El Niño is Here! What Every Homeowner Needs to Know to Protect Against a Flood

by Carolyn Konecki
Carolyn-Konecki See Carolyn’s interview regarding floods and flood insurance on KUSI News:
Weather experts have been predicting El Niño weather conditions for this year, meaning heavier than normal rainfall. While Californians certainly need the rain to break the drought, too much rain at one time can be a problem for homeowners.During the last heavy rains in 2010, many homeowners who had water enter their homes were surprised to find that their homeowners insurance did not cover the damage. That is because coverage for a flood is optional for most homeowners (unless you are in a designated flood zone and your lender requires it).So what constitutes a flood? If a pipe bursts or a toilet overflows in your house, you may call that a “flood” but it is actually a “sudden discharge of water” and is covered under your homeowners policy. A flood is any standing or rising water coming from a natural source, like rainfall, a river or the ocean. A good rule of thumb is that if the source of the water loss is something man-made (like a toilet, pipe, or water heater), the loss is going to be covered under the home policy. If the source is something from nature, it’s considered a flood.

To be covered for a flood you need a separate flood insurance policy. A basic flood insurance policy is written through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and is backed by the US government. The maximum coverage you can buy under the NFIP is $250,000 for the dwelling and $100,000 for your contents. You do not have to purchase the same amount of flood coverage as your home’s fire coverage.  You can also purchase additional flood coverage, called excess flood, if you are concerned that the NFIP limits are not enough.

Flood insurance rates are based on which flood zone your home is in, whether or not the home is occupied by the owner or a tenant, and whether it is a primary or secondary residence. The government subsidizes the insurance for owner-occupied primary homes, so the annual rate is about $450.

The other main fact to know about flood insurance is that, unless the home is a new purchase, there is a 30-day waiting period for flood insurance. So, if you are thinking about getting flood coverage for this winter, do not wait until it starts raining. Plan ahead so that you have the coverage you want.

Preparing Your Home for Heavy Rains

As a homeowner, there are many things you can do to prepare your home for heavy rains. The most important thing you can do is make sure that water drains away from your home, so that it doesn’t pool up or intrude into the home. Here are some tips:

  • Check your yard drains and remove any leaves and debris from the grate and drain.
  • Clean out your gutters and downspouts before the first rains and again after each heavy storm, as the wind may blow debris into the gutters preventing proper drainage.
  • Use sandbags to redirect water away from the home.
  • Loosen and break up compacted soil so that it can absorb water better. Tilling in compost and covering with mulch will enable the ground to better absorb rain.
  • Fix any leaks in your roof, paying close attention to the flashing connection points.
  • Seal up any holes from cables and other wires that penetrate exterior walls.
  • After the hot, dry summer, your window glazing may have shrunk or pulled away from the glass. Check and recaulk as necessary.
  • Store emergency repair materials such as sandbags and heavy plastic sheeting in a safe dry place.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to turn off your automatic sprinklers.