As a homeowner, you’ve learned countless tips about how to protect your assets from disaster. Too bad all that stored knowledge goes right out the window as soon as you see a flood warning on the news.
For starters, keep the panicking to a minimum, and instead get motivated to take the necessary precautions before water levels start rising. It all starts with double-checking your insurance.
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News of impending floods can be ridiculously stressful, but it can help a metric ton to have a checklist ready to go before things get crazy.
That’s why we’ve compiled this handy little guide about what to do before, during and after a flood to ensure your safety and that of your assets. We’ll start from the beginning, with making sure you’ve got adequate coverage.
Before the Flood: Check Your Coverage
Before the flood hits, you’ll need to make sure your home is adequately protected. Unfortunately, just having homeowners insurance won’t protect your home in the event of a flood, since flood damage isn’t a covered peril under standard policies.
You’ll need a special flood insurance policy, which is only available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)—part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Work with your independent insurance agent to review your insurance coverage to be sure of the following:
- You have adequate coverage: If you live in an area deemed to be at high risk for flooding, your mortgage lender may have already required you to purchase flood insurance. However, if you don’t have flood coverage and the calendar is ticking away towards the warmer seasons, it’s best to get a policy—fast. Flood insurance covers damage to both your home and personal property due to flood waters, whereas homeowners insurance does not. Note: If a flood is caused by a hurricane, homeowners insurance will only cover damage to your home caused by the wind aspects of the storm, not the actual flood damage.
- Your policy limit is high enough: In 2017, the average flood insurance claim reported by FEMA was almost $92,000. Review your flood insurance policy to ensure your coverage limit is high enough. You can always purchase additional coverage.
- Your deductible will be exceeded: Flood insurance has two different components: building coverage and contents coverage. Building coverage protects all structural aspects of the home, as well as built-in appliances, permanently installed carpeting, electrical and plumbing systems, window blinds, detached garages, fuel tanks, and more. Contents coverage protects your personal belongings like clothing and furniture, as well as curtains and detachable appliances like window air conditioning units. Each coverage aspect has its own deductible. Policies with lower deductibles come with higher premiums, but you’ll ultimately have to pay more out of pocket for damage.
- Your coverage is effective: Flood insurance policies usually take 30 days for coverage to kick in after purchase. If you have to purchase additional insurance to prepare for the flood, make sure to review the policy’s effective date to ensure you’ll be covered. Your agent can help you locate this information, if you’re unable to.
Becoming familiar with your insurance coverage before a flood hits is the most proactive way to prepare your estate for the disaster. If you’re confused by any aspect of your coverage, your agent can help you fill in the gaps.
Before the Flood, Part II: Take Inventory and Secure Your Belongings
Once your insurance coverage is figured out, you’re still not in the clear as far as prep work is concerned. You’ll want to have a thorough sense of your personal inventory and do your best to secure your home and belongings, as well as your family, from potential damage.
Take the following action steps before the flood hits to help secure yourself, your family, and your belongings:
- Create a personal inventory: In order to itemize your possessions for an insurance claim, you’ll first need to have a record of your stuff and its value. Thanks to the Insurance Information Institute, you can easily create a home inventory list using their app called “Know Your Stuff,” which is free and user-friendly. If technology isn’t your thing, you can also use a home inventory worksheet provided by your insurance company. Knowing what stuff you have and what it’s worth before disaster strikes will be a great help to you when the time comes to file an insurance claim.
- Literally secure your belongings: During those precious hours before the flood hits, do everything you can to secure your home and belongings. Bring outdoor furniture and other loose objects inside, clear drains and gutters, set your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings, elevate electrical panels/switches/sockets/wiring and appliances and heating systems, waterproof your basement and make sure your sump pump is working, anchor any fuel tanks, move important documents and valuables to a safe area, make a plan for your pets, turn on your radio and/or TV and have a stash of extra batteries ready. You may also want to back up important documents electronically.
- Grab supplies: Along with your news sources, you’ll want to gather (nonperishable) food, water, and other emergency supplies to keep with you in your safe location during the storm. Extra batteries, a first aid kit, prescription medications, flashlights, and a basic toolbox are all recommended supplies to have on hand during floods.
- Practice evacuating: Official government websites suggest planning and practicing an evacuation route well before a flood hits. Have several backup routes in mind in case of road closures or barricades. Plan routes that don’t cross bridges. You may even want to connect to someone out of state and make arrangements to stay with them temporarily, or at least ask them to be your emergency contact and keep tabs on you.
For more specific information about how to prepare your home and ensure your personal safety during a flood, check out FEMA’s guide to flood preparation.
During the Flood: Stay Connected; Stay Safe
Once the flood hits, you’ve passed the preparation stage and it’s time to stay connected to live updates on the flood’s progress and location, as well as your local government’s specific orders. You’ll also need to find the most secure area for you and your family to wait out the flood.
Take the following action steps during the flood:
- Stay connected: Download live weather apps to your phone, grab your TV/radio and extra batteries, and tune in to your local station to stay informed. Keeping up with live updates will allow you to follow evacuation instructions if and when they are given, as well as other emergency instructions dictated by your county.
