Why developers should pay greater attention to flood risk

Keeping you warm, dry and safe are the basic functions of a home. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen plenty of examples across the world where this basic functionality has not been achieved.

In Houston Texas, tens of thousands of people have been displaced, and over 1,200 people have been killed in South East Asia due to heavier than normal monsoon rains.

Currently, Hurricane Irma is creating devastation across the Caribbean. In Freetown, Sierra Leone four weeks ago heavy rain causing deadly mud slides, devastating homes and business. With our changing climate, these events are likely to increase in magnitude and frequency.

In the UK we are not immune to this, floods have already caused issues in Cornwall this year and some are still impacted by the floods in previous years in the south west and Cumbria.

Keeping the water out might sound like a simple task in building design but coupled with other requirements of a home (such as access, security and energy efficiency) it isn’t always that simple.

Like many issues, flooding can’t be solved at one level. It must be tackled at an individual house level, a local community and a regional / city level.

Understanding if the location (or proposed location) of your home is likely to flood is the first step. Over the last decade information and tools to be able to understand this have improved significantly.

Interestingly, people are also using social media, this ongoing case where the current householders are trying to sue the previous owners for allegedly providing inaccurate information on if the home had previously flooded shows how information can be sought for all sorts of places. Perhaps a warning to take the issue seriously?

Building resilience

At BRE a key focus has been on consumer protection at the property level. In 2015, the Property Level Flood Resilience Roundtable, chaired by Dr Peter Bonfield (CEO, BRE Group) looked at ways to protect properties and businesses from the effects of flooding. A Property Flood Resilience Action Plan was developed and released in 2016 and earlier this year, the Flood Resilient Repair Home, pictured above, at the BRE Innovation Park.

The property, developed to show the practical measures that can be put into place to make a property more resilient to flood through the installation of movable kitchen units and water resilient wall insulation for example, was flooded with several thousand litres of water and just hours later was dry and ready to move back into.

It is part of the BRE Centre for Resilience which has the mission ‘to provide a place for the sector to research, learn, develop new standards and create the next generation of resilient materials, products, designs and innovations that will ensure the robustness and longevity of our built infrastructure’.

The BRE Academy has since developed a new flood protection and flood prevention course designed for anyone responsible for the upkeep or management of a building that is at risk of flood; including householders, landlords and business owners.

We have also created the Home Quality Mark (HQM), the mark that allows consumers to understand which homes have better consumer protection. HQM takes account of much of the property resilience work, but also looks at flooding from a community point of view.

Creating new development, particularly if it is on land that has not been developed before, often leads to a greater levels of hard standing.

Learning from the past

HQM pushes the developer to do more in reducing the rate and volume of water leaving the site. So if you live near a proposed new development, you may wish to, through the planning system (or other means) to push for the site to be certified to HQM. Reducing the likelihood of your own existing home to be flooded.

At a regional or city level, flooding can occur for numerous different reasons from coastal erosion to rivers bursting their banks or high sea levels. HQM is part of the BREEAM family of international, science based, certification schemes, which also includes CEEQUAL for civil engineering. A number of flood alleviation schemes have achieved CEEQUAL awards for sustainability.

A large-scale example of city level flood protection is the Thames Barrier, which protects 125 km2 of central London. Routinely tested, the last being on September 10, the gates close by rotating 90 degrees into the fully closed position. The Thames Barrier was built in the 1980s to protect from tidal surges, following Britain’s worst flood on record in 1953 when 300 people were killed by the North Sea flood.

Whilst the Thames Barrier and other measures are in place to protect our towns and cities from the debilitating effects of flooding, it’s essential we learn from the devastation of the past and what’s happening in the present to build homes of all types, with suitable prevention measures to better protect homeowners and their surroundings.

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Gwyn Roberts

Gwyn Roberts

Project lead, Home Quality Mark, BRE

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