Housing Specification Blog

Guest Blog: Protecting UK properties from the danger of flooding

March 25, 2013 Alexandra Blakeman Housing Issues

Housing Specification welcomes Ben Furlong, Environmental Consultant at Argyll, to the Blog today. After a weekend of significant and unseasonable snowfall in many parts of the UK, Ben talked to HS about the importance of protecting your home from floods.

Last year saw flooding frequently highlighted in the tabloids, with the newspapers regularly carrying images of homes caught out in the deluge, but what measures are the Government taking to improve regional flood protection and what property specific prevention measures are available? Ben Furlong of Argyll Environmental offers some advice on current issues…The year of 2012 was the second wettest in the UK since records began, with severe and regular flood events occurring from April through until December. Scientific consensus holds that there will be an increased frequency of high magnitude events as a result of climate change; essentially 2012 will not be an abnormal year, with an estimated 546,000 properties at a significant risk of flooding.

While the Government has committed to constructing new flood alleviation schemes following last year’s bad weather, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) recently disclosed that it has cut the Environment Agency’s (EA) budget to maintain current flood defences from £68m to £39m over the next two years. Plans to cut spending on the maintenance of flood defences and the clearing of rivers is therefore of grave concern, making large scale local and regional flood defences less reliable as flooding becomes increasingly frequent and significant. Certainly the message is clear for many home owners to be prepared for increased flood risk.

An example of what can happened when systems fail was shown last year, when a new £1.5m flood defence system broke down resulting in flooding of up to 2ft in properties in Kempsey, Worcestershire. Owners of these properties had thought that they were protected.

The Committee on Climate Change recommends four key changes to be implemented nationwide: greater funding in flood defences, reducing development in flood plains, increasing protection on individual properties, and reducing the concreting of green spaces. Local Planning Authorities across the UK are now commonly alert to the risks of flooding and guidance to avoiding development in high risk areas is embodied within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

However, for those homes in areas identified as being at risk there are increasingly property specific options to prevent and prepare for the consequences of flooding. The simplest and most effective initial step is to understand and be aware of your flood risk by obtaining a desktop flood risk screening report. These are widely available priced from £20 (plus VAT) and should inform you on the potential risk from all the main sources of flooding: river, coastal, surface water and groundwater. The cost of such a report is modest in comparison with the damage and disruption caused by flooding and, following a report, the correct flood protection measures can be implemented.

Flooding can often be managed by the installation of flood protection measures either on or within the property. Flood protection measures can be divided into two categories; flood resistance and flood resilience. Most properties can be protected against shallow flash flooding from between £2,000 and £6,000, although significantly more may be required for high risk properties. Details of providers are available from the Flood Protection Association.

Flood resistance measures aim to prevent flood water from entering a property such as door and garage barriers, air brick covers and non-return valves, the latter preventing foul water backing up into the property when sewerage systems are at capacity or over-flowing. Such measures can either be temporary or permanent installations which are deployed either manually, or with more recent technologies, automatically. Of course automatic deployments offer much more reliable protection as flooding may occur at any time of the night or day, or should the homeowners be away from the property. The British Standards Institution (BSI) has developed a Kitemark standard for flood protection products and it is recommended that any measures installed meet these design standards.

However, fully protecting a property from flooding is not easy. Properties generally have numerous unseen cracks and holes around joins and entrances and indeed bricks are porous and research has shown they may be susceptible to the ingress of water after a period of approximately six hours. In addition, if the property is situated in a terrace and the adjoining properties do not install defences flood water could still enter via the side walls.

Furthermore research has demonstrated that when defending against flooding of depths between 0.6 and 0.9m, the weight of the water against the property walls can cause permanent structural damage.

Where Flood Resistance Measures are not appropriate or the expected depth of flooding is too great it is possible to consider Flood Resilience Measures. Such measures are designed to accept the ingress of water into a property but reduce the damage and time required to repair the property. These include using water resistant materials in construction such as tiles, stone and water resistant plaster in addition to measures such as raising electrical sockets and electrical appliances and storing vulnerable or sensitive items above ground level.

In any event, where a property is identified as being at risk home buyers should certainly enquire of the vendor whether any flood protection measures have been installed or whether the property has flooded in the past and review the local authorities Strategic Flood Risk Assessment (SFRA) to better understand the local emergency response to flooding.

Preparedness is essential in any situation and by signing up to the Environment Agency’s free Flood Warning service property owners can receive advance warning of potential flooding. This can form part of a flood plan outlining the actions you should take when a flood event is anticipated to help reduce the impact and damage flooding may cause. Sensible precautions would include raising electrical items, irreplaceable items and sentimental items to higher floors where possible, rolling up carpets and rugs and turning off utilities. In addition, consider what actions you would take should the property need to be evacuated including access and egress routes and preparing a flood kit in advance containing warm clothing, medication, a torch, food and wellingtons. The message is simple when it comes to flooding: forewarned is forearmed.

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