Protect Your Home (& Wallet) From Floods and Fires

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Protect Your Home

The increasing amount of hurricanes and wildfires has many of us feeling like we’re living in a Hollywood disaster movie.

But there are ways to play the action hero. We’ll share ideas on how to make your property flood and fire resistant. And we’ll share how flooding and fires affect homeowners insurance so you know what additional insurance is available to help.

Flood and Fire Risk to Homes Is Rising

Climate change is causing more and more homeowners to find themselves cast in the role of worrying about a flood or fire risk to their home.

Let’s look at some numbers that might surprise you and result in you adding to that homeowner to-do list.

Facts About Floods

Approximately 8.7 million properties are located in Special Flood Hazard Areas in the United States. This determination is made from flood maps created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

But an analysis released last summer by First Street Foundation, a non-profit research and technology group, noted 14.6 million properties may be at significant risk of flooding.

Why the difference? FEMA’s maps don’t account for climate change, they haven’t mapped large portions of the country, and it takes them seven years on average to complete a new flood map.  

But here’s something helpful for homeowners: First Street created a free online tool called Flood Factor. Learn if a property has flooded from major events in the past, is currently at risk, and how that risk changes over time. The tool also estimates flooding damage costs.

Facts About Fires

As the Union of Concerned Scientists noted in data provided by Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity, since 2015, the U.S. has experienced, on average, roughly 100 more large wildfires every year than the year before. In addition to more wildfires, there are more acres burned, and longer, more intense fire seasons.

They noted climate change is fueling the problem by raising temperatures, melting snow sooner, and drying soils and forests, creating a vicious cycle: As the forests burn, they release carbon dioxide and other global warming gases, worsening climate change. As wildfires burn more land, emissions go up.

In addition to prescribed burning and thinning by government agencies, wildfires have become such a widespread problem that, for the eighth consecutive year, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is holding a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day May 1 and in partnership with State Farm.

“There are nearly 45 million homes in areas prone to wildfire today, and wildfire risk is nearly present in every state,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “In preparation for a future with more wildfire activity, homeowners need to understand their role and take action in reducing wildfire risk.” 

The state of California recently took some action to help homeowners: Last November, they passed Prop 19, which changed property tax rules by giving exemptions to older homeowners, the disabled, and wildfire victims. 

Under Prop 19, homeowners who are 55 or older or who have lost a home in a natural disaster who may be afraid to move out of fear of higher property taxes can now transfer their tax assessment to a more expensive home three times.

Revenue for the measure will go toward establishing a new state fire response fund.

Protect Your House From Flooding

We’re going to share nearly two dozen tips to help you step into your role as home protector against the leading cause of damage to homes. 

Actionable Steps to Curb Home Flooding

Here are some tips you can follow that can help prevent or stop flooding in your home.

Inside Your Home

  • Use flood-resistant building materials.
  • Seal the foundation and basement walls.
  • Install flood vents and keep them clear of debris.
  • Install a sump pump.
  • Prevent sewer backups by installing drain plugs for all basement floor drains and sewer backflow valves for all pipes entering your home.
  • Raise electric service panels at least one foot above potential flood elevation.
  • Move the main parts of your HVAC system to a higher floor or the attic.
  • Consider replacing a traditional hot water heater with a tankless unit.
  • Anchor indoor fuel tanks.
  • Install a flood alert system.

Outside Your Home

  • Maintain proper water runoff and drainage.
  • Improve your lot grading if stormwater doesn’t drain away from your home.
  • Create natural green space around your home to reduce stormwater runoff.
  • Install a rain barrel.
  • Elevate utilities and service equipment at least one foot above potential flood elevation.
  • Anchor outdoor fuel tanks or elevate all filling and ventilation tubes.

