The pitter patter of rain on the windowpane may soothe the soul, but flooding can imperil whole cities, threaten lives, and cause extensive damage to property. Here’s a look at 3 of the most common types of home floods (and tips for helping protect against them).

Coastal floods

Coastal floods occur as a result of storm surges, tropical storms, and hurricanes. As sea levels rise, the incidence of coastal floods and the damage they cause will also rise, making homes near or along U.S. coastline especially vulnerable. During a coastal flood, winds at the center of a hurricane accumulate water, causing water near the eye of the storm to rise higher than the surrounding sea level. And storm surges can reach 20 feet above sea level, causing widespread damage. When Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey in 2012, for example, over 600,000 homes were damaged.

How to protect your home 

  • Consider wet floodproofing. That means making an uninhabited part of your home (such as the basement) resistant to flood damage by allowing water to enter and exit during a flood event.
  • Seal your home’s exterior walls or construct barriers to prevent floodwaters from entering.
  • Rebuild homes that are in extreme danger of flooding according to flood-safety standards or consider relocating to higher ground.

Fluvial and flash floods

Fluvial flooding is what happens when rivers are overwhelmed by rain and water overflows their banks. These floods can be caused by heavy rains, ice jams, or rapid snowmelt. Fluvial flooding can occur slowly or in the form of flash floods, which can be especially dangerous since they come on at high velocity and without warning, often carrying dangerous debris (like cars and trees) along with them.

How to protect your home

  • Place sandbags in front of doors and low windows to divert water, mud, and silt from entering your home.
  • Install backflow valves that only allow water to flow through your plumbing in one direction.
  • Consider grading your property to carry water away from your foundation, especially if you live in a flood plain.

Pluvial or urban floods

Pluvial flooding is surface flooding that occurs when intense rainfall overwhelms the drainage infrastructure of densely populated urban areas.

How to protect your home

  • Keep your gutters and downspouts clean and clear of debris.
  • Consider a sump pump or French drain to direct water away from your home via drainage pipes.
  • Use makeshift barriers (like sandbags) in front of doors and low windows to divert water, mud, and silt from entering your home.

Water damage versus flood damage

As a rule of thumb, water that originates in your house before it goes outside (from, say, a burst pipe, sewage backup, a hole in the roof, or an overflowing bathtub) is not classified as flooding by most insurance companies, but rather as water damage. Be vigilant about leaks of any kind in the home — water damage can be costly and progress rapidly.

And remember: most standard home insurance policies don’t cover flooding, so you may want to consider adding a separate policy to protect against it.

Insurance 101 | Safe and smart | Home safety

about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.