12 Ways To Prepare Your Home for a Flood

Don't wait until flooding is imminent to protect your home. Learn how to prepare for a flood from experts who share their insight and tips.

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Flooding is by far the most frequent and damaging natural disaster in the U.S., according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Flash flooding, or flooding that occurs within six hours of a rainstorm, is particularly deadly. It’s one of the reasons you should prepare your home for a flood now.

You’ll be alerted to flood watches and warnings via the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Radio and local emergency channels. You can also download the FEMA app for weather updates.

I spoke with Steve Leasure, vice president of operations at Rainbow Restoration, a Neighborly company, as well as FEMA’s News Desk to learn how to protect your home before and during a flood.

Make a Plan

Before you feel a drop of rain, prepare your emergency plan. How will you get information from officials? Where is the nearest shelter? Do you have an emergency kit? FEMA helps you put together all this information at Ready.gov.

Having a plan for your home is important, too. Leasure says to start by checking to see if you live in a flood plain, “an area near a high-risk flood source at periods of water discharge.” Millions of people in the U.S. live within flood plains. To find out if you’re one of them, simply enter your address in FEMA’s flood map tool.

Buy Flood Insurance

“The typical homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover flood damage,” Leasure says. So you should buy a separate policy, particularly if you live within a flood plain. For decades, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) administered flood policies, but private companies increasingly added them to their offerings.

It only takes an inch of floodwater to cause $25,000 in damage to your home, and there’s usually a 30-day wait period after purchase before your policy goes into effect. So don’t wait until you need it!

Make an Emergency Kit

Having the right supplies on hand will make your life easier if you need to evacuate or get stranded.

“Buy a hand-crank radio, flashlight and a first aid kit for potential power loss,” Leasure says. “Have an ample supply of necessary medications and medical items on hand and enough food and water to sustain a few days. Make extra copies of personal documents, deeds and insurance policies.”

Leasure says for a complete list of the best items to have in your emergency kit, check FEMA’s emergency supply list.

Elevate Your Furnace

If you live in a flood-prone area, get your furnace, water heater, electrical panel and other vital home systems at least 12 inches above the base flood elevation (BFE). This can be determined by checking FEMA’s elevation tool or contacting your local floodplain administrator.

Seal Your Home

Walk around your home and check for gaps and cracks where water could come in. Windows, doors and openings for cables and pipes are prime culprits for leaks, so seal any openings with caulk.

Seal basement walls with waterproofing compound and check the integrity of windows. To prevent sewage backups, install a check valve in your floor drain. Consider getting a sump pump if you live in a flood-prone area, and make sure it comes with a battery backup.

Stockpile Emergency Building Materials

FEMA advises homeowners in areas with repetitive flooding to keep plywood, lumber nails, plastic sheeting and sandbags on hand. They also recommend stocking a pry bar, shovels, a saw and hammer for cleanup and repairs once the flood subsides.

Clean Your Gutters

Gutters and downspouts direct water away from your foundation, so make sure yours are unobstructed. While you’re at it, check drainage around your foundation. The ground should slope away from your home and not allow water to pool.

Buy a Generator

Consider buying a generator.

“It doesn’t have to be the pricey, whole-house version,” Leasure says. “Even one big enough to run a refrigerator and plug in a few essentials can make life easier.” What couldn’t you live without — a sump pump? Your computer? — and pick a generator that suits your needs and budget.

Evacuate

If you’re told to evacuate, do it immediately. Floodwaters can rise quickly. “Save yourself, not your belongings,” Leasure says. “You may have little time to respond.”

If you weren’t told to evacuate, or you couldn’t for any reason, take the following steps to secure your property and belongings:

  • Secure outdoor items: “Bring lightweight outdoor items such as patio furniture, plants, toys and trash cans inside,” Leasure says. Besides losing them outright in floodwaters, they could damage your home, or your neighbor’s, if they drift into a structure. Check outdoor fuel tanks to make sure they’re anchored to their pads.
  • Turn off utilities: “Turn off utilities at main switches and valves, and disconnect appliances, if you have time,” Leasure says. But always be aware of your surroundings when working with electricity. “Do not touch electrical lines or equipment if you are wet or standing in water,” Leasure says.
  • Move items upstairs: Standing water in your home ruins nearly everything it touches. Drywall, carpet, couches — it’s all going to get wrecked. Floodwaters are teeming with bacteria, too. If you have time, move essential items upstairs so you have fewer water-logged things to throw away and replace.

Wait It Out

Whether you’ve evacuated or stayed put, your next move is to wait it out. Listen to the radio and only return or emerge once the threat has passed.

“Only return home once officials have declared the area safe,” Leasure says. Once you get the all-clear, “before going inside, make sure all structural supports are still intact,” Leasure adds. “If you smell gas, leave immediately and call 911.”

Ally Childress
Ally Childress comes to Family Handyman from the electrical industry, where she was an accomplished electrician, winning the highly competitive Outstanding Graduate award as an apprentice. Her professional electrical experience included large commercial projects such as Minnesota's US Bank Stadium, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and several hospitals. Before becoming an electrician, she worked in food safety and water quality as a scientist and technical writer. Ally's career, spanning multiple industries and areas of the country, honed her innate sense of curiosity and her ability to connect with subject matters of all kinds and explain dense subjects to diverse audiences. Ally is her household's designated handy person and is well versed in a variety of home DIY and maintenance tasks, able to confidently clean, troubleshoot, build, install, and modify. She loves spending time outdoors, especially with her partner and dogs.