Flooding and water damage cost thousands of dollars annually tohomeowners and billions to insurance companies. These are among thetop causes for a homeowner to file insurance claims, withfloods listed as the most common natural disaster in the UnitedStates, according toFloodSmart.gov.

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To protect your home from water damage, it's essential toidentify the potential risks for flooding.

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Many homeowners mistakenly believe that they don't need floodinsurance due to where they are located or because they'venever experienced a flood before. As 2016 demonstrated, nothingcould be further from the truth.

Natural floods vs. other types offlooding


Most homeowners insurance policies do not cover flooding from a natural disaster.Any seepage or rush of water entering a home as a result of anatural disaster is a natural flood. This may be water from a flashflood when a nearby river overflows its banks or a levee breaks.Seasonal storms can cause inland flooding in some areas,hitting homes and producing significant damage.

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Other types of flooding include water events that happen due toa burst pipe, overflowing washing machine, or cloggedgutters that force water into a basement or crawl space.Typically, these occurrences are covered by yourhomeowners policy if and when the correct claims arefiled.

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Natural flood fact:You don't have to live next to a shoreline to be at risk fornatural flooding. To determine if your home is located in a floodzone, check the preliminary flood hazard datafrom the Federal EmergencyManagement Agency (FEMA). This allows you to look at your communityand see the various flood zones.

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person cleaning leaves out of a gutter
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The best way to identify flood risks for any property is toknow what can cause water damage. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Identifying flood risks


While natural flood risks can be determined by checkingthe flood maps for your area, both homeowners andinsurance professionals can benefit from understanding the risks ofwater damage from other sources.

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The best way to identify flood risks for any property is to knowwhat can cause water damage. Water (flooding) in the basement orcrawl space can be caused by numerous events andfactors:

  • Clogged, broken or improperly installedgutters.
  • Missing downspouts.
  • Downspouts that don't divert water away from thehome.
  • Missing drainage tile(s).
  • Broken or improperly installed drainage tile(s).
  • Improper gradingof the home's property (theland doesn't slope away).
  • Inadequate sealing of basement/crawl space floor andwalls.
  • Sump pump failure.
  • Sewer backup.
  • Burst water pipes.
  • Leak from water heater, washing machine, bathtub or otherwater source within the home.
  • Water from firefighting efforts.

Issues like clogged gutters can also lead to moisture and waterdamage to the roof, attic, windows and interior walls of yourhome. From ice dams in the winter to water backup because of gutterdebris, the issues are many. If ignored, there is a potential forstructural damage and the development of mold, which poses healthrisks to anyone living in the home.

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water-damaged wall

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Prevention is key to reducing your risks of homeflooding. (Photo: Shutterstock)

After the flooding: Claims


If the unthinkable happens and a home flood event or waterdamage occurs, it is critical to know the steps for quick waterremediation and how to file an insurance claim. Insuranceprofessionals will have their own steps, some of which may overlapwith the homeowner's.

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For the homeowner, safety always comesfirst: Never enter a flooded room, especially if you don'tknow if there's power — electricity and water do not mix. Shut thepower off to the flooded area or have a professional from the powercompany do it.

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The next step is to call your insurance professional. He or shecan talk you through the specifics for claim filing and let youknow what is (and isn't) covered by your policy.

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Related: 5 best practices for valuing water-damageditems

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Tip: Don't wait to call your insuranceprofessional. Your agent can provide guidance for hiring a restorationcompany.

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Other items homeowners may need:

  • Detailed inventory list of all damaged items.
  • Estimate of each damaged item's worth.
  • Pictures of damage and stages of cleanup.
  • Receipts/invoices for all remediation payments.

Insurance professionals will follow the protocols set by theircompany, often working closely with the homeowner during theaftermath of the flooding and its cleanup.

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Prevention is key to reducing your risks of home flooding. Knowthe potential causes and take steps to eliminate them. Simplyhaving the gutters inspected and cleaned on a quarterlybasis each year can help reduce your risk for waterdamage and basement flooding.

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Richard Watkins, founder of Aerotech Gutter Service, has beena contractor and home remodeler for over 50 years. He can bereached at [email protected]

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Related: 5 tips to get your business up and running after anatural disaster

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