York woman shares her experience of flooding and installing property flood resilience measures
15th April 2021
Flooding has forced Selena Whitehead and her family to move out of their York home on two separate occasions. The family, who live close to the River Ouse in a period property dating back to 1850, have now installed property flood resilience measures that will minimise the damage and speed up the recovery process if their home floods again in the future. We spoke to Selena to find out more:
Q: Tell us about your past experience of flooding - how much damage was caused?
A: We flooded in 2012 and again on Boxing Day, 2015. The flood water was about a metre high each time, reaching the top of the fireplace in the living room and the second drawer in the kitchen. We had an old Victorian floor and, in the first flood, it basically popped. We had insurance and they had to replace it with a modern, flood resilient floor. The same thing happened with the living room floor the second time we flooded.
The first time it was really distressing seeing a huge pile of wrecked stuff. We thought we’d saved things because we’d put them on top of the sofa, but that was floating around the living room.
The second time – on Boxing Day night – we had to take the Christmas tree down. My late mother had made some stockings for us and one of those was ruined. Things like that are distressing. All of our photographs are on high shelves now. The house is definitely less cluttered than it might have been, not least because we’ve had to have major clear outs after each flood.
Q: How long were you away from your home?
A: We moved out for six months each time. The first time, the loss adjustor sent by the insurance company appointed a builder, so the builder didn’t answer to me and I was tearing my hair out, it was so frustrating. So, the second time we flooded, I asked the loss adjustor if we could take a financial settlement so that I could manage the recovery process myself. This meant that I was able to be on the builder’s case and hassle them relentlessly about when we could be back in.
The first time, our children were little – our eldest was five years old and our youngest was three. We moved into a flat in York city centre, but the children found it hard because they was no outdoor space. The second time was horrendous; we tried to find somewhere near the children’s schools and friends but it didn’t work out that way and we all really struggled with it. That’s when my husband, Peter, and I decided to focus on resilience measures and made a plan. Something that was supposed to be a once in a 100-year thing had happened to us twice in three years! That realisation meant that, from then on, we were very much thinking along the lines of resilience and recovery. Our primary focus was on the speed that we could get back in, with a view to then doing any work around us.
Q: How did you go about making your home more resilient to flooding?
A: We did some research and spent time working it out. Someone suggested putting in panelling on hinges with aluminium legs to create tables, which speeds things up when you need to move things out as it means that you can quickly lift things higher up. We also tiled up the wall in the dining room so you can just wash the tiles down because drying out is such a large part of the recovery process.
We’d only installed a new kitchen in 2009, so I’d lost two kitchens in four years. From an environmental point of view, it felt criminal throwing away that amount of stuff. We did a lot of research and thought about a range of options, but we went for stainless steel. I tried to get the insurance company to work with me on that on the basis that there would be no future claims because the new kitchen could be washed down, but they would only replace new for old so we took the financial hit on that ourselves, even though it was twice the price of the old one! We could have gone for the same kitchen, but we decided we’d rather spend extra money on a kitchen that doesn’t result in a whole load of waste further down the line - because it will happen again.
We also got a resilience grant from the Environment Agency, which paid for flood barriers, doors and internal pumps. For our property, the idea is not to wholly keep the water out, but to get it out quicker using the pumps and try to keep the level down to just an inch or two. This makes the clean-up and recovery much easier.
Q; How have your new measures worked?
A: They have not been tested yet as we’ve not been flooded since 2015, but we should be able to wash everything down if it happens again. Last February, we had a horrendous month, with multiple flood alerts. It was an emotional rollercoaster, although it never actually flooded. We’ve also had a flood alert this year. There is an element of wanting to see how the measures works now.
However, we don’t live with that perpetual fear of ‘what if we flood?’. You have to be able to put that to one side and knowing that we have flood resilience measures in place definitely makes it easier. It feels like we have a solid plan now and have done as much as we can. Even if the barriers don’t hold, we have pumps to get the water out quicker.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering installing property flood resilience measures in their home?
A: I think there is a level of being realistic. We love where we live; we have an amazing garden and funny, quirky house and it would never occur to us to move. That’s fine, but the price you pay is that you’ve got to be able to deal with this. Be realistic about the type of furniture you put in and don’t go for anything heavy. We’ve had to adapt what we have around us.
For us, this was about getting the kids back into the house as soon as possible and trying to make any future floods less disruptive. Having property flood resilience measures in place means that, if we do flood again, we wouldn’t be out of the house for six months again.