The essential guide to flood safety and resiliency: advice for homeowners
Around 5.2 million properties in England are at risk of flooding. But with the right preparation, you can manage the risks and improve your flood resiliency.
Flooding is often described as something that you can’t predict or prevent. However, you can prepare your home and finances to stand up to the shock.
Use this homeowners’ guide to find out the risks in your area, create a flood safety plan, and protect your finances.
Flooding: how big is the risk?
It’s hard to predict the specific risk level for every individual property. If you live in a high-risk area, your house might be on a hill or above flood defences. Even if your home is in a low-risk area, flash flooding could still affect you after heavy rain.
In the past few years, heavy rain has become more common in the UK. This means that flooding is more likely than before – and when floods do come, they may be more severe. Flood damage can cost you a lot of money if you’re not prepared. So, it’s a good idea to get organised with a flood safety plan, warning systems, and insurance now – instead of waiting until disaster strikes.
When you think about flood safety and flood resiliency, you don’t just need to think about the water level. Flooding can affect homeowners in many ways – from temporarily making tap water unsafe, to leaving homes uninhabitable for up to a year, to costing tens of thousands in repairs.
The best way to manage flood risk is to prepare. In this guide, we’ll talk about:
- Flood safety: planning to keep yourself and your family safe.
- Flood resiliency and resistance: how to protect your home from flood damage.
- Flood finances: how to protect yourself financially.
Flooding in the UK
If you watch the news, you’ll see occasional dramatic reports about flooding. It’s often a shocking moment; no one ever thinks it will happen to them.
But the truth is, flooding is not a rare event. All kinds of properties are vulnerable to floods, in rural areas and in cities. Every homeowner needs to think about flood resiliency and how to keep their property safe.
If you think that flooding could never happen where you live, then check out these facts and figures from the UK Government:
- Flooding isn’t just a problem on the coast. An estimated 80,000 properties in towns and cities are at risk of floods.
- In total, £200 billion worth of property is at risk from flooding in the UK.
- Flood damage and flood risk management costs the UK around £2.2 billion every year.
The UK is getting wetter. Rain is more frequent and higher volume than it used to be. According to the Met Office, climate change has increased the risk of severe winter rain sevenfold.
Wherever you live, you should know about the local flood risk and have a plan for emergencies. In the next few sections, we’ll talk about the different kinds of flooding, and how to find out about the risks in your area.
What causes flooding?
There are lots of different ways that floods can start. Although some areas are more likely to flood, flooding can happen almost anywhere if there is enough rain.
In the UK, flooding is usually caused by:
- River flooding when a watercourse is overwhelmed by too much water draining into it.
- Coastal flooding, which is usually caused by a combination of high tides and storms.
- Surface water flooding, which is caused by heavy rainfall. This type of flooding is very unpredictable. It can happen anywhere, including in towns and cities.
- Sewer flooding when sewerage systems are overwhelmed by heavy rain or become blocked.
- Groundwater flooding when water in the ground rises above surface level. This is more likely in areas with chalk or sandstone bedrock.
Buying a house in a flood-risk area
Before you buy a house and commit to a mortgage, you’ll want to research the local flood risk.
There are several ways you can find out about potential flood risk:
- Use this government tool to check the long-term flood risk for your postcode (this is different from short-term flood risk warnings, which we’ll talk about below)
- Use online search engines to see if there have been floods in your area in the last few years. How bad was the flooding? Was it a freak event, or could it happen again?
- Ask the previous homeowners about the flood history of the property. Has it flooded before? How bad was the damage? Did the flooding affect their insurance premiums, and by how much?
You’re entitled to know all this information, so don’t be shy about asking questions. It’s always better to know the risks early on. The previous homeowners might also have useful tips about their strategies for flood resistance, or the details of their flood safety plan.
Remember, if your new home is in a flood risk area, it’s not the end of the world. You can plan for flood resiliency to reduce the potential damage. In the end, it’s up to each individual to decide how much risk they want to take on.
Buying a house in a flood-risk area may mean that you pay more for home insurance. You’re also likely to see your premiums go up if your area has a history of recent floods, even if it’s not described as a high-risk area.
However, there are protections available for homeowners who are at risk of floods. Since 2016, the Flood Re scheme has helped to limit home insurance premiums, even in flood risk areas.
It’s estimated that 350,000 households in the UK could benefit from the scheme, which supports insurers so that they don’t pass costs on to consumers. Even if you live in a rented property, your landlord may have insurance that’s supported by Flood Re, including support for emergency accommodation.
How to protect your home from flooding
There are lots of practical steps you can take to protect your home from flooding. As well as taking steps for flood resistance and resiliency, you can take out home insurance to help you manage the costs.
Before anything else, you’ll need to know who’s responsible for the different aspects of flood safety, flood management, and preparation.
Who’s responsible for flood safety?
As a homeowner, you’re responsible for the risk to your own property. That includes the contents of your home as well as the building itself.
You’re also responsible for drainage pipes on your property. You should keep them maintained and look out for potential blockages. You can help everyone by looking out for blocked public drains on your street. The sooner a blockage is fixed, the less likely it is to cause a flood.
If you own property next to a river, stream, or ditch, then you have extra responsibilities. You’re considered a “riparian owner”, and you must keep the waterways in good condition so that there’s less chance of flooding.
However, you also have the right to protect your land and property from floods – what’s known as “flood resistance”. If you want to know more about your rights and responsibilities as a riparian owner, contact your local land registry department or the Environment Agency.
It’s not all on you. The government, Environment Agency, Highways Authorities, local councils, planning committees, and water and sewage companies all have responsibilities too. The National Flood Forum has a helpful guide which explains who’s in charge of different aspects of flood resiliency.
How to protect your home from flood damage
Experts talk about two ways to protect your home from flooding: flood resistance and flood resiliency.
Flood resistance refers to changes that you make to your property to keep water out. For example, fitting flood guards over doors and windows can help keep flood waters out of the building.
Flood resiliency refers to changes that you make to reduce the damage when water does get in. For example, installing power sockets high up on walls (instead of at floor level) reduces the risk of electrical damage if your property does flood.
Here are some of the most recommended flood resiliency and resistance tips:
- Fit non-return valves (also known as one-way valves) to drains on your property, so that water is less likely to flow back towards your property.
- Avoid fitting electrical sockets close to the ground. Ideally, they should be placed 1.5 metres above floor level.
- Keep a stock of removable guards for doors and windows, as well as temporary seals for doors and air bricks. These can help keep flood water out.
- Keep a stock of bricks and pallets to lift furniture above the floor and protect it from water damage.
- Store valuables and essential documents above the ground floor. Paper documents should be kept in plastic files to protect them from water damage.
- Check your home regularly for weak spots and blocked drains. If your home is in good shape, it will stand up to floods better.
- If you live in a high flood risk area, consider installing concrete or lino flooring on the ground level. Carpeted or wooden floors will need much more repair work after a flood.
- You can also install water sensors and pump-and-sump systems to detect flooding early and reduce water levels. However, this is an expensive option that may be best suited for properties with a history of serious flooding.
You can also protect yourself and your home by setting up a flood safety plan for emergencies. The government has a handy template to create a personal flood plan. It helps you keep essential information and decisions in one place, such as:
- Essential contact numbers, including utility and insurance companies.
- Instructions to turn off electricity, gas, and water.
- A checklist of things to do before the flood water arrives or you have to evacuate.
- Reminders to check on family or neighbours who might need help.
You can download or print the personal flood plan for free here.
How to protect yourself financially
The best way to protect your finances in a flood is with home insurance. This includes both building insurance (to protect the actual property) and contents insurance (to protect all your belongings inside it). Home insurance can help you find temporary accommodation during a flood, manage the cost of flood repairs, and replace damaged items such as furniture and appliances.
If you’re a homeowner, you may already have some level of home insurance. Most mortgage lenders insist you have home insurance in place when taking out a mortgage, but some may not. If you live in a flood risk area, it would be good to have buildings and contents insurance.
Most home insurance automatically covers you for flood damage. However, it’s always worth looking at the details of your insurance policy.
Is there enough coverage for your home and possessions? If you have to leave your home while you wait for flood repairs, how long will you be supported with temporary accommodation? Shop around to find insurance that offers enough coverage with affordable premiums.
Home insurance premiums can be higher in flood risk areas, but they should still be affordable. If you’re struggling to find home insurance, check out the Flood Re scheme. The website has a handy tool to check if you qualify for the scheme, as well as lots of resources on flood safety and resiliency.
There may also be financial support available from your local council. After a severe flood, they might offer flood recovery grants. They can also help businesses recover from floods, for example by providing assistance on council tax. The best way to find out about this support is to contact your council directly.
What to do if there's a flood in your area
If there are floods in your area, the government will issue warnings so that you can prepare. There are three different warning levels:
- Flood alert. This alert is issued when a flood is possible and it’s time to prepare. Pack an emergency bag that includes essential medicines and documents, including your home insurance policy.
- Flood warning. This is the second alert level, when a flood is on the way and you need to act. Turn off gas, water, and electricity. Move the contents of your house upstairs to avoid flood damage, if possible. Make sure that your family, pets, and car are in safe locations.
- Severe flood warning. This is the highest alert level when you are in the middle of a flood. Follow advice from the emergency services, including evacuation orders. Your safety is more important than protecting your home. If you are in immediate danger or someone is hurt, call 999.
You can check for flood warnings online. The government also publishes a flood risk forecast for the next five days, as well as news about rainfall levels.
You can sign up to get flood warnings by email, phone or text. If you live in a flood risk area, these alerts are always free. You can also contact the Environment Agency’s Floodline at 0345 988 1188 (or 0345 602 6340 for type-talk), or follow the hashtag #floodaware on Twitter for updates.
When you receive a flood warning, you can put your personal flood safety plan into action. You could also ring family, friends, and neighbours to check that they have heard the alert and whether they need any help. Make sure that you’re ready to evacuate, with an emergency bag packed, and secure your home with flood guards, sandbags, and temporary seals.
Don’t underestimate how dangerous flood water can be. Just 30 centimetres (1 foot) of fast-moving water can move cars. Shallow water can easily knock you off your feet.
Flood water is very dirty: it’s full of debris and mud, and in some situations, might even have been mixed with sewage. If you have to go near the water, wear waterproof boots, waterproof clothing, and rubber gloves. If any flood water gets on your hands, wash them thoroughly. Make sure you don’t eat or drink anything that has been contaminated by flood water.
What to do after a flood
If you’ve been evacuated, then wait until the emergency services tell you that it’s safe to go home. Depending on how severe the flood was, you should wait to turn gas, electricity, and water back on until the utility companies say it is safe. Remember, it can take a long time to dry things out and repair flood damage.
Your local authority may set up a flood hub to organise the recovery after a flood. This is the first place to go for support and flood safety advice. Look out for local news and announcements from your council. You can also call Floodline, 24 hours a day, to get information and advice after a flood. Charities like the Red Cross may also be available to help.
After a flood, most people’s first instinct is to clean up. But before you get started, take photos of all the damage. Don’t throw anything away or move damaged items without asking your insurer first. It may take a few days before loss adjusters arrive to assess the damage to your property and you can start making an insurance claim.
Nobody wants to deal with a flood. However, with the right preparation, flood resistance, and flood safety planning, you can make it through with minimal damage to your property and finances.