More than 5.5 million homes in England and Wales are at risk of flooding from rivers and the sea - that's one in six properties. Floods leave chaos and heartache in their wake. They also cause widespread destruction. The floods in the summer of 2007, for example, caused £3billion of damage, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
Is my home at risk from flooding?
You can find out if your property is prone to flooding by visiting the website of the Environment Agency at www.environment-agency.gov.uk. You simply type in your postcode and the flood map shows whether your property is at a low, moderate or significant risk of flooding.
If you live in a low risk area, the chance of flooding in any one year is 0.5%, rising to 1.3%, or 1 in 75, in a property at significant risk.
The flood map only rates the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea. But there are many other sources of flood, including blocked drains and sewers. The total number of homes at risk is therefore likely to be much higher than 5.5 million. Some experts reckon it could be closer to 10 million.
How do the insurers access the risk to my home?
Insurers are wary of flood risk homes and there is no guarantee that they will offer cover for flood damage. They consult the flood map when they asses a risk, but they also take into account other flood sources, their own detailed mapping systems and a property's claims history.
However, in a deal with the government, the ABI has pledged until June 2013 to cover all households where the risk of flooding from rivers and the sea is judged to be low or moderate. They will also continue to offer flood cover to existing homes at significant flood risk, as long as the Environment Agency has announced plans to reduce the risk within five years.
It's worth bearing in mind that the commitment assumes there is no particular risk of flooding from other sources. So, if your home is considered a low risk on the flood map but has a past history of surface water flooding because of poor drainage, you might find it tricky to buy home insurance that includes cover for flood damage. The agreement also excludes all properties built after January 1 2009, though insurers will assess new homes on their own merits.
Remember too that the agreement does not dictate premiums. And premiums for flood prone homes can be high, especially if the property has previously made a flood claim. Households in flood risk areas should also check the excess on their policies. The excess is the amount the policyholder has to pay towards each claim - and excesses for flood claims can run into thousands of pounds.
What can I do to protect my home from flooding
But don't despair as there are measures you can take to prepare your home in case of floods and potentially reduce the water damage. You might even be able to negotiate a discount on your premiums or a lower excess if you protect your property.
You can try to stop flood water seeping into your home by installing flood boards. The boards can buy you some time in the event of a shallow or flash flood, so that you can move your possessions off the ground floor to limit any damage.
If the flood rises to more than about one meter, it's probably best to let the water in. Otherwise, the pressure could cause the walls of your home to collapse.
Homes at serious risk of flooding might want to consider major changes to their property, though the cost could run up to about £40,000.
You can, for example, seal the floors - a process known as tanking - to help prevent water rising up from the ground, or fit a pump in a void under the floor. A one-way valve in the drainage pipe can also stop sewage from backing up into the house. Many experts recommend that you move the service meters, boiler and electrical points to well above the likely flood level. You can also replace timber doors with concrete and chipboard or MDF kitchen cupboards with plastic.
It's best to make any changes sooner rather than later as it's no good waiting until disaster strikes. But if you are going to make structural alterations to your home, you should seek advice from a surveyor, architect or other qualified professional.
You can find more information on building your own flood defences on the website of the National Flood Forum at www.floodforum.org.uk.
If you are looking for flood insurance for your home, MoneySupermarket.com has teamed up with a number of leading specialist insurers to help you find a policy that will cover your home in the event of a flood.