Six Steps to Protecting your Property

If your property has been flooded before – even though it wasn't considered to be at risk – then you might be worried about your home and belongings. With one in six UK homes at risk of flooding, it is definitely something worth thinking about.

Fortunately, there are some simple measures you can take – and products you can buy – that can limit the damage caused by flooding.  This could save you money and heartache, as well as allowing you to return to your property much sooner than if you had no protection.

Here, we briefly outline six essential steps to help you understand the process of installing flood resilience measures in your property.  By clicking here you can download a booklet that covers these steps in much more detail. 

Step one

Check Am I at risk of flooding?

Knowing the level of risk will help you decide whether to protect your property. The Environment Agency has up-to-date maps showing risk levels. Check these maps from time to time, like when your home insurance policy is due for renewal.

Be aware that flash flooding can occur well away from rivers after heavy rainfall. Other people living in the area can be a good source of knowledge on previous flood incidents. Your local flood group (see Community) will have people who know the area well and may know if your house has ever been flooded. Alternatively, the local library, place of worship or community centre may be able to help.

You can also pay a fee for a commercial property search. For advice on providers of these services please see the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO).

Step two

Make a flood plan

Flooding can happen very quickly, giving you little time to act. Creating a flood plan and sharing it with your family can help minimise damage and protect your loved ones. Be sure to keep it somewhere that everyone can find it, and check it regularly to ensure that it is up to date.

Your preparation should include signing up for flood alerts, as knowing when to put temporary flood protection measures in place is crucial. The Environment Agency’s free Floodline Warnings Direct service can tell you when to do this by sending you a warning by phone, text and email.

Step three

Do the groundwork

Before undertaking any work on your property, you will need to check your insurer’s policy on flood resilience technologies. The Association of British Insurers or the British Insurance Brokers Association may be able to suggest insurers that specialise in flood risk cover. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published guidance on insurance for property owners who live in areas that are at high risk of flooding: see Obtaining Flood Insurance in High Risk Areas.

The next important step will be a survey of your property. This will check for all possible points where water can easily seep in, such as doors, windows, airbricks and even the toilet.

You can choose a manufacturer’s survey or an independent survey, and your Local Authory's planning department or the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has a list of professional chartered surveyors that you can browse by postcode.

A good surveyor will recommend a variety of products and also take into account other nearby properties, previous flooding and the location of drains. You can expect to receive a report that:

  • provides an assessment of the flood risk (depth, duration, type(s), frequency)
  • provides a comprehensive assessment of all possible points where water could enter a building, and how it might affect a building based on its existing location and internal systems
  • details the measures that can be taken to protect a building.

Step four

Choose the right products

A good survey should recommend a combination of products. Organisations such as the National Flood Forum and the Property Care Association can direct you to reputable companies.

You can check the National Flood Forum’s Blue Pages for a list of products and manufacturers. A good manufacturer should be able to provide testimonials from people who have previously bought their products.

Before you settle on any product make sure it has been independently tested. Don’t be fooled by claims being made by contractors if they sound too good to be true – confirm that the works being recommended have been tested to the PAS 1188-4:2014 standard (or equivalent).

Examples of products you can use to help minimise the risk of damage include:

  • Doors: purpose-built flood-proof doors and flood barriers that can be installed in front of doors when flooding is imminent. Door thresholds can also be raised.
  • Walls and floors: damp-proof bricks and wall and floor coverings. Sealing floors (‘tanking’) can prevent water from rising from the ground.
  • Airbricks: buy specially designed covers that are easy to place over ventilation bricks.
  • Drains and pipes: fit non-return valves to drains and water inlet and outlet pipes.

Think about things like who will operate any flood defence products, and whether they are physically capable of doing it.

For bigger floods (when the floodwater is more than a metre high), it is actually important that water does enter your property. If it doesn’t, the pressure caused by its weight might inflict structural damage or even cause the building to collapse.

Here are some things you can do to reduce the damage floodwater might cause inside:

  • Shelving: put irreplaceable or valuable items on high-mounted shelves.
  • Home entertainment: fix any audio-visual equipment like TVs and hi-fis to the wall at least 1.5 metres above floor level.
  • Skirting: fit water-resistant skirting boards or varnish them.
  • Pump: fit a pump in a basement or under-floor void to remove floodwater.
  • Walls: dry-line walls. Use horizontal plasterboard, or lime-based plaster instead of gypsum. Get a special draining system for cavity walls.
  • Flooring: lay tiles with rugs rather than fitted carpets, as they can be rolled up and moved to a higher position.
  • Doors and windows: install synthetic, waxed or varnished window frames and doors.
  • Kitchen and bathroom: use water-resistant materials such as stainless steel, plastic or solid wood rather than chipboard. Where possible raise fridges and appliances on plinths.
  • Electricals: raise electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring to at least 1.5 metres above floor level. If rewiring, bring cables down the wall to the raised socket so that cabling isn’t affected.

Step five

Choose the right installer

Some manufacturers will install their own products. However, it can often be the case that products will be installed by a third party. Here, the manufacturer is responsible for providing the installer with the necessary instructions.

You should ask who an installer works for and who pays their fee. Some manufacturers belong to the Property Care Association, which has a code of practice and can be contacted in the event of complaints.  

If the works have been completed under an Environment Agency or Local Authority scheme, they can provide you with a revised flood risk mitigation assessment on the basis of the installed products. Paying for a post-installation survey may be useful in the future when asking for quotes from insurance companies.

Step six

Keep products in good working order

All products – even automatic ones – will need to be periodically checked, tested and maintained. Practice installing products such as flood barriers and check mechanisms on products like flood doors and valves regularly to ensure that they are in good working order. Take care if having any alterations made to existing products such as flood doors as these may invalidate manufacturers’ warranties.

If any neighbours have already installed similar technology, talk to them about how they maintain it. Also, see if there are others in your community who you can help, especially those less able to maintain or operate certain products.

During times when the property is unoccupied, it is worth making alternative arrangements for someone else to fit the products or, if they are automatic, to check whether they have been activated if a flood warning is issued.

Some final words...

These products are not a guarantee that your home will be completely protected from any and all flood events, but they should minimise any damage.

Please note that there will be special considerations if you own a listed building or you are located in a conservation area. In this case, please refer to the Historic England guide Flooding and Historic Buildings that will direct you to specialist advice.

Recommended guides...

We have spoken to people who have been flooded before and they have recommended the following guides:

Environment Agency: Prepare your property for flooding

Know Your Flood Risk: Homeowner's guide to flood resilience

The National Flood Forum: Protecting Your Property

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA): Obtaining flood insurance for high risk areas

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors: A clear guide to flooding for property owners

The Association of British Insurers: A guide to resistant and resilient repair after a flood