A story of flood devastation and how one couple now protects their riverside home in Leeds

Flood resistance and resilience measures and flood protection grants are vital

Torrential rain and flooding has devastated parts of Yorkshire and left hard-hit homes and businesses fearful about the future.

Martin Hughes understands completely. He has long been concerned about flooding after buying a house by the River Aire in Horsforth, Leeds, but he has always been prepared for the worst.

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He worked in the flood prevention industry, which collapsed when the government withdrew the grants it gave to homeowners so they could protect their properties.

Flooding in Smaith, East Yorkshire. Pic: Danny Lawson/PA

He is now calling for the government to reinstate the grants to help those deemed most at risk, along with a 0 per cent VAT rate on the work carried out.

It costs between £5,000 and £8,000 to help protect an average house from flood water and minimise its effects.

“The government can put millions into civil engineering but floods are becoming more common and the best way to help people is to encourage them to make their homes resistant and resilient and that won’t happen without grants,”says Martin.

Resistant is having flood defences such flood doors, air brick covers and pumps. Resilience is adapting a property to minimise the effect of floodwater, so that no permanent damage is caused and the structural integrity is maintained.

Even Martin was caught out after the River Aire rose to its highest recorded level in 2015. He and his wife, Mary, had heeded a flood warning, deployed their barriers, turned off the electricity and evacuated to a friend’s home.

But the exceptionally high water levels meant that their barriers were over-topped.

One of the key measures, he says, is to get everything that is wet and damaged out of the property, including kitchen units, skirtings, lower sections of plasterboard and fibre insulation, carpets and sockets.

“People worry about affecting insurance claims if they do this but it’s amazing what can be saved by doing it and the house will dry out much quicker. If you leave everything in there you are risking dry rot and more damage to plasterwork and electrics.”

If the electrics are safe, he suggests switching on the heating, opening windows and using a dehumidifier.

“The other benefit of doing all this is that it helps you feel more in control. The effect of a flood on your mental health is enormous and just doing something like this makes you feel better.”

He adds: “If 300 houses have been affected it can take weeks for a loss adjuster to get to your property. Take photographs of everything inside before you remove it so you can show the evidence to the loss adjuster.”

Not everyone has the physical strength to clear their home, so Martin suggests putting out an appeal on social media. That’s what he did and 25 kind people responded.

He has since bought higher flood barriers for his doors and has installed air bricks that close during floods and anti-backflow valves for the toilets.

“We have also made the house more resilient so we have an Aquastop floor, which is 100 per cent waterproof. It was £80 per square metre but worth it, and we have plastic skirting boards and kitchen units,” says Martin who believes that all new-build houses should now have flood resilience built in.

To find out if your property is at risk of being flooded visit the government website www.gov.uk/check-flood-risk. Companies, such as Landmark Home Check, can give you details of all forms of flood risk including surface water flooding, for a fee.

Leading flood resilience consultant and campaigner Mary Dhonau is calling for a building back better approach to flooding. See some of her resistance tips below. For more advice from Mary visit our website wwww.yorkshirepost.co.uk/homes and www.marydhonau.co.uk. Twitter @floodmary

Resistance and Resilience Tips from Mary Dhonau

*Flood resistance. Self-rising flood barriers are a good option. They use the water to activate closure. Flood Stop has proved successful, especially in surface water flooding. The Environment Agency has tested some flood protection products for reliability and these have been given a kite mark. Details can be found on its website. The Property Care Association, www.property-care.org also has a list of reputable flood protection firms on its website.

*Protect airbricks. Protection includes a stick-on plaster type for low flood risk and covers that can be screwed on. There are also self-activating airbrick covers.

*You can replace your existing door with what looks like a normal door but has built-in flood protection or you can fit doorway flood protection in front of your doors. Think about keeping a supply of “sandless sandbags”, such as HydroSacks, which can soak up to about 20 litres of water.

*If water comes up from the floor, fitting a pump in a sump under the floor can help. Fit anti-backflow valves on toilets to stop sewage entering that way. Flood water will find the easiest point of entry, even via your washing machine or similar outlets. Again, you can purchase quite cheap anti backflow valves for these items.

*Also think about the condition of your external brick work. Have a good look at the outside of your property and repair crumbling mortar and cracked bricks. Also on the market are sealants which will make the brickwork more resilient to leaking but, at the same time, will allow the bricks to breath.

*Examples of flood resilience include putting the plug sockets, boilers and service meters higher up the walls, installing tiled floors over a concrete floor, fitting plastic skirting boards or using wood such as oak which is more resilient to floodwater; replace your kitchen units with stainless steel or plastic carcasses on which normal doors can be fitted and removed before a flood. Or use solid wood rather than MDF or chipboard units. The latter disintegrate with the effects of flood water.

*Insulation will need to be replaced with closed cell insulation. Replace ordinary plaster with lime-based plaster or cement render or replace ordinary plaster boards with ones made of Magnesium oxide as these are water resistant.

*If your flood doesn’t tend to be deep, you can use your plasterboard horizontally for easy replacement. It is also possible to fit a plastic membrane system behind plasterboard, this will allow the water to run straight into a sump and be pumped away.

*Fit lightweight internal doors with rising hinges, so if you get a flood warning you can lift the doors off and out of harm’s way.

*Keep items of sentimental value upstairs where the floodwater can’t reach them. For more details, see “How to restore your home following a flood”, a publication written by the Association of British Insurers www.abi.org.uk .

*Before following any of my advice always seek advice from a qualified flood risk surveyor. Whilst I have given various examples of flood mitigation products to enable you to see what can be done to reduce their own flood risk. I do not endorse any product..