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Keeping your home safe - it's not just the burglars who are trying to get in!

Alastair Moseley (CEng CEnv C.WEM FICE FCIWEM), Honorary Vice President of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and Member of the PFR Round Table and Code of Practice Steering Group, talks about the need to invest not only in good quality property flood resilience measures, but to give them the same care and attention as we do to home security with planned and regular maintenance.

The winter of 2020/21 has brought yet more misery to thousands of home owners, with extensive flooding adding to the challenges of the COVID Pandemic lock down. Sadly, for many, their homes had flooded before, whilst some were experiencing flooding for the first time. But no matter what their previous experience, these were devastating events, often forcing them to move out whilst their properties were emptied of water and dried out, and losing many precious personal belongings in the process.

Image: City of York Council

One thing that struck me whilst watching the television and on-line coverage of flooding across the country was that so many homes were still using sandbags and makeshift barriers to keep the water out of their homes. Where were the property flood resilience measures that are now much easier to purchase and install than they were ten years ago. Why were these homes so ill-prepared? Was it a case of these property owners thinking that they were not at risk of flooding, or did they simply not know about the recent development in these measures?

A flood barrier in action. Image: Mary Dhonau

Whilst it is simply not economic to provide major flood defences for all of these homes, providing flood resilience measures on an individual property basis is affordable and is proving to be both a first line of defence for many properties in the UK, as well as being a measure of last resort in the event that large scale flood defences fail as was the case at Beales Corner in Bewdley. And with good guidance, the home owners and those that provide insurance for them can have more confidence that when the flood waters come, their properties can be made flood resistant and resilient.

Since 2017, the Government has been working with the professional flood risk community and industry to provide much needed guidance to the 1 in 6 home owners in the UK whose properties are at risk of flooding. One of the most important documents that has been produced as a result is a new Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience (PFR) that was created to drive up the standards of flood resilience measures and increase consumer confidence. It was launched in two parts – the Standards in February 2020 and Detailed Guidance in January 2021.

The Code of Practice is the product of four years hard work by a large number of professional stakeholders skilled in PFR backed by funding from the insurance industry and UK environmental regulators, authored by CIRIA and guided by the UK’s leading professional institutions and Defra. The overseeing group is known as the Property Flood Resilience Round Table and is now in the process of launching a campaign to make the Code of Practice, and the viability of flood resilience, better known to owners of properties at risk of flooding.

What we have now in the Property Flood Resilience Code of Practice is step by step guidance that can be used by home owners and professionals alike, to assess the risk of flooding, survey the property to assess what measures are needed, design and install them and then commission them.

So what do PFR measures look like? Well they are most certainly NOT sand bags or makeshift plywood panels. Instead, a property that is made flood resilient will have been surveyed by a professional to ensure that every entry point for water is recorded and an intervention measure to prevent entry put in place. Obvious points of entry are of course doors, windows, air bricks, drainage points, etc. Less obvious though are small voids in the brick or timber fabric, cellars, shared conduits between buildings, particularly in terraced properties, and water flowing up through suspended floors.

PFR measures combine resistance with recoverability and are a mix of proprietary products (such as flood resistant doors, flood gates, air brick covers, etc); structural enhancements (such as concrete floors, waterproofing of brickwork); and fitting of non-return valves on drains; all designed to keep the water out. And in the event that it does manage to get in, we have water resistant finishes within the home such as tiled floors, cementitious linings to walls, and sump pumps to pump out water, coupled with water resistant kitchens, raised electric points, etc. These latter measures are necessary as sometimes it is impossible to guarantee that all water will be kept out of a property during a flood, especially a deep one, and so these will allow the property to be brought back into use in a fraction of the time that it would otherwise have taken.

Flood-resilient structural enhancements and finishes in progress. Image: Delta Membrane Systems

The Code of Practice gives detailed guidance on all of this and insists on work being undertaken by competent tradesmen, using British Standard Kite Marked products, overseen by qualified surveyors. It is a game changer for anyone looking to make their property flood resilient, and if followed correctly will give them peace of mind when the dreaded wet weather forecast comes along, enabling them to have affordable insurance, and to continue to live where they want to be, even if it is close to water.

