By Paul Stone, Redfin real estate agent in Denver
In September 2013, Colorado experienced severe flooding that some said was our 100-year flood. Many of my friends, neighbors and clients were uninsured and suffered significant losses. For 4.5 million residents, the statistically unlikely experience showed that despite living in a low-risk area, devastating flooding was still a real possibility. According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), everyone in the U.S. lives in a flood plain, and some element of risk is always present. Severe weather events can be devastating, but they serve as a reminder for all of us to improve our disaster preparedness and to ensure that our homes and belongings are protected. Here are some of the things you can do to prepare for a flood.
Improve your Property
First, how high off the ground is your home? The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) recommends that homes be at least three feet above base flood elevation – a level determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for flood-prone areas. Your local government can help you assess your property, and you can get quotes from contractors or engineers if you need to raise your home. Increased elevation offers maximum protection against flood damage and qualifies you for credits with the NFIP. The NFIP’s voluntary incentive program, known as its Community Rating System program, qualifies policyholders for reduced flood insurance premiums if their community exceeds the NFIP’s minimum requirements for flood protection.) If structural improvements are cost-prohibitive, consider raising appliances like washers and dryers and HVAC systems above the base flood elevation for your area. It’s also wise to move prized possessions and furnishings to a second floor if possible.
Floodproofing is another option to make homes resistant to flood damage. Wet floodproofing directs floodwater through uninhabited parts of the home, and dry floodproofing – applying a waterproof coating to the outside walls and installing backflow valves in sewer lines – seals the home so water cannot enter. Whether this makes sense for your home depends on your level of risk. Get a quote from a professional in your area and check with NFIP on what credits apply.
Get Flood Insurance
It’s not just Florida residents and waterfront homeowners who should purchase flood insurance. “Interestingly, 20 percent of flood claims come from low- to moderate-risk areas,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, CEO and president of FLASH.
According to the NFIP, just one inch of water can cause nearly $21,000 in damage to a 2,000-square foot home, so limiting your potential losses is smart. But be aware that flood insurance policies have coverage limitations. Many Colorado residents were surprised to learn that their flood insurance policy had limited coverage in their basement, which is defined as any area of a building with a floor below ground level on all sides. While flood insurance doesn’t cover basement improvements (such as finished walls, floors, or ceilings), or personal belongings kept in a basement, it does cover structural elements and essential equipment, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace. Combine flood insurance with a plan to protect below-ground space, and you’ll be able to mitigate potential loss.
Think that your homeowner’s policy might have you covered? Don’t count on it. Most homeowner policies cover water damage caused by appliances or home systems, but specifically exempt damage caused by floods.
Pre-plan and prepare for a disaster
Improving your property and getting flood insurance are great steps to help you protect your assets. It’s also wise to thoroughly document your belongings to support a flood insurance claim. Visit knowyourstuff.org to create a home inventory.
Lastly, make a family emergency plan with your loved ones. Make sure to include evacuation routes from home, work and school. Assemble a safety kit with drinking water, canned food, first aid supplies, blankets, a radio and a flashlight.
Natural disasters are unpredictable, but planning for them can help ease your mind, protect your home, and – if the unthinkable happens – help you rebuild your life as quickly as possible.
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About Paul Stone, Redfin Real Estate Agent
Paul Stone has been helping people buy and sell homes in Denver for several years. He works for Redfin, a technology-powered real estate brokerage that’s on a mission to change the real estate industry in the consumer’s favor. You can contact Paul and read his client reviews on Redfin.com.