One natural disaster is not limited by geography.
It strikes in rain forests, it strikes in deserts, it hits highly-populated areas, it hits the sticks, it thumps the mountains, and it hammers the valleys.
That disaster is flash flooding.
Flash floods can develop very quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes and with no warning. Flash floods can be dangerous walls of debris-carrying, roaring water and can sweep away most things in their paths.
You need to be especially aware of flash-flood danger if you live in a low-lying area or near water. Even tiny or seasonal streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying areas that appear harmless in dry weather can flood and flood fast.
Since flooding doesn’t discriminate on which parts of the country it targets, homeowners nationwide need to make sure their homes are prepared to handle heavy rains and rising tides.
Floods can rarely be prevented, but their damage can be mitigated. Flood-proofing measures for your home include the following:
· Raise appliances, furnace, water heater, and electric panels
· Elevate the living area above flood levels
· Install "check valves" in sewer traps to prevent backups
· Use levees or floodwalls to prevent pressure and debris impacts on exterior walls
· Seal the building (this technique is more common for non-residential buildings)
· Use finishing materials that water won't hurt
· Modify the foundation so that flood waters can flow through it rather than push against it
· Install sump pumps (and check them regularly) to extract water from the basement
Do you need flood insurance?
Flood insurance is offered through the National Flood Insurance Program and sold by private insurance agents.
This ensures access to flood insurance even to those living in high-risk areas. Mortgage lenders require those who buy homes or refinance mortgages to purchase flood insurance if they live in certain FEMA-designated flood zones.
However, about 25 percent of flood damage claims come from areas not considered at high risk for floods. If you value your home and your possessions, consider flood insurance wherever you live.
How does flood insurance work?
Flood insurance works a little differently from your other insurance policies.
If you have flood insurance, you are still required to make a claim against your homeowner's policy (even though it doesn't cover flooding). Then, once you get your denial letter, you can file your claim to your private flood insurance company or to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Your damage is then assessed by an adjuster, who prepares an estimate for the costs to repair/replace your home and its contents (if applicable). If you need an advance to repair your home, you'll need to ask for it. Otherwise, you have to pay upfront and request reimbursement, or engage a contractor, which will be paid directly by the insurer.
What's NOT covered by flood insurance? A lot
· Damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold that could have been prevented
· Currency, precious metals and valuable papers (such as stock certificates)
· Property and belongings outside of a building (trees, plants, wells, septic systems, walks, decks, patios, fences, seawalls, hot tubs and swimming pools)
· Living expenses (such as temporary housing)
· Financial losses caused by business interruption or loss of use of insured property
· Most vehicles including their parts
What's covered by flood insurance?
You choose--you can cover your building, you can cover your home's contents, or you can cover both.
Even renters can buy flood insurance.
You can choose to cover only the outstanding balance of your mortgage. You can insure the full replacement value of your home and its contents (up to FEMA-defined limits). If you are in a low-risk zone, you can choose as little coverage as you like, including zero coverage. Just be prepared to live with the consequences if you get flooded and are uninsured.
Gina Pogol has been writing about mortgage and finance since 1994. In addition to a decade in mortgage lending, she has worked as a business credit systems consultant for Experian and as an accountant for Deloitte. She graduated with High Distinction from the University of Nevada with a BS in Financial Management.