Flood Preparedness for Home Inspectors

You are out daily seeing what water can do to a home, but your client is not aware of the disasters that await with untended potential water damage. Your experience and knowledge will guide them in genuinely taking care of their home.

Prepare Your Clients for Future Floods

Home inspectors bring added value to every home inspection by sharing knowledge. We can’t prevent major disasters like floods, but we can help out clients understand their home’s flood exposure.

Depending on your service area, your clients may be exposed to one or more different types of flooding. You can help long-term area residents and relocated home buyers understand the risks.

To plan for floods, you need to understand the type – or types – of flood you may face. Each one bears a different impact in terms of how it occurs, how it is forecast, the damage it causes, and type of protection you need.

  1. River – Fluvial. River floods occur when a river, lake, or creek overflows the containing banks, spreading water to the surrounding area. Rainfall or snowmelt fills the water channel beyond the capacity of the banks. These floods can be rapid moving vehicles and even pushing homes off foundations.
  2. Rain – Pluvial. Extreme rainfall creates surface water on the ground irrespective of any river banks. The water rises gradually, leaving enough time for people to evacuate but often causing structural damage to buildings.  
  3. Flash Flood. Steep ravines and canyons shed water down a channel that may have had no water. These floods are rapid with powerful water surges and carrying large destructive debris. They are a type of pluvial flood that occurs in areas often considered dry like oak woodland canyons, chaparral hills, and desert canyons.
  4. Coastal Flood – Storm Surge. Seawater driven by heavy winds floods coastal lands. The combination of high tides and extreme winds can cause severe property damage.
  5. Urban Flood. High-intensity rainfall exceeds the limits of drainage and sewer systems, causing water to flow in streets. The water rises fairly slowly, but as it extends, it can cause damage to buildings.

History and Preparation

If you see signs of previous flooding, advise your client to get a natural hazard disclosure. Look for flood potentials like 100-year flood plain history and nearby rivers and dams.

Educate your client on preparation to avoid water damage with clear service gutters and downspouts. Install drain pipes and ensure they are free from clogs annually.

Advise your client to go out after a long rain to check for standing water near the foundation. Make sure soil grading and concrete slope away from the home to prevent water damage. And, for good preparation, have a backup plan or two with sandbags, a working sump pump, and for emergencies a portable submersible pump.

Home Disaster Water Damage

As an inspector, you know that small findings can lead to water disasters in a home. These floods have nothing to do with rain or wind or weather; they result from ignored system failures and structural defects that lead to water inundations in the home.

As a home inspector, you can help your clients avoid expensive flooding repairs by assisting them to understand how moisture affects the structure of the home they live in. Moisture on floors and in walls leads to softening wood and hidden nightmares that require expensive repairs.

Your recommendations now prevent water damage in the future. Your advice is the added value you bring to a home inspection. It takes checking things off on a list to deliver valuable information to keep your client safe in their home.

When you advise on your findings, you build trust in your business. Small suggestions like these create grateful clients:

  • Clean debris off the roof, in the roof valley, on the backside of chimneys
  • Keep trees free and clear of the structure and roof that can cause damage and leaking
  • Avoid cheap plumbing repairs, and they always come back to bite you at the worst time possible
  • Do not use PVC pipes inside the house, in the garage, in the attic, or in the sub-area or basement … use only approved materials for plumbing inside the footprint of the structure
  • Once a year, pop your head into the attic and sub-area crawlspace during winter and just smell for moisture, mildew, etc. If you smell moisture, it could be a problem developing, or that needs long-term correction

You are out daily seeing what water can do to a home, but your client is not aware of the disasters that await with untended potential water damage. Your experience and knowledge will guide them in genuinely taking care of their home.

Threats of Untreated Water Damage

Clients can often dismiss potential water damage threats as small, especially if they are “hidden” from their everyday life. You can help your client understand the potential risks by describing the consequences of neglecting a minor problem.

Restoration agency, ServiceMASTER, lists the most common water damage consequences.

  • Weakened Structure and Ruined Flooring and Drywall – Flooring soaks up water and becomes prone to mold. Wood structures that support walls and floors become soft and weakened. Drywall can become brittle, warp, and develop mold, requiring it to be cut out and replaced.
  • Corroded – Water contains elements that can break down pipes, constructed to come in contact with only tap water.
  • Damaged Electrical System – When water comes in contact with outlets, wiring, or electrical boxes, the system can become compromised and unsafe. This calls for immediate remediation.
  • Damaged Concrete or Brick – If not sealed correctly, water can erode concrete and brick, compromising the structure.
  • Mold – Within 24-48 hours after water damage, microscopic amounts of mold can begin to grow. It may not be visible until 1-2 weeks later.
  • Musty Odors – Certain surfaces will become smelly after only a short time following water exposure. Carpets often begin to smell quickly and become a breeding ground for more bacteria and an attraction for bugs.
  • Permanent Staining on Walls and Floors – Water that’s not cleaned up immediately and appropriately can leave permanent stains on walls and floors. Sometimes paint cannot cover up these stains. Any staining will decrease the value of the home.

Besides the structural issues, water transmits health hazards to residents. Bacteria, chemicals and other toxins can invade the house, creating potential health risks to residents. And fungus and mold penetrate surfaces and start growing before they are visible. Mold can cause respiratory infections, aggravate allergies, and cause headaches. Insects, too, are drawn to damp surfaces as the perfect place to lay eggs.

Share Your Knowledge

Your knowledge, experience, and expertise comprise the value you give clients at a home inspection. Keeping homes sound and protecting lives are the elements of home inspection often overlooked by clients who just want to make a deal.

Whatever your client’s motivation for an inspection, your experience identifies potential problems and your knowledge conveys your expertise on keeping homes safe and sound.

Published in the American Society of Home Inspectors ASHI Reporter, November 2020 issue.


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