But what happens after you have invested in these measures and you are now comfortable in the knowledge that your property is protected as far as possible against flooding. Is that the end of your flood resilient story?

Well, put simply, no!! This is just the start of keeping your property safe from the silent and indiscriminate burglar that is flood water. So there is a sixth and final step that is possibly the most important of all – maintaining the PFR measures in good working order so they work when they are needed . Once installed we have to be sure that they will work well and can be relied upon to either keep the flood water out, or if they do get in, to be able to bring the property back into use in a matter of hours and not months, or sometimes years.

A dry run of flood barrier installation. Image: JBA Consulting

The problem with PFR measures is that they are usually only required to work intermittently when the floods come and like everything in life, they need to be maintained, particularly if they are not pressed into service for long periods of time – sometimes even years.

In the same way that we make sure that our smoke alarms are working, that our intruder alarms are operating correctly, and that our central heating boilers are serviced and working efficiently, so our PFR measures need to be regularly inspected and serviced to make sure that when they are needed, they will work. This is most definitely not a case of fit and forget.

The Code of Practice includes plenty of detail on how to look after the PFR measures that will be subject to wear and tear or degradation over time. The components that need the most attention are the seals on flood doors – be they permanent doors or demountable ones – to make sure that they are not torn or perished. On flood resilient doors, the door lock mechanisms and hinges will need to be serviced from time to time. Water tight air bricks will need to be checked to ensure that they are not blocked open by debris or even unwanted furry visitors, and even the external brickwork will need to be checked from time to time to ensure that no cracks have developed that may have compromised any water proof sealant. Within the house itself, if a sump pump has been fitted to pump out any water that does manage to enter the house, this will need to be run now and again to make sure that it still operates satisfactorily.

What we recommend is that home owners either read the guidance thoroughly so that they can undertake these checks themselves, or that they arrange for an annual inspection by a qualified technician or surveyor, possibly to coincide with the renewal of their insurance policy – or even to coincide with the boiler service to remind them that this essential work needs doing regularly. It is a small price to pay compared to the devastation caused by a flood.

There is no doubt that PFR measures where done well and in accordance with the Code of Practice will bring a new level of security to properties that have hitherto been at risk of flooding, or have flooded. The Code brings in guidance for home owners and professionals alike and is now being taken up by the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Water Companies to help protect their communities and customers from flooding. The Insurance Industry has backed this and it is being seen as the way forward to providing affordable insurance for properties located in flood risk areas. Future developments being championed by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management will also include a new centrally held digital platform that can record the quality of PFR installations and their maintenance, providing a robust audit trail for insurers and lenders who can thus recognise and reflect this in their insurance premiums or lending agreements

Come what may, PFR measures are only as good as the way that they are maintained. So if there is one thing to take away from this article it would be to make sure that you give the same care and attention to your PFR as you do to your home security and appliances. Make sure that you have your PFR measures serviced at the same time as your boiler and home security. After all it is not only burglars who are trying to get in to your home and flood waters will do considerably more damage in the process!

The Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience is available to download here.

For examples and case studies of property flood resilience, view this e-magazine by Mary Dhonau.

To learn more about a range of property flood resilience products, the Homeowners Guide to property flood resilience contains a variety of examples and useful information, and has been voted the 'go-to' guide for property flood resilience by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (Ciria) and the University of the West of England.

About Alastair Moseley:

Alastair is a water and environmental management consultant and has 40 years’ experience in the water industry including flood risk management and water treatment and is a director of his consultancy practice, H2O WEM Ltd. He is a past president of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and led on the creation of the Code of Practice for Property Flood Resilience. He is a member of the Property Flood Resilience Round Table and led Task Group 4 for the development of formal standards for PFR. He is now actively promoting the Code of Practice as widely as possible to bring peace of mind to millions of home owners throughout the UK.