Adapting to Water

By Nandy Grundahl


Maybe it is the calming sound of water moving, whether down a waterfall or crashing onto a beach.  Any real estate agent knows that property near water, whether an ocean, lake, river, or stream, commands a higher price. But, with rising sea levels and stronger, more frequent storms, those prime water side properties may now be in danger of flooding, not just once every 100 years, but once every few years.

What is a homeowner to do after a flood? Sell (if they can) or stay? Many choose to stay put, figuring the benefits outweigh the costs of shoveling mucky mud out of their basement and maybe even the first floor, as well as other personal and financial tolls..

Did you know there are even contractors now who deal with renovating flood- susceptible buildings? Their floodproofing techniques include:

  • Replacing gypsum and plasterboard walls with concrete
  • Covering floors with stone, concrete or ceramics, not carpeting
  • Rearranging rooms — putting the kitchen, laundry room, and electric box on the second floor (known as an “upside down house”)
  • Running electrical lines not near the floor, but higher up on the wall

Homeowners are advised to use only lightweight, easy-to-move furniture in the basement and on the first floor. It’s a case of adaptation — minimizing the damage that might occur during the next flood.

These techniques are being applied in many areas of the Northeast where this fall we had the double whammy of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. In Pennsylvania, an emergency declaration was issued for more than half of its counties and parts of Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg and other areas close to rivers were evacuated. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and its federal counterpart, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provided assistance.

FEMA has developed a Homeowner’s Guide to Retrofitting if you would like to learn more about floodproofing techniques.  And EPA has a variety of information and links on what to do before, during and after a flood.

About the author: Nancy Grundahl has worked for the Philadelphia office of EPA since the mid-80’s. Nancy believes in looking at environmental problems in a holistic, multi-media way and is a strong advocate of preventing pollution instead of dealing with it after it has been created. Nancy likes to garden and during the growing season brings flowers into the office. Nancy also writes for the EPA “It’s Our Environment” blog.