Flood Damage versus Water Damage: Flood Damage Assessment – Part I


Expertise Includes:

    • Building Foundation Issues
    • Civil/Site Work Evaluation
    • Concrete Systems - Cracks/Settlements/Failures
    • Construction Defects/Claims
    • Storm Water Control
    • Structural Design - Collapse/Failure Analysis

Recently, I read an article from the Insurance Information Network of California (IINC) explaining the difference between “Flood Damage” and “Water Damage” that really hit home and I wanted to share with you again.  “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop should be there.  With dismay, you discover that your home is filled with damaging water.  Will your insurance policy cover this loss?”  

In this two-part series, let us focus on the causes and effects of Flood Damage versus Water Damage to residential and building structures.  There are a couple of things to consider when seeking answers to the following questions: 1) What type of insurance did you chose to purchase and 2) How did the water enter your residence or building?

Let’s first look at “Flood Damage”.  A standard flood insurance (FEMA) policy provides coverage for damage caused only by a flood.  Floods are normally generated by heavy and intense rainfall from weather systems that produce hurricanes, tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.  There are others types of flood producing waters such as catastrophic events involving destruction of dams and levees or snow melt, spring thawing and ice jams.  The dictionary defines the word “flood” as a rising and overflowing body of water onto normally dry land.  For insurance purposes, the word “rising” in this definition is the key to distinguishing flood damage from water damage.  The fact is any damage caused by rising water on the ground before damaging the home or building is considered to be flood damage.

Below are a few examples of damage due to flooding:

  • Watercourses such as rivers, streams, creeks, etc. overflowing their containment banks (embankments) and entering the home.
  • Intense and long periods of rainfall entering the basement due to saturated soils
  • Flash floods creating depth and velocity flow of floodwaters and soil erosion or scour (frictional forces) that cause a mud slide to impact and damage the residence
  • Hydrostatic water pressure dislodging the residence and/or building from the foundation system
  • Hydrodynamic forces created by floating waterborne debris that crashes into the residential walls
  • A physical presence of water on the building exterior creating buoyant forces exerting upward pressure tending to lift and float a stable and secure structure.

As a professional engineer, I would specifically look for signs attributed to the four direct causes of water damage and determine the extent, if any, of flood water damage present.

Hydrostatic/Buoyancy Forces

The four direct causes from flooding are erosion and scour of soils, hydrostatic forces, hydrodynamic forces and buoyant forces.  An investigation would involve a thorough inspection of the residential framing and foundation systems, checking for cracked or compromised concrete, dislodged or displaced structural members and/or shifting or movement in the walls including recording the depth of water on the outside and inside of the residence.  I also would perform relative elevation measurements to determine horizontal levelness of floors and recheck the verticality of all exterior walls.  Timing and understanding the sequence of events is critical in determining and making professional judgment to whether rising water is from flooding or water falling from the sky resulting in damage.

In the final blog of this series on “Flood Damage versus Water Damage”, we will look at how water damage to a residence and/or building structure occurs and focus on determining the causes and extent if any of the damage incurred.

Allan Abbata is a senior consulting engineer at Warren and a licensed professional engineer in South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas, Alabama, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia. Allan holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He has more than 40 years of applied engineering expertise to include in-depth knowledge of building codes, rules and regulations that guide design. Allan has also prepared construction drawings and specifications, provided on-site supervision and inspection of construction projects, and. has overseen project management and responsibility for overall performance of building contracts while also serving as the client’s liaison with local, state and federal agencies and municipalities.

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