Hurricanes aren't the only threat. Here's expert advice on why you should be prepared year-round.

By Zee Krstic
May 24, 2019
Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

Not all floods are created equal. Floods can occur spontaneously in your home when pipes burst, but forecasted weather events-hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical depressions, and the like-may give you the chance to prepare. There are also the risks that come with seasonal bouts of heavy rain and overflowing waterways, which can flood your home at any time during the year. Here, insurance experts and home repair professionals share what to do if bad weather is coming your way, and how to clean up the mess if disaster hits faster than you expected.

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Make a Checklist and Protect Valuables

Ana Robic, a water risk expert and the chief operating officer at global insurance company Chubb Limited, says that a simple checklist that can help reduce the risk of damages in your home. Robic tells all of her clients that they should either digitize sensitive documents or purchase a safety deposit box for irreplaceable documents that shouldn't get wet. Additionally, you'll want to take pictures and record videos of your home and its contents, making sure to include snap a picture of your insurance policy number and the name of your insurance agent. "If the worst happens, will you remember these details when you need to?" Robic asks.

According to Dan DiClerico, a smart home strategist for HomeAdvisor.com, keeping your landscaping in check and securing outdoor items can reduce the risk of floodwaters entering your home (check out our landscaping checklist as it relates to floods). Inside your home, be sure to close the flue on your fireplace, as this can help keep wind and errant rainwater out of your home during inclement weather. If time allows, consider adding storm shutters to exposed windows, which can be another safeguard against heavy rain. If you plan to ride out the storm, purchasing a generator is essential as you may need lighting in order to safely evacuate the home in case of an emergency. Plus, electricity is needed when running a sump pump, which is designed to keep water out from under your home's foundation and out of areas like your basement.

Seek Additional Insurance

You may already know that most homeowners insurance policies don't cover floods incurred by natural disasters. Common insurance plans can also be capped at certain monetary limitations-and you may not realize that certain plans may not allow you to repair your home to its exact state before a flood. Leslie Anderson, the vice president of training at Paul Davis, a national network of repair, restoration, and cleanup experts founded in 1966, says there are questions you should always ask your insurance agent. If damage does occur, will your policy provide an exact replacement to the item you lost? You should be clear on how much the insurance company will pay to replace, and if they'll provide an exact match for design features that may need to be redone completely.

The first step you should take is to purchase a supplemental insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program, offered in conjunction with FEMA. Robic recommends that most homeowners should opt into the NFIP's $250,000 coverage plan, which allocates approximately $100,000 to replace the contents inside. But this policy alone may not be enough for your needs, Anderson says. "The NFIP policy is very basic-it focuses on structural removal. People usually have expectations for what a flood insurance policy will cover, and it doesn't live up most of the time," she says. "This flood insurance will generally pay for reinstalled drywall, sometimes paint, sometimes cabinetry, but the coverage allows for low grade, very basic features," so you may want to invest in additional coverage from your primary insurance agent in addition to this policy to best preserve the value your home and what's inside.

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Protect Your Pets

"This surprised me as a non-pet owner, but I've learned that pets can sense danger, and they can sometimes hide and escape that danger in advance if they have the chance," says Robic, who has previously worked with clients on insurance claims involving pets. "Cage them or crate them in the hours leading up to the storm-if bad weather starts bearing down on you, and you can't find your pet, you start risking your own life in addition to theirs."

If you're a pet owner, you'll be relieved to learn that it's possible to receive assistance in sheltering your pet in the event that you need to evacuate. But not all insurance automatically covers this, so if you have a pet at home, you'll want to discuss their safety with your insurance provider when you first select coverage. Either way, Robic also recommends keeping your pet's ID tags on their collar-in case you get separated during an emergency-and having a go-bag packed for your pet, just as you would for yourself.

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Act Fast

You'll need to move fast when floods occur: DiClerico says you need to respond within 24 and 48 hours to minimize damage in your home. Unlike burst pipes and leaky roofs, water that enters your home from the outside is much more dangerous. Anderson says this flooding is known in the industry as a "category three" flood, meaning the water can be potentially toxic as it carries a multitude of bacteria in its wake. "These waters contain feces, pesticides, and other bacteria and contaminants that can affect homeowners long after the moisture has dried. In this case, unfortunately, any porous material will have to be removed, including furniture, and any other item that can't be completely disinfected and cleaned," Anderson says. Nearly any form of flooring would have to be removed if it was touched by sullied waters, including vinyl flooring, carpeting, and most kinds of hardwood since water can get trapped in areas beneath the floor (like a crawlspace). Another common item that needs to be replaced is drywall, since water and bacteria can permeate these surfaces and grow if unchecked. Even studs and structural framing will need to be treated without being removed, as they may also harbor bacteria if left untouched by professionals.

All the experts agree that you'll need to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. Insurance companies can deny you coverage if you return home and don't start the recovery process promptly; repair crews need to start drying and replacing immediately.

Vet Your Emergency Crews

Anderson says category three floods often lead to a long period of construction: "With things like flooring and cabinetry completely stripped and replace, and everything sanitized, it could take anywhere from six weeks to two months." After a natural disaster, emergency responders often return into communities with residents to try and stem as much damage as possible-but Anderson says some companies may prey on the vulnerability of those impacted. "Make sure the company you're working with has insurance and is licensed, and stick with local contractors since they can address any issues after the work is completed," she adds. "If you're looking to verify service or a provider, visit the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification website (IICRC.org) as they are the standard body for the full industry in this area."

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