In past weeks, we have discussed our valley’s potential for earthquakes and landslides and options to remediate our homes in preparation for a disaster. This week we will consider another issue, namely flooding.

Even though we live in a desert, there is still a flood potential in our area. Certain areas, known as flood plains, are at greater