There’s nothing you can do about extreme weather, but what happens afterwards can help ease the pain. NFU Mutual home insurance expert Ross Garner explains the process of dealing with flood damage

Flood damage costs the UK more than £1 billion every year. For families, particularly in rural areas near rivers or the sea, there is a risk of serious damage, stress and financial burden. Research from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggests it costs on average £30,000 to return a three-bed home to the state it was in before it flooded.

You can take steps to reduce the risk, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. “If you have just been badly flooded, then it’s simply too late for preparation advice,” says Ross. “You need to know how to stop the damage from getting out of control.”

First steps

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommends that before you do anything at all, you should call your insurer. Don’t rush to throw away damaged items, unless they are a health danger, as these may act as proof when making claims, or could even be repaired or restored.

Ross adds: "Take as many photos of damaged items as you can, and if you can take cuttings of things like carpets it will be very useful for your insurer when it comes to getting a replacement.”

It’s important to dispose of any waste properly before you begin the clean up process. “You need to put flood waste in skips, which the council might provide,” says Ross. “Anything you take to local tips is classified as controlled waste, so think about hiring a waste management firm to handle it for you properly. But first check if your insurance policy will cover the associated costs.”

Take safety precautions when disposing of anything in flood-damaged areas. Wear rubber boots, gloves, goggles and a facemask when removing or cleaning anything, and cover any cuts and grazes with waterproof plasters.

Cleaning up

You shouldn’t re-enter your property until professionals assure you that it is safe.

“Get your power and gas checked by a plumber or electrician before you turn anything back on,” says Ross. “But check with your insurer first as they may prefer to provide an approved party to carry this out.

“And with the power being off, a lot of food may have become contaminated, so make sure you throw anything away that you are suspicious of.”

You will need to remove any water with a pump or buckets – you may get help from the fire brigade in emergency situations. When you have done this and shoveled out any mud, it is then time to clean your property.

Ross says: “Make sure you always disinfect after cleaning anything; floodwater is pretty certain to be contaminated.”

It’s important to take the right steps to dry out the property efficiently, which can take several months. Your central heating can help you steadily dry your property, provided it has been cleared for use by an expert. The government recommends keeping the thermostat somewhere between 20°C to 22°C.

“If you’re going to use portable heaters to dry indoors, make sure the ventilation is good,” says Ross. “Just don’t use anything powered by petrol or diesel – the exhaust will emit carbon monoxide, which is potentially lethal.

“However, if you are using dehumidifiers to dry your property, you should ensure that external doors and windows are closed. You should also ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid the risk of fires from such appliances.”

Sewer flooding

You may be entitled to compensation from your water company if a flooded sewer damages your property, under the guaranteed standards scheme set out by the industry regulator Ofwat.

You will be entitled to a full refund of your annual sewerage charge if the sewer flood has led to internal damage on your property. However, if the damage only affects the outside land or an outbuilding, you will only be entitled to a 50% refund.