5 Things to Know to Protect Your House Against Flooding

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A flooded street in New Jersey. Hurricane Irene damaged countless homes in the Northeast.

Right after the devastation of Hurricane Irene, with photos of flooded homes everywhere, comes the news that pop star Rihanna is suing over water damage to her $6.9 million Beverly Hills mansion.

Rihanna has named the former owner of the house, the contractors on the house, her realtor, and her home inspectors (who, judging from the lawsuit, delivered a pretty thorough inspection report mentioning different potentials for water problems) as defendants.

(GALLERY: 12 Things You Should Stop Buying Now)

The truth is, leaks and floods can affect everyone, from low to high. Short of termites, water damage is probably a homeowner’s worst nightmare, for good reason. It’s prevalent, and it can be very very costly.

I have previously written about tips for cleanup post-hurricane. And if you’ve been affected recently, your first goal should be to dry out and restore normalcy.

Once you’ve done that, though, be aware of the following points going forward:

1) Basements are, in some ways, meant to flood. To a certain extent, the basement is a buffer against damage to the rest of the house, and as such, you’re not meant to keep a man-cave down there. Insurers certainly don’t want to protect one if you do: Typical homeowner’s insurance specifically states that it is not flood insurance, and FEMA flood insurance excludes a lot of what you might want covered, including basements, floor coverings, furniture and electronics. And a big problem that many Hurricane Irene victims are finding out is that their insurance doesn’t cover damage after sump pumps stop working thanks to a power outage.

2) Water is sneaky. In Rihanna’s case, one of the alleged responses to a balcony being improperly sloped was that it was under a deep overhang. But rain, as any homeowner learns to their peril, doesn’t just fall down: it flows sideways and slant-wise. To defend against that, potential homebuyers can attempt to run an inspection diagnostic where you take a garden house and water your target roof (or balcony) for an hour.

(MORE: How to Mend Your Home After Hurricane Irene)

3) A stitch in time … prevents major leaks. New homeowners should learn about their “flashing,” which is the technical term for the material that seals edges around openings. Flashing is often made of aluminum or copper — think of it as the metallic trim on the fabric of your house. Getting a roofer out once a year to inspect the flashing on your roof and windows can save a lot of heartache later on.

4) Clean your gutters in the spring and fall. That sounds very Martha Stewart, but gutters are a key component of the drainage system of a house — and the drainage system doesn’t work when it’s full of leaves and branches. If you suddenly find it to be raining inside, a clogged gutter is probably your number one culprit.

5) Decide what you can live with. Leaks cost money, but so does making property leak-resistant, so you have to calculate your risks. When I bought my beach house, I was told by the inspector that I needed some foundation regrading (to make the ground slope away from the house) and French drains (to keep the ground around the house from staying saturated as the water table rose). That sounded like $20,000 worth of work, so I didn’t do it. A couple of years later, I had a bad flood — and cleanup and demolding cost about, you guessed it, $20,000.