- Get to a secure location: Unless ordered to evacuate, take shelter on the highest floor of the home (don’t go into the attic). Bring the phone/radio/TV and your other supplies with you.
- Evacuate if necessary, otherwise stay put: If an evacuation order is issued, don’t wait, go immediately. However, if you’re trapped by unsafe conditions, remain on the highest floor. Don’t attempt to walk, swim, or drive through flood waters. Even six inches of rushing water is enough to knock you down. If you’re on the road, don’t try to drive through puddles. Remember, “turn around, don’t drown.” Also be sure to avoid bridges.
If you don’t have to evacuate right away, you may want to take some time to gather important supplies or valuable items to take with you to your temporary residence before you leave.
However, if you’re ordered to evacuate immediately, grab only the emergency supplies you put together originally and get on the road with your family ASAP.
After the Flood: Take Inventory and Secure Professional Estimates
Once you’ve survived the flood, it’s time to find out how much of your home survived along with you. Survey your home and belongings for damage or destruction, and then don’t hesitate to reach out to your agent.
They’ll be able to tell you how long you have to file a claim along with an estimate of how long it’ll take the claim to process. They can also tell you if your insurance policy requires professional estimates for any necessary repairs.
In order to protect your home and belongings from further damage, you may need to make temporary repairs before you hear back from your insurance company. For any repairs you make yourself, be sure to save the receipts to submit along with your property damage claim.
Just keep in mind that this amount will be factored in along with permanent repairs and may cause you to reach your policy’s limit faster. Save larger repairs for after you get the damage assessed.
When filing a claim following a flood, your insurance company will send you a proof of loss form to complete yourself (you can also download one from FEMA’s website), or they’ll send an adjuster to your home to assess the damage in person.
There are some preparatory steps you can take before the adjuster visits to speed the process along. These action steps will also help you get the reimbursement you’re entitled to.
Take the following steps before the insurance adjuster visits your home:
- Prepare your personal inventory list: Once the adjuster arrives, having a premade list of your damaged/destroyed property to give to them will help speed up the process. Don’t clean out or throw away any damaged/destroyed items before the adjuster visits. You can also really help to further document your damaged/destroyed property by taking pictures or a video to include with your inventory list.
- Take inventory of any structural damage: Along with your damaged/destroyed personal property, you’ll also want to know the extent of the damage/destruction to your home’s structure. Be sure to include detached structures like sheds, garages, and pools as well. Your list should include minor damage like wall cracks, major destruction like shattered windows or missing sections of the home, and everything in between. You may also want to get your plumbing and electrical systems inspected. Your policy is likely to reimburse you for this process.
- Secure estimates from licensed contractors: Once you’ve identified the damage, you’ll want to get professional estimates for necessary repairs. Having itemized estimates from licensed contractors to send to your insurance company will speed along the claims and reimbursement process.
- Make copies of all important documents: You’ll be giving a lot of important paperwork to your insurance company, but you’ll want to keep copies for yourself, too, for after your claims process. Keep a folder of copies of all receipts, estimates, inventory lists, etc. to help the process run as smoothly as possible.
Preparing as much as possible on your end before ever involving your insurance company will help you to receive the reimbursement you’re entitled to much faster. You’ll also be better equipped with your own knowledge of your home’s damage and what needs to be repaired/replaced.
After the Flood, Part II: File Insurance Claims
FEMA requires claims to be filed within 60 days of a flood. If you have comprehensive car coverage, you may also need to file an auto insurance claim if your vehicle was damaged by the flood.
Depending on your auto insurance company, the process for filing a claim, as well as what’s required from you, may vary.
If you’re unsatisfied with the reimbursement estimates the insurance adjuster provides and aren’t able to reach an agreement with them, you can dispute their findings and send your proof of loss form, along with the payment amount you’re requesting, directly to the insurance claim examiner.
The insurer will then review your claim and accept it or issue a denial.
If you dispute your insurer’s denial, you may submit an amended proof of loss form back to the claim examiner and try again to receive the amount you’re requesting, submit a formal appeal to FEMA, or file a lawsuit against your insurer. Lawsuits must be filed within one year of the original denial.
How To Find the Best Flood Insurance
In order to get the protection you need (and deserve), you’ll want to work with a trusted expert. Independent insurance agents will not only know where to find the best coverage and price, but also help to make sense of the fine print.
Consider your unique needs, then connect with an agent to help you take it from there. Have a list of your specific concerns and desires handy before you reach out, to help the process run even more smoothly.
Compare Flood Insurance Quotes with an Independent Insurance Agent
We all know how valuable your time is, so why spend it doing all the hard work yourself? From flood insurance to special add-on policies, our expert independent insurance agents will help you determine which types of coverage make the most sense for you and your home.
Our independent insurance agents stay on top of the insurance industry and all the latest discounts so you don’t have to. That means they’ll help find the right coverage at the right price for you.
They’re not just there at the beginning, either. If disaster strikes, your agent will be there to help walk you through the claims process and make sure you are getting the benefits you're entitled to. Now that’s thinking ahead.
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