Recently I lived through two floods back-to-back at my house and lived to tell the tale. The first was the terrible Nashville flood of 2010. Although I live part-way up a hill, my back yard collected the water pouring down from the hillside behind me and funneled it into my crawl space. In October of the same year, my washing machine hose burst in the night and dumped more than 2,500 gallons of water into five rooms of my house. Here are the ten most important things I learned from the two experiences.
1. Make Sure You Have Flood Insurance
There may be a few areas that don’t need flood insurance, but even on a hill I have wished I had flood insurance on three different occasions. Now it is too late for me to get it. Did you know flood insurance covers more than just floods and is also the only way to cover earth movements, sink holes and other conditions (at least in Tennessee)?
2. Take Pictures of Your Home & Possessions TODAY
If you have to get FEMA and your insurance company out to look at your house after a flood, they will try to tell you your doors were swollen shut BEFORE the flood, and that other damage and settling were there previously. A pretty picture of your house from last year won’t cut it. You need regular, updated, detailed and dated photographs of your house, inside and out, room by room, including doors, walls, wallpaper and hardware. Photos will not only help you make your case to FEMA and your insurance company, they will also help you remember your previous decorating once your wallpaper, floors, backsplash, trim, etc. are gone, as well as furniture and knick-knack placement.
3. Learn Where All Your Water Cut-Off Valves Are
Be sure you know where all the water cut-off valves are in your house as well as the main water line in case you have to cut the water off to a room or your house in the event of a flood. I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out where to turn off the water in the utility room because the valve was hidden behind the washing machine. Because it was a Sunday, I could not get Harpeth Water out quickly to help me turn the water off at the street.
4. Take Pictures of All the Damage As Soon as Possible
If you have a flood, quickly get photographs of all the damage before you move anything if at all possible. Take pictures of the damaged rooms, including the signs of water damage to doors, walls, ceiling, etc., and all the possessions in each room. After your goods are moved, packed out or disposed of, it is too late to document the damage well.
5. Call Your Insurance Company, But Be Cautious
The reason this is #5 and not #2, is you want to make sure it is worth it to call your insurance company. I was told by a Farmers Insurance agent people could call and have them look at damage and if they didn’t didn’t file a claim, it would not count against them. This is apparently not true. Farmers canceled my insurance after my 2nd flood, because I had called them to look at the May flood (and not filed a claim) and had them look at my roof twice after violent wind storms (and filed one claim). I only filed two claims in total, but Farmers Insurance counted it as FOUR claims and canceled my policy.
6. Contact FEMA If Your Flood Is Part of a Local Disaster
Call FEMA, but don’t expect much. FEMA is infamous for minimizing damage; saying it is old damage; not doing a thorough inspection (like not going into crawl spaces); denying claims and answering questions about your claims with confusing and misleading double talk; often contradicting other FEMA agents; then paying only a very small percent of actual damages… and in some cases, asking for the money back after it has been spent on repairs! And if it turns out later you had massive damage in the crawl space FEMA would not got into, FEMA is not responsible, because you won’t be able to prove when the damage happened. Be sure you crawl into the crawl space yourself after any flood to take dated photos.
7. Keep a Daily Record
Keep a journal or notes of events as they occur, things you notice, things you are told, who you talk to, and anything else that helps you document your situation. Save all the emails you send and receive, as well as all correspondence, forms, etc.
8. Know the Storage Rules & Guarantees
While often a flood or other disaster will take many months to repair, the company storing your items may only have responsibility and liability for your items for as little as three months. Make sure to have in writing from your insurance company and/or the storage company exactly what happens if your construction is still going on after the original storage time is up.
9. Get Everything in Writing
Try to correspond by email as much as possible so you have a written record of everything you are told. Make sure all estimates are detailed and thorough. Don’t assume that verbal agreements will be remembered or honored. If agreements are not typed out, itemized and signed, you are not protected. Keep all correspondence for at least a year after the claim is settled and the repairs are completed.
10. Be Prepared to Stay on Top of FEMA and Your Insurance Company
FEMA and your insurance company will naturally want to minimize any damage you have suffered. Be prepared to file multiple claims with FEMA and to have them low-ball you or deny you each time. Be prepared to have to fight to keep your claim on the radar with your insurance company after the first month or so as your adjuster will be taking on new claims every day.
I hope my experiences may help others be a little better prepared to handle the overwhelming job of dealing with FEMA, dealing with the insurance company, and dealing with pack out and pack in following a flood at home. Look for the companion “Top Ten Tips for Dealing with a Cleanup Company After a Flood.”