Though Houston floods are inevitable, damage to your home is not—here’s how to protect your home from flooding
Houston citizens can list many great things about the city. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the South and it boasts a vibrant culture. Its residents enjoy a relatively low cost of living. But if there is one aspect about Houston that most residents would like to change, it’s the floods. In Houston and Harris County, floods envelop huge sections of the city on a regular basis. Sweeten outlines ways to protect your home from flooding in Houston. Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and financial protection—at no cost to the homeowner.
Why Houston floods devastate homes
Houston’s wet season, from May to October, brings a punishing round of tropical storms, hurricanes, or just old-fashioned heavy rain.
Houston rests near Galveston Bay, four major bayous, and numerous creeks. Floods are a fact of life in a city surrounded by so much water. If you live west of the city center, generally you will fare better during flooding. Residents of EaDo (East Downtown), Garden Oaks, Highland Village, and Midtown tend to fare better than other areas.
Moving eastward from the city center increases the likelihood of high water levels and floods. Kingwood, Spring Branch, the Heights, and Sharpstown all chronically flood. Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda turned these neighborhoods brown with floodwater. The storms hit Meyerland, located mostly within the 100-year floodplain, particularly hard.
Houston and Harris County are so heavily paved-over that runoff water cannot keep pace with these huge inundations of water. Short of moving to another city, you can take a number of steps to protect your home.
Tip 1: Grade soil away from your house
Houston’s mostly flat topography only rises about 50 feet above sea level. You won’t find steep hills and high elevation in this city. But you can create a type of micro elevation on your own property.
When building or renovating your house, redesign your property’s grading. Regrade with proper water, erosion, and storm runoff management in mind. You want to avoid your yard and home turning into a lake.
Tip 2: Install a sump pump and maintain it
If your Houston house has a basement, it undoubtedly already has a sump pump. If not, install one immediately. Sump pumps discharge interior water to the exterior. It is valuable for high waters or for minor interior flooding. It will not protect your home against catastrophic flooding.
Your sump pump should be ready to turn on at any time. If not, it may experience power loss, clogging, or switch issues. If the unit cannot keep up with the water, install a larger unit. The average lifespan of a sump pump is about 10 years. If your sump pump is at the end of this lifespan, consider replacing it.
Tip 3: Raise your house
The best solution to protect your home during a Houston flood is to elevate it.
At a very minimum, the City of Houston requires homes to have a one-foot elevation above the 100-year floodplain. But that minimum nowhere nearly addresses catastrophic events like the rapid 12-inch rainfall that fell during Hurricane Harvey. If you plan on elevating your house, experts recommend elevating your home over 18 inches. Six-foot elevations are not uncommon.
When building a new house, resist the urge to build slab-on-grade if living in a flood-prone section. Instead, explore elevated foundations of three feet or more.
If you already own a house, you can retroactively elevate your house. This retrofit begins much like a house move, with the house raised by jacks on piers. But the house isn’t loaded onto trucks and moved. Instead, a new, higher foundation is placed under the house.
Elevating your home starts at about $75 per square foot. It’s a major project that can take up to three months to complete.
Tip 3: Dry floodproof your foundation
Imagine the outer part of your home’s foundation wall as the hull of a boat. Water constantly surround a boat’s lower half, so it must be watertight.
Dry floodproofing treats your foundation with sealants and membranes. If water surrounds the lower section for a limited period, there should be little or no leakage into the home.
With dry floodproofing, the emphasis is on positive-side (exterior) sealants and membranes. Workers also apply negative-side (interior) sealants and membranes.
FEMA recommends homeowners opt for a “substantially impermeable wall.” The wall helps limit water accumulation. In 24 hours, water will accumulate to a 4-inch maximum with a sump pump. Entrust this project to a qualified contractor who has experience in dry floodproofing. Contractors well-versed in this project can often exceed that FEMA minimum performance level.
Tip 3: Install flood vents
In lieu of dry floodproofing, consider installing flood vents. Contractors can install FEMA-compliant flood vents in your foundation walls. In dry times, these vents prohibit vermin from entering underneath your house. During floods, these vents open freely to allow the passage of floodwaters. At the same time, these vents block debris that can damage the structure.
Flood vents may also help you reduce your flood insurance premiums. Houston homes receive so much structural damage because of the force of the water on the foundations. Flood vents reduce that pressure.
Only certain types of foundations require flood vents. Many older Houston homes have a crawlspace foundation that supports the house with piers or columns. This foundation often has a skirt or non-load-bearing wall around the house perimeter. Sometimes, brick or concrete comprises the skirt wall instead of wood. Because the wall cannot hold back floodwaters, dry floodproofing is not a viable option.
Many licensed Houston contractors can advise you on how to protect your home from flooding in Houston. They can assess whether dry floodproofing or flood vent installation is your best option.
Tip 4: Install and maintain a backflow valve
During floods, one unhappy byproduct is sewer or water drainage backflow. During this, backflow sends sewer water into the house. Floodwater itself is dirty enough. But when sewage pipes directly into your home, that only adds insult to injury.
Some backflow valves are automatic, such as ball float valves in floor drains. On the other hand, manually-operated gate-style valves open and close by turning a wheel.
Note that backflow valves prevent your house’s sewage from discharging into the sewer main. Standard backflow valves provide no way for you to flush a toilet. Speak to your contractor about backflow valves with ejector pump attachments. These attachments can divert your sewage back into the sewer system, while still preventing backflow from coming into your home.
More ways to prevent or mitigate flood damage in Houston
Tip 5: Raise exterior outlets
Electrical code typically requires only that exterior outlets be accessible from grade, or ground, level. For Houston with its floods, this usually translates to “too low.”
A licensed electrician can relocate your exterior GFCI outlets. The outlets should be at least one foot above the expected flood line.
Tip 6: Check your exterior drainage system
Your house’s gutters collect rainwater from the roof. Drainpipes move that water downward. Make sure that this interdependent system works properly which your licensed contractor can assess. If your system needs repairs, they can recommend and install solutions.
Tip 7: Install waterproof flooring at or below grade
If your home’s lowest level is on-grade or is below-grade (as in a basement), avoid installing carpet, solid hardwood, or engineered wood flooring. As long as that level remains dry, you are fine. But should that level become inundated with water, the best response is to remove the flooring.
Hard-surface, 100-percent waterproof flooring stands a good chance for successful cleanup. Consider installing ceramic or porcelain tile, resilient plank, sheet, or tile floor.
Using these ways to protect your home from flooding will provide peace-of-mind. Understanding your options based on your budget and the type of home you have is a good start.
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