The Science Of The City: Protecting your Laurel home from flooding and sewer back-ups
By Paul Ruffins
As the fall hurricane season approaches, here is some practical advice for protecting your home from flood damage and sewer backups.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has mapped the entire nation to determine the relative risks for flooding based on history, elevation and proximity to waterways. The city of Laurel, according to its website, cityoflaurel.orgt, estimates that 10% of land in the city is in the Patuxent River floodplain, and subject to the dangers of flash flooding.
If you live in a flood zone, your mortgage company will require you to carry flood insurance in addition to a standard homeowner’s policy. Search your address at msc.fema.gov/portal/home.
Homeowners insurance policies cover only certain types of water damage. Standard home insurance policies generally cover accidental water damage caused by a source inside your home — a broken pipe or leaking faucet supply line — but not damaged due to water coming in from outside your home. If a hurricane rips your roof off, and rain pours in, causing damage, you’d be covered, because this is typically considered wind damage. Insurance never covers slowly occurring water damage due to deferred maintenance, such as having an old leaky roof that leads to warped floors. Flood damage is only covered by flood insurance, but if flooding is caused by a catastrophic regional emergency, low-interest federal disaster loans would probably become available to everyone who can claim damages. These loans do have to be repaid.
Private Flood Insurance:
FEMA estimates that 40% of flood claims are filed by homeowners whose properties are not in flood zones. One private company quoted The Laurel Independent $500,000 worth of structural flood coverage on a split-level wood frame house on Glen Ridge Drive, which has a basement and no prior losses. That quote included personal property coverage of $100,000, basement contents coverage of $10,000 and a deductible of $5000, for $1,075.41 a year in addition to standard homeowners insurance.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP):
This federal program is particularly important in flood-prone areas where private flood insurance isn’t available or extremely expensive, as is the case in portions of both New Orleans and Ellicott City, or for homes that have had numerous prior claims. Maximum coverage is $250,000 for structures and $100,000 for personal property. NFIP insurance policies include a 10- to 30-day waiting period before the policyholder can file a claim, so there isn’t immediate value in purchasing a policy after sustaining flood damage.
Both private and NFIP insurance cover structural damage and personal property losses on or above the first floor. In basements, only structural damage and fixtures that are considered permanent – furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioners and electrical panels and similar items – are covered by NFIP. Materials and features installed during initial construction or as part of remodeling, including drywall, are not covered. Private policies may also cover personal property stored in basements – clothes, furniture, tools, electronic devices and the like— but premiums are substantially higher for this type of coverage.
Understand, prevent and insure against sewer back-ups
Dealing with damage due to basement toilet or floor drain backups can be costly.. Every building in Laurel or Prince George’s County that does not have its own septic tank is connected to a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s branch sewer line that runs under the street. While WSSC maintains its lines, property owners are responsible for maintaining the sewer line from their home to the property line.
Standard insurance policies issued in Maryland do not cover sewer backups, though insurance companies do offer coverage for them at additional cost. Federal flood insurance usually covers sewer and drain backups, but only as a direct result of an event that fits NFIP’s definition of a flood. Flooding after a heavy rain does not always fall within the federal definition.
Backups are generally the result of storm water flowing into and overloading WSSC’s aging infrastructure. Depending on the specific circumstances of the backup, WSSC may be responsible for damages to your home or possessions and any cleanup deemed necessary.
Installing a backflow preventer valve on the dwelling’s main sewer line prevents most backups, and WSSC will install a valve for homeowners under certain conditions. The valve allows water to flow out but closes if water is flowing into a residential line from the WSSC pipe. FEMA estimates the cost of the valve, including installation, to be between $600 and $1400. Less expensive valves than those recommended by FEMA may also be available. (For more information about installing a valve, see mass.gov/doc/installing-sewer-backflow-valves)
In addition to purchasing enough of the right kind of insurance, homeowners can address flooding in a number of ways. An alarm can alert you to an overflowing washing machine, a leaking water heater or water flooding in from outside. Alarms range from inexpensive, battery-powered devices to sophisticated sensors with Wi-Fi capability.
If water collects in your basement, a submersible pump (sump pump) may be an inexpensive and relatively reliable choice — and an easier solution than using a wet/dry vac to do the work, yourself.
A comprehensive solution for a flooding basement would be proper insurance, a backflow valve, a water alarm and a French drain with a sump pump with battery backup power.
Installing a French drain is a loud, messy two-to-four-day job that costs $8,000-$16,000 or more, depending on the size of your basement.
The peace of mind is priceless.