If your yard screams “soggy” rather than “lush” after our PNW winters (hello, 80% moss lawn), some simple landscape changes might be just what you need to improve your home’s appearance while minimizing potential flood damage.
Channeling away or containing excess water is the key. Whether professional landscaping is in your budget or you need some DIY options to dry up problem areas, we’ve got tips to help.
Why should I eliminate excess water around my home?
Water is a stealthy threat to your home’s structure. Over time, lingering dampness can damage your foundation, invade your crawl space, rot decks and door frames, spark mold growth in basements, encourage insects and even lead to landslides.
When people discover water damage outside or under their homes, their first instinct often is to call their insurance provider for help. Unfortunately, most of that damage traces to maintenance issues, which virtually no homeowners insurance sold in the United States is able to cover.
Even if your home normally sits high and dry, you might wonder about occasional seasonal flooding, including the kind we experience when king tides combine with heavy rains or fast snowmelt. And again, while standard homeowners and renter insurance does a great job covering water damage from sources like a burst washing machine hose, it usually can do little to cover the kind of flooding Mother Nature sometimes delivers.
For that, you need separate flood insurance available through the federal government or specialty private insurers. More about that below.
How can I redirect runoff from my roof?
Your roof deflects thousands of gallons of rainwater and snowmelt – and all of it needs to go somewhere. Here’s how you can help it drain harmlessly away:
Remove blockages from downspout drain pipes. Tree roots can invade and block pipes that carry water from your home’s downspouts into storm drains on your street. A homeowner in Mill Creek, for example, noticed his gutters overflowed during heavy rains, even though they were clean. He enlisted help from a rooter service. Using a pipe-scoping camera, they discovered a coconut-sized ball of tree roots that had crept into the underground pipe connecting his downspouts and the street drain. They used water jets and a cutting tool to remove the tangle of roots – and poof! His overflowing gutters ran free.
Direct downspouts away from your foundation. If your downspouts don’t tie directly into drains and, instead, empty on the ground, make sure they’re pointed away from your foundation. Add downspout extenders so they empty into the yard, far from your basement or crawlspace. Another option: Connect your downspouts to rain barrels to collect water for your garden.
Get rid of bark mulch near your foundation. It absorbs and holds moisture and, if it’s piled too deep, it can rot your siding and invite insects. Instead, opt for gravel or decorative rock that allows water to drain away from your home. As a bonus, rock also acts as a buffer against sparks from a wildfire.
Use dry creek beds to gently corral and direct water. During a downpour, you may notice rivulets cutting their way through your landscaping as water follows a slope. Use those paths to your advantage! Widen and line them with river rock to give the water an attractive, nondamaging flow path. Rock borders tied to your creek bed also help stop excess water from puddling along planting beds.
How can I make my driveway drain better?
Like roofs, driveways deflect water during downpours and can fuel destructive runoff. Some options:
Add gravel strips on the sides of your driveway. They’ll slow runoff so it can gradually soak into the ground.
Use paving strips rather than a solid paved surface. Instead of paving your entire driveway, consider paving two thin strips to give your car’s tires a path. The area between can be lawn or gravel to accommodate water runoff. Paving strips are cheaper to install than an entire paved driveway, but if you’re a member of a homeowner’s association, make sure its guidelines allow them. Also know they’ll take a bit more maintenance than a traditional solid driveway, including mowing if you use grass between the strips or sweeping if you use gravel, since it can get kicked onto the strips.
Consider spaced pavers or gravel as an alternative to solid surfaces for driveways and walking paths. They allow water to seep into the ground rather than run off. You’ll have a couple of maintenance tradeoffs to consider, though. Spaced pavers can invite weed growth, and gravel driveways will need periodic patching or grading to remain pothole-free.
Explore permeable pavement as a greener alternative to traditional asphalt or concrete. Its surface has small gaps that allow water to pass through to a gravel layer underneath. The City of Portland is a fan and offers this advice for homeowners. Like spaced pavers or gravel, permeable pavement requires a bit more maintenance than traditional pavement, specifically, twice yearly cleaning to prevent its pores from clogging with sand or dirt.
What plants help control water in my landscaping?
Plants absorb water and their root systems help stabilize soil. Some things to keep in mind when planting:
Preserve healthy native trees whenever possible. Their extensive root systems can absorb water over a surprisingly large area, depending on the species. Sadly, homeowners may find they need to cut a large tree due to instability or disease only to discover they have excess water accumulation on their property once the tree is gone.
Terrace planting beds. As water flows from one level to another, it has more time to soak into the soil instead of running off.
Opt for hardy native species if you’re getting rid of lawn. As more homeowners seek to cut their summer irrigation bills and reduce the amount of fertilizer used to keep lawns green, grass is disappearing in some neighborhoods. If that’s you, you’ll want to replace it with soil-stabilizing groundcovers and bushes that prevent erosion while being deep-rooted enough to subsist mostly on seasonal rainfall during summer months.
Don’t mow lawns too short. Longer grass blades help establish a deeper root system, which is better at absorbing water. Try not to set the mower lower than three inches and aim to cut no more than one-third of the grass blade when mowing.
How can I stop water from coming onto my property?
Originally, your builder likely sloped your yard and driveway with water management in mind. But over time, changes by previous owners or construction in the neighborhood (and yes, even beaver dams) may have affected how your property drains now.
Almost any property can be made to drain, but structural runoff-control measures like resloping a yard, removing and replacing clay-choked soil, adding swales, building French drains and catch basins, or erecting berms and retaining walls require expertise few homeowners have. Water-control options vary based on whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural community. You’ll want the help of a professional landscaping or water management company to make sure your projects follow building codes to properly direct outflow to a drywell or street storm drains. As you’d guess, that kind of expertise doesn’t come cheap.
Despite the price of professional help, there are plenty of reasons not to DIY a major water-redirection fix. Purposely changing the path of water runoff is different than doing nothing and letting the water go where it will. Some of the toughest calls we get involve questions about water runoff. They’re difficult because we can’t provide legal advice or speculate on coverage for claims that haven’t been filed. Once a landowner makes changes to affect runoff, they may be responsible for the results, including damage to a neighbor’s property.
Often, the best runoff solutions involve trying to safely contain the water on your own property, including creating a “rain garden.” If you have no practical way to do that, you’ll want to talk with your neighbors about a cooperative solution.
Do I need flood insurance?
Not everyone needs flood insurance (and many forego the coverage if it’s not required by their mortgage company). But it’s worth having the conversation with your insurance agent to understand your risk and the cost of this important coverage. As weather patterns change, what were once considered “100-year floods” in some parts of the country now are happening every few years. About one in five flood insurance claims come from homes in low- to moderate-risk areas.
While PEMCO doesn’t sell flood insurance, we can help you explore your flood insurance options at no cost – a timesaver since our experienced agents know the ins and outs of determining flood zones, can help you weigh the benefits of a policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) versus a private flood insurance policy, and understand how to work with lenders.
If, after hearing your options, you decide to buy flood insurance, you’ll typically pay your first year’s premium in advance with a credit card. Don’t put off the decision to buy flood insurance because it normally has a 30-day waiting period before coverage kicks in.
Talk with your local PEMCO agent or call 1-800-GO-PEMCO, ext. 4007, to reach a PEMCO Insurance Agency representative. You can get started with simple information like the age, square footage and construction characteristics of your home, which we already have on file if you insure your home with PEMCO.
There’s no need to wait until your next renewal. You’re entitled to a free insurance review any time.
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