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When a House Gets Flooded

My phone buzzed in my pocket late morning on Boxing Day 2015. It was my brother, Will. The flood warning for Otley had just been updated and it didn’t look good. His house faced the River Wharfe and he was watching the water slowly rise over the steps, then the pavement, and finally into the gardens which front his row of houses.

“Can I do anything?”

“I don’t think so. Hopefully it’ll peak soon…”

I am not sure he really thought it would, but in retrospect it seems a bit silly that the river level would drop whilst the rain continued to fall. But you always hope for the best. It gives the feeling of a little bit of control.

It was 4pm when my mum phoned. They were staying with Will for Christmas, and were now fully employed bailing out the house. My brother-in-law and I rushed down to help. We waded to the house: the water had of course continued to rise to the level of the front door, but now the hill behind Otley had decided to empty its contents towards the river. At the back of the house the water reached halfway up the backdoor – we crammed towels into the doorframe to try and reduce the water pouring in. But it continued to poor – through the towels, through the washing machine, up the plug. We were, all this time, generously provided with the background music of the River Wharfe running under the house, though the foundations. I had brought a number of rubble bins with me so we continuously bailed water into them – taking it in turns to run a full bin to the front door to empty, whilst the others filled up the next. We also took it in turns to use the Ikea dustpan as that was surprisingly a world-class scoop!
For five hours we kept this up. I would love to give you some statistics about the amount of water we shovelled that evening, but all can report is that we were all physically and emotionally shattered by the time the water level seemed to be dropping. No one dare mention it at first – there seemed to be less coming in, but to say something might jinx it. Then there was no denying it. We marked the waterline on the door as it dropped and dropped, still bailing out all we could to try and keep the damage at bay. And then it was below the sandbags and we could open the back door – the car floating in the garage; the wheelie bins sailing down what was once the road.

As it happens, five of us working our socks off prevented too much damage from occurring. The wooden kitchen units warped, the carpets were ruined, and the downstairs smelt damp for over a year. But other people lost a lot more.
In the weeks that followed we reflected, and talked through what had happened. There are a few things it is worth me sharing:

  1. In the words of Terry Pratchett “Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.” Equally, a once in ten year, or one-hundred year, flood, will certainly occur at some point. Be prepared by months, not hours.
  2. It is not the actual flood that causes long-term pain, as horrible as it is. It is the fact that every time it rains from then on in, you spend the day worrying “what if…”, ruining any sense of comfort.
  3. I was amazed that this row of houses facing a river didn’t have permanent aluminium flood guards. Why not? I got one of two answers from nearly everyone: a) The fittings look ugly on the outside of your building; and, b) They cost thousands of pounds. Everyone acknowledged that them looking ugly was not a good reason, and that the flood caused more damage than the cost of the aluminium system. But humans are humans. And as a result, 3 years later from a big flood, nothing has changed.
  4. Like most things in life, if you wait for 100% perfect, you’ll be 0% perfect for a long time. Work out where the weak points are in your flood risk house, and fix those first, freeing you up to deal with the smaller breaches.

All of this lead me down a path to find something to help protect my brothers house for the future. And then I discovered Floodshield:

  1. The doors are often the biggest weak point in a house – if we had a Floodshield in place, we would have been much more relaxed dealing with the water coming in through the washing machine, and the odd air brick;
  2. At £250 they are incredibly good value for the high-level of protection they provide;
  3. Being polypropylene, they are extremely tough and can just be stored in a shed or attic without taking up much room, and then fitted in seconds when there is a risk;
  4. Simply having them ready to go means that the stress of a period of wet weather is greatly reduced – you know that in a matter of seconds you can be protected; and
  5. By having no permanent fixtures on your house there is a) no ugly impact on your house (or need to get landlord’s permission); and b) the householder can fit it themselves without having to have it professionally set-up.

So instead of a very expensive, permanently attached, hard-to-store solution that takes up to an hour to fit, I found a cheap, fully removable, easily stored solution that can be fitted in seconds. Oh, and it performs just as impressively. This is why I decided to buy the business from the inventor – to try and get what I believe is a great solution, into more hands that need it.

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