Before an Expected Event

  • Clean gutters, downspouts, and splash pads, along with nearby drainage ditches or storm drains; clear snow and ice from foundations.
  • Board windows with storm shutters or plywood.
  • Pile sandbags at least two feet high around your entrances. Use other temporary flood barriers such as portable flood gates or shields, inflatable floodwalls, and flood skirts.
  • Elevate major appliances onto concrete blocks.
  • Safeguard important paperwork and move furniture, rugs, electronics, and other valuables to upper floors.
  • Activate flood protection devices (turn on sump pumps, close backflow valves, etc.).
  • Shut off electricity at the breaker panel. 

Flooding and Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flood damage. Federal flood insurance is the only guaranteed flood insurance coverage.

It’s recommended that you should look into flood insurance even if you live outside of a flood zone, especially if you face even moderate flood risks.

If your home was previously flooded, you can still buy flood insurance if your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

You can buy flood insurance anytime in a participating community, but there’s a 30-day waiting period after you apply and pay the premium before the policy goes into effect.

Flood insurance costs, like most everything, have risen, ranging from $35 to $100 a month. If you think that’s a lot, perhaps this will help your perspective: In a typical-sized home, one inch of floodwater can cause $20,000 in damage.

The NFIP will also customize coverage for specific situations. For example, after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2013, with the most severe damage to New York and New Jersey, some communities required minimum elevation regulations if you were rebuilding in a high-risk flood area.

Eligible homeowners who had NFIP policies and whose homes were substantially damaged could be eligible for increased cost of compliance coverage of up to $30,000. That could pay all or part of the cost to elevate your home to the effective base flood elevation, which is the estimated level that floodwaters would reach. 

You can apply for disaster assistance, but only if the president has declared your state a major disaster area. Then FEMA can offer up to $33,000 in grant money for household repairs. Up to $200,000 in loans are available through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Protect Your House From Fires

The NFPA noted that despite billions of dollars to support wildland fire suppression efforts, the number of homes lost in wildfires per year has increased by 163 percent.

So it’s more important than ever to take what action you can to reduce your wildfire risk. Here are close to a dozen tips to help.

Actionable Steps to Curb Wildfires

Wildfires can spread quickly and cause damage to your home that may be out of your control. However, here is a list of things that you can do to your home to help minimize or prevent wildfire damage.

  • If you’re building a home, use fire-resistant building materials and be more than 15 feet from other homes.
  • Clear dead leaves, debris, and pine needles from your roof, gutters, porches, and decks.
  • Trim tree limbs close to your home. 
  • Plant native, fire-resistant vegetation.
  • Avoid landscaping with combustible bark and wood-chip mulch.
  • Keep your lawn and native grasses cut short (no more than four inches) and the 30-foot area around your home well-watered.
  • Remove dry grass, brush, trees, and dead leaves within 100 feet of your home.
  • Store firewood and fuel sources at least 30 feet from any structure.
  • Remove anything stored underneath decks or porches that could burn.
  • Cover attic, eave, and sub-floor vents with noncombustible metal mesh screening.
  • Install tempered glass or multilayered glazed panels in exterior windows, glass doors, and skylights.

Fires and Homeowners Insurance

Homeowners insurance typically helps cover damage to your home and belongings resulting from a wildfire. Standard homeowners policies generally help protect against specific perils, including fire, but coverage may vary by geographic location and by policy.

Generally, natural disasters are not covered by a basic home insurance policy if you live in a high-risk area, such as where wildfires are common. Typically, you can buy supplemental policies that cover a specific type of natural disaster.

You may need to turn to state-run risk pools such as Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR). These policies typically cost more and cover less than regular homeowners insurance.

Talk to your neighbors and local insurance agents to get a better idea of what costs you might face.

We hope we’ve helped start you on the path to make informed decisions to prepare your property for the future so you can be a homeowner hero.

Karen Condor is a home insurance expert who writes and researches for the insurance comparison site, She is passionate about educating her readers on insurance investments they should make so they can avoid paying out of pocket for damages to their property.


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