Tuesday 20 March 2018

Focus on Flooding: Rising tide

With the number of episodes of flooding on the rise, how can you best protect your home from the risk of water damage? Katy McGuinness reports

Flooding in Harold's Cross in 2011
Flooding in Harold's Cross in 2011

Katy McGuinness

Back in 2011, Mike Roche and Paula Russell were living on the upper two floors of their house in Harold's Cross, Dublin, and using the basement, which was laid out as a separate, self-contained flat, for storage.

"We were flooded a couple of times," says Roche, "but the worst was in 2011. There was a couple of feet of water down there. The houses were built some time between 1790 and 1803 and the floor tiles were placed directly on the earth, so essentially the houses have no foundations. We had the utility room down there, but basically we were using it as dump space, so it wasn't hugely disruptive. The water came in through the walls, stayed there for a bit, dropped again and went away after about a day-and-a-half. We put dehumidifiers in afterwards, and there was damage to the plaster and skirting. We didn't claim on our insurance as we were about to start renovating the whole house anyway."

In hindsight they was lucky - neighbour Cecilia de Jesus, a Filipino-born Irish citizen, became the second victim of the 2011 flooding when she was trapped in her nearby basement flat.

According to Roche, the flooding they experienced was due to the drains having been "overcome". "The drain that got backed up was one of the original Victorian drains and when they cleared it out they took away two truckloads of sludge. I suspect that it hadn't been cleaned in years before the floods, but Dublin City Council has been more vigilant since."

Roche was ready to reincorporate the basement into the main house, and hired architect Diarmaid Brophy of DB Architects and architects Sterrin O'Shea to oversee the refurbishment. Part of the brief was to protect the house against possible future flooding, and Brophy and his engineer John Pigott came up with a programme of works designed to keep the water out if similar problems were to reoccur.

"The flooding was the catalyst for starting on the refurbishment work," says Brophy. "No one can guarantee that you won't be affected by flooding, but you can undertake precautions against both water coming in from outside and [in a terraced or semi-detached house] via your neighbours.

"We tanked the basement, which is basically applying the principles of a swimming pool, but in reverse."

This tanking, combined with the other measures recommended by Brophy (see panel), means that Roche can face into future flooding events with increased confidence.

Given our changing climate and the increased likelihood of flooding, homeowners at risk would be prudent to explore what measures they can take to safeguard their homes in the event that the floods recur.

They also need to be informed about the impact of flood risk on property values. For Pat Davitt, the CEO of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV), the key question is one of insurance.

"If a house has been flooded once," he says, "then the chances are that it will be flooded again. There will always be a value to a property for a cash buyer, who is prepared to take a view on the risk versus the saving on the purchase price. But if there is a mortgage requirement, then there is an insurance requirement.

"If it's not possible to get insurance on a property, its value is greatly diminished, and it is therefore very difficult to determine a value for a property that has been flooded."

Davitt sees tough decisions ahead for the Government. "It's not anyone's fault, not the Government's nor anyone else's, that it rained too much, but work that should have been done has not been done. If defences need to be put up, they should be put up, and if rivers need to be drained, they should be drained. In some areas, where work isn't feasible, houses will have to be abandoned and demolished. That will obviously be very hard for the occupants."

Davitt says that he has seen no evidence from any Dublin agents of prices being affected in areas where flooding has occurred in the past, a position confirmed by Paul Menton of Quillsen, who handles properties in the Clontarf area where flooding has occurred in the past.

"If someone wants to buy a house then it [the fact that there is a flood risk] won't stop them. It didn't stop three parties going after one house on Clontarf Road which went on the market asking €800,000 and sold for over €900,000 and it's not an issue that is affecting closings the area, any more than it is in East Wall, Ringsend, or Sandymount, as I know from talking to colleagues in those areas.

"It's well known that insurance companies have an issue regarding flood protection on their policies and that they are prepared to insure some houses without flood cover. It's a question of considering each property on an individual basis. People who live in coastal or flood risk areas have to deal with insurers directly or through a broker in order to negotiate cover; if they try to do it online it won't let them insure."

Homeowners and anyone currently house hunting should refer to the Office of Public Works comprehensive flood-mapping service on floodmaps.ie to see whether a property is at risk.

Dr Tom McDermott, lecturer in the School of Economics and principal investigator at the Environmental Research Institute at UCC, has studied incidents of flooding in urban areas worldwide, and his research shows that the most vulnerable areas - not surprisingly these tend to be low-lying - usually have the greatest density of economic activity.

"The good news is that most places seem to recover fully within two to three years, and there is little evidence of relocation of economic activity, even if places are hit repeatedly within a short period of time. There are two main reasons why people don't move away. One is historical, in that towns and cities have traditionally been built on the coast or near rivers to be close to the means of transporting goods. Those benefits are less relevant now, with modern forms of transport, but even though water is no longer such an advantage people still stay - there's what we call a 'lock in' effect.

"The other is down to the role of government. By and large, the Government bears the cost of flood defences and assisting victims. When private developers choose sites, they do so in the knowledge that they are not going to bear the full cost of their actions. This leads to a misalignment between the interests of the developers and of broader society. There are too many developments in flood-prone areas, and when there is a lack of supply, people will go ahead and buy them.

"There is investment needed in flood defences; it's not cheap and there is not a solution in every instance. But in densely populated areas it has to be done.

And for the future, he stresses that there need to be tighter planning restrictions in flood-prone areas. "By allowing development in those areas you lock in the risk. Any proposed development needs to be analysed individually. We still need sensible urban development, it's just about finding ways to do it, and taking measures such as not putting essential services on the ground floor to minimise the impact."

Sunday Independent

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