April showers may be famous for bringing May flowers, but spring rains also can lead to flooding. In addition to heavy rains, springtime may bring melting snow, flash floods, and ice jams — all of which can result in unexpected flooding in your home.
In 1996, the northeastern U.S. experienced extreme flooding after heavy snowfall thawed quickly, followed by heavy rains, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Rivers flooded from New York to Virginia, and, in some areas, the rivers were jammed with ice, creating additional flood damage to buildings and homes nearby.
While such large-scale events of flooding caused by snow melt are rare, smaller cases of flooding — such as in a low-lying neighborhood or your basement — are quite common during late winter and spring. Spring floods don’t just affect homes that are located near bodies of water: The snow, ice, or rain in your own backyard can sometimes become a flood in your home.
The Problem of Spring Thaw Flooding
The snow you’ve shoveled off your front walk may not look as if it contains a lot of water, but, as FEMA notes, “each cubic foot of compacted snow contains gallons of water.” In the western U.S., as much as 75% of the water supply is derived from melting snow, which releases water into rivers during the warmer seasons, according to the USGS.
One of the problems, according to FEMA, is that “warmer temperatures and resulting snow melt can produce large amounts of runoff in a short period of time.” With the land still frozen, “[t]he water then runs off the surface and flows into lakes, streams, and rivers, causing excess water to spill over their banks. Add seasonal storms to the mix, and the result is often severe spring flooding.”
Many people who do not live near water assume that spring flooding will not affect them. But flooding from spring rains and snow melt is not limited to coastal and riverside areas. When that snow melt occurs in your own yard, especially when it’s followed by heavy spring rains, the water must find a place to go. In many cases, it will flow into a home’s basement, crawl space, or lower level.
Water always runs from higher ground to lower ground, and, if the ground around your home becomes saturated, the water may start seeping into your home through windows, doors, or cracks in the foundation. Even if you live in an area that does not get significant snowfall, spring flooding can still be a concern when heavy rains come.
How to Prepare
It may not be possible to prevent water damage under all circumstances, but there are a number of steps homeowners can take to prepare their homes for common flooding caused by spring thaw. Consider taking some or all of the following precautions.
1. Install a pump. A sump pump or sewer backflow valve can help keep water from pooling in your basement. It may be a good idea to have a battery-powered backup pump on hand, in case a storm causes a power outage.
2. Check for leaks. Routinely check around all doors and windows for potential leaks. Also, inspect your foundation to see if you can find any cracks that may allow water to seep in. If you do see cracks or leaks, have them repaired as soon as possible. While you can repair a foundation crack yourself by sealing it with hydraulic cement, such do-it-yourself solutions are usually only temporary and, within a few years, you’ll need to call a foundation expert.
3. Remove leaves, branches, and other debris. Throughout the year, it’s common for leaves, branches, and other debris to collect in window wells, gutters, downspouts, and other areas around your home. Be sure to remove wet leaves and other debris, as it can slowly add pressure and wear away paint, rot wood, or lead to cracks or leaks. When debris is allowed to pile up in gutters and downspouts, water will run off the roof, pooling near your foundation, where it can cause mold growth and foundation cracks and damage. If gutter debris freezes and causes ice dams, it may prevent water from draining properly and provide even more opportunities for water to seep into your home.
4. Check your landscape. If at all possible, the grading of your yard should encourage water to flow away from your home, not toward your home. If there are areas where your lawn or landscaping dips toward your home, regrade those areas to direct water away from your house. Also, make sure you trim trees and bushes near your home so that branches aren’t leaning on or over the house — but don’t keep tree trimmings or grass clippings next to the house, as they could hold water and encourage leaks.
5. Inspect your roof. It’s important to keep your roof in good condition. If you’ve left fall leaves to pile up on your roof, they will gradually wear down the shingles. When melting snow and rain come, you’ll be more likely to experience a leak. If you think you may have shingles missing or damage to your roof, call a local roofing company; most will inspect your roof for no charge to see if you need to make a repair.
6. Remove valuables from lower levels. If you use your basement or cellar for storage, avoid storing electronics, photo albums, or other items that could be badly damaged by water — and difficult to replace.
Protecting Your Property
In most cases, standard homeowner’s insurance policies do not cover flooding. Instead, homeowners who want to protect their homes against flood damage must purchase a separate flood insurance policy. It’s important to understand what flood insurance covers, for example, in a basement.
Flood insurance is sold by insurance companies and is regulated by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Regardless of which insurance provider you choose, your flood insurance rates will be set by the national flood program. So, rather than shopping for price, consider shopping for service, choosing the provider you believe will offer the best service for you and your home especially when it comes to filing a claim.
Even if you’re not a homeowner, you may want to consider purchasing a flood insurance policy. Flood coverage can be added to renters and condo policies, and can help ensure that your belongings would be protected from flood water damage.
It’s very important to know that a flood insurance policy becomes effective 30 days after the date of purchase, so if you want coverage for the coming spring season, it’s important to purchase your policy a month or more in advance. Flood insurance is available for purchase in communities that participate in the NFIP. To find out whether your community is a participant, search for it in the NFIP’s Community Status Book.
The cozy indoor days of winter weather may give way to unexpected flooding before you know it. Start taking the necessary precautions now, so you can prevail if flood water threatens your home.
Don’t wait until it’s too late! The Hartford offers National Flood Insurance Program coverage to AARP members. Learn more or get a quote today!