The statistics make for stark reading: five million people in two million UK properties are at risk of being flooded. Although 10,000 properties were flooded in the autumn of 2000 in Devon, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Gloucester-shire and Yorkshire, resulting in £692 million of insurance claims, last summer’s floods were the worst on record since 1947, with claims totalling £3 billion. As alerts to soaring water levels become part of everyday life in many parts of Britain today flood warnings are updated every 15 minutes on the Environment Agency’s website (www. environment-agency.gov.uk) it’s increasingly important to ascertain if you’re in a flood zone, how to make sure you don’t caught out by rising tides, and what to do in a flood.

Firstly, you can check if you’re in an area that has had flooding in the past or might be likely to flood in the future by looking at the Environment Agency’s flood map on its website. Simply type in your postcode to find areas in danger of flooding from rivers or the sea, the extent of extreme flooding, and sectors protected by flood defences. If you’re buying a property in a flood zone, it’s advisable to talk to your insurance company first. Contact the Association of British Insurers (020–7600 3333; www.abi.org.uk) for a list of sympathetic insurance companies. Flood-proofing your home is a commonsense measure that could reduce problems. Sian and Bruce Webster, who own a period house in Wiltshire, were flooded in 2006 and again last July.

The problem was that water washed straight off a neighbouring field that was owned by the council and it came up through the Webster’s floor, doors and walls. ‘The council refused to put in a ditch, so we installed a monsoon drain essentially a big ditch 4ft wide and 3ft deep at the bottom of the field,’ explains Mr Webster. ‘We also painted the exterior of the house with a special mineral paint that breathes.’ Chris Pitt from the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group (0845 777 3322; www.ecclesiastical.com)favours using simple traditional methods of flood prevention, such as ‘moving sockets halfway up the wall and keeping gutters and drains clear.

In addition, don’t pave your drive and back garden completely the water needs somewhere to go.’ Sarah Staniforth, director of historic properties at the National Trust, suggests that sometimes looking to the past can help. ‘New lead roofs designed to withstand once-in-a-century deluges can’t cope water actually runs down the walls inside so we’ve started re-introducing water spouts like the ones you see on medieval cathedrals. When the hoppers are full, the water is taken outside, rather than into the building.’

If you’re unfortunate enough to be flooded, SPAB (www.spab.org.uk), which ran its first flooding course at Tewkesbury Abbey on June 20, recommends you ‘act swiftly, rather than hastily, and never remove wet plaster, joinery or other building components indiscriminately. Make sure the building is safe, and then photograph and record water damage for later insurance claims. Then, after letting the floodwater recede by itself, remove any remaining standing water and drain voids, such as under-floor spaces and electrical ducts.’ SPAB is concerned about how some well-meaning but misguided loss adjustors suggest the use of dehumidifiers and lime-plaster removal in old buildings. ‘Drying out an ancient building quickly and losing lime plaster can cause serious damage,’ cautions Douglas Kent.

● Take steps to make it harder for floodwater to enter the building—snap-on vent covers or wraparound skirts or removable door and
window boards, for instance

● Standard solutions appropriate for modern buildings such as tanking and water repellents —might cause more harm
than good with older properties

● Seek listed-building consent to repair older properties and engage qualified specialists. SPAB can recommend
sympathetic experts (helpline Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 12.30pm,
020–7456 0916)