property and minimising the damage will depend on the type and size of the property and the kind of flooding you want to protect against. The most common products such as door guards and air brick covers could cost only a few hundred pounds and moving washing machines and other white goods to higher levels would again be relatively inexpensive. However a full suite of measures would be substantially more, but could pay for themselves after a single flood. It's worth remembering that if a property is protected flooding should cause less damage, so drying out and cleaning up is faster and easier. This means you could move back home far more quickly if you have to leave your property at all.
- How will flood resilient modifications affect my insurance?
In the long term, adopting such measures could make it easier for an insurer to continue to provide cover to your home if you are living in a high flood-risk area. There may even be an effect on the terms of your insurance if a comprehensive course of flood resilience and protection is undertaken and there is a measurable impact on your flood risk. What's more it will help prevent filthy flood water from invading your home.
- Is any funding available from the Government to assist homeowners in paying for this?
The Government has provided financial grants for some areas to help homeowners install flood resilient and flood resistant measures in appropriate properties. The Welsh Assembly Government has already established a pilot grant/scheme for such measures. Check with your local authority.
- Following a flood what are the steps I need to take before installing any flood resilient techniques?
- Discuss the options with your insurer
- Assess the flood risk
- Consult a surveyor or ascertain the most suitable option for flood resilience or resistance
- Further discussions with insurer or appointed loss adjuster, including cost implications
- Agree course of action with insure
- Where can I find out about products that reduce the impact of flood damage to my property?
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) published a useful guide giving the types of measures and average costs - including the amount they would save after the event. Go to www.abi.org.uk. The Environment Agency also produces a number of useful guides. You can also try CIRIA's website - the construction industry's research and information association - for up-to-date information - www.ciria.org/flooding. When looking at products remember to look for the BSI - Kitemark certificate.
Below is a list of useful website links that give you practical advice and information about coping with floods.
- Association of British Insurers
- British Standards Institute
- Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters
- CIRIA website
- Environment Agency
- Floodline - 0845 988 188
- Institution of Structural Engineers
- National Flood Forum
- Royal Institute of British Architects
- Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
- The Met Office
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency
You should also establish whether you live or work in an area at risk of flooding. Visit the Environment Agency website www.environment-agency.gov.uk/floodline. Your local authority should also be able to advise you on your risk of surface water flooding.
If you are at risk make sure you are prepared; sign up for the Environment Agency's Floodline Warnings Direct service and prepare a flood plan. Visit their website for more information or call the Floodline on 0845 988 1188.
Being prepared not only helps reduce the damage to your property, it can also save lives.