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bungalow surrounded by flood water
Facundo Arrizabalaga / EPA

Millions of UK homes are at risk of flooding – here’s how to protect yourself if you live in one of them

About 5 million properties are at risk of flooding in England alone. The impacts can be huge: storms Ciara and Dennis in 2020 cost £360 million in insurance payouts, while the recent Storm Franklin has flooded hundreds of homes across England and Wales. Floods are, by some margin, the most serious natural hazard faced by the UK.

There are large-scale policies that can help. These include improving flood defences, or boosting nature in upstream areas to slow the flow. But there are also things that people living in flood-prone areas can do to limit impacts to ourselves.

Here are six things that you can do that will help – today and in the future:

1) Find out if you are at risk

This sounds obvious, but people often do not know until they are surprised by rising waters – especially if they are new to an area. You can check through the Environment Agency and sign up for free flood warnings.

Once you have signed up, prepare an emergency flood kit & plan in case you need to leave in a hurry. A flood kit might include: your mobile phone and chargers, contact telephone numbers, any current medication, torch, battery, radio, insurance policy details, rubber gloves, wet wipes, hand cleaning gel, first aid kit and bottled water.

Knowing what to do and having a plan is the first step in successfully protecting yourself and your stuff. Colleagues and I analysed more than 4,000 cases of damage from six floods in Germany, and found that people knowing what to do when they received an early flood warning reduced the property damage they suffered by about £8,000 on average.

2) Check your insurance policy

See what is covered, and what you need to do to claim money back for repairs in a timely way. That £360 million insurance cost of Storms Ciara and Dennis worked out to an average of about £32,000 per household claim.

Insurance coverage can provide cash you might not otherwise have in order to repair your home. If you have trouble getting insurance, Flood Re might be able to help: it’s a joint initiative between the government and insurers aimed at homeowners in high-risk areas who might have unaffordable premiums in an open market.

3) Put important things upstairs

Water obviously flows downwards so elevation is one of the key ways to keep property safe. This can mean simple measures, such as keeping your important or irreplaceable items and documents upstairs, or on tall cabinets and shelves.

Or it can be more complex, such as moving your electrical sockets up the wall so it’s less likely water will enter them, moving your boiler upwards or secure it in place, or putting your white/kitchen goods up on raised platforms to provide extra height before the flood water reaches them.

The same can be said for your vehicles: parking them uphill can keep them safe. But be careful about driving through water, it takes less than you think to stop your car.

Blue car in flooded street
Doesn’t take much water to float a car. AC Rider / shutterstock

4) Keep water out in the first place

This can be through the use of flood doors to make it less likely water comes in, flood barriers (not sandbags) that you can put up in front of doors or window, improved sealing of vents, and backflow valves to stop water flowing back up through the sewers.

Though useful, some of these measures have limits. Once the flood waters get high enough, the water will either flow over or just push it over due to the mass of the water.

5) Use nature to help

Think about water butts (large barrels that store rainwater), or planting trees and shrubs and avoiding non-permeable surfaces. While not perfect, they can help to slow the flow of water so that it goes into the ground rather than into your home.

Flooding can never be 100% stopped, and never 100% for sure, but we can be proactive and prepared to help limit the impacts and help spread awareness of what can be done.

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