How to find out your flood risk and minimise damage from floodwater

Today’s guest blog was written by Jamie Gibbs, who writes for the home insurance experts at Confused.com. After successfully safeguarding his house from a two-week deluge, he flooded his kitchen by leaving the sink running.

It’s estimated that one in six properties in the UK is at risk of flooding, either from nearby rivers or from the sea. With the devastating effects that floods can have on our infrastructure, our homes and our livelihoods (as seen over the Christmas period), there is a need to bolster our defences and take extra precautions.

According to the Environment Agency (their flood risk map is shown below), during the summer of 2007 (one of the worst floods in recent memory) 48,000 homes were damaged, with the average repair cost coming in at about £20,000-£30,000 per house.


With potential repair costs as high as this, it’s worth taking steps to find out how much of a threat flooding poses to you, as well as preparing your defences early so that you can minimise any damage if a flood hits.

Check your flood risk

It stands to reason that if you live near the coast or a river, you might be at a greater risk of flooding. The issue is figuring out how great that risk is; you might live near a river, but it could be a river that’s protected by robust flood defences, reducing the threat.

The first place to go to find this out is the Environment Agency flood risk map, which uses Ordnance Survey mapping to show the possible extent of a flood in your local area (see image above). It’s definitely worth looking at; until I checked, I wasn’t aware that most of my area is at risk of flooding from two different rivers (something that almost happened over the 2013 Christmas period).

The darker blue areas show the potential extent of flooding (either from rivers or the sea, though you can use the filters on the map to highlight potential flooding from reservoirs as well). The lighter blue areas show the extent of flooding in extreme circumstances.

These flood risk maps are updated every three months to include new flood defences (highlighted in pink) and show any new threats near you.

Another valuable tool to prepare you for any impending flood is the Environment Agency’s Flood Alert system – a free service that lets you know by text, email or over the phone if a flood warning is issued near you. This should give you enough time to build up your flood defences or, if the risk is great enough, evacuate.

Insurance woes for those at risk

The cost of repairing a house damaged by flood is considerable, so if you live in a high-risk area, you’d look to be covered by your insurance policy. However, if you live in an extremely vulnerable area, you might find that your premiums are much higher than normal, or that the number of insurers willing to cover you is severely limited.

According to 2012 home insurance data from Confused.com, regions that are well-known for flooding seemed to have the highest premiums when compared to the average house value in their area.

This pattern is particularly prominent in the North-East of England, which was one of the worst hit regions during the 2007 floods. Despite local authorities spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to bolster flood defences in these areas, the sting of living in a high risk area can still be felt.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and its members currently adhere to a Statement of Principles, where they swear that they won’t refuse cover for a property owner living in a high risk area. There are limitations and exclusions to this agreement, which are covered here.

This will be replaced by the new Flood Re scheme in 2015, where all home insurance policies will be subject to a levy, which will help to fund those at greater risk of flooding.

Minimising the damage

There’s no such thing as a completely flood-proof home, but you can take steps to ensure that any damage to your house is minimal.


Sandbags form a useful front-line defence

Sandbags form a useful front-line defence

Well in advance of a flood:

  • Prepare a flood disaster kit – if you need to evacuate your home, there are certain items that you’ll need to grab in a hurry.
  • Fit non-return drainage valves to your drainpipes to make sure that any wastewater doesn’t flow back into the house.
  • Stock up on sandbags – these form a useful first line of defence against river and tidal flooding. Local authorities in high-risk flood areas may provide these for free; otherwise, get in touch with your local building merchants.

When a flood is imminent:

  • Disconnect any appliances that use water (washing machines, dishwashers) and switch off at the mains any electrical equipment. Flooded electrical items and sparks from faulty equipment make for a high fire risk.
  • Move as many of your valuables upstairs as you can. It’s much better to keep these safe now than have to make a claim to replace them.
  • If you don’t have any non-return valves, plug up water inlet pipes with towels or dishcloths to stop water backing up.

Forewarned is forearmed, and the more you can do before any severe flood warnings are issued, the lesser the potential damage to your home.

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6 Responses

  1. Prevention works to minimise the damage and disturbance of being flooded.
    Many two storey homes are being flooded several times; all such at “risk homes” could be greatly improved if the renovation flood proofed them as follows.
    ! All ground floor walls should be rendered with sand and cement and then finished with ceramic tiles, like swimming pools, all ground floor door sets and vulnerable windows should be in PVC.
    Then after the waters have receded, the water resistant surfaces would just need to be power washed clean and disinfected, not ripped out and reinstated with more water vulnerable materials.
    2 Staircases should be replaced in steel or concrete. GF electrical services should be placed high up on the walls and isolated by separate circuits from the first floor.
    3 Incoming water and electrical services, boilers and outgoing waste water services should all be terminated on the first floor, thus preventing electrical dangers and water contamination.
    4 The first floor should be used for kitchen, bathroom and living rooms, with the ground floor reserved for bedrooms. When a flood warning is sounded, the contents of solid built-in wardrobes can be taken upstairs to safety, along with any small manageable household goods, leaving only the beds to be lost to the flood water.

    If this treatment was applied to every house after it has been flooded the cost of re-insuring the house against future flood damage should be greatly reduced as the cost of dealing with the effect of flooding will have been minimised.

    David Tanswell MRICS

  2. How to find out your flood risk and minimise damage from floodwater – well firstly you would be best to not rely on a free look at the EA website.

    Most flood insurance claims to do not relate to sites shown on their maps as at high risk. I continually come across householders who have been shocked to experience sewer flooding or groundwater flooding and who were upset that the EA does not make it clear how limited its information actually is. The maps are not site specific.

    The EA website should clearly say that if you are concerned about flood risk you should seek professional civil engineering advice. Yes, you can represent yourself rather than get a solicitor, or look up an illness, rather than go to see a doctor. You pay for professional experience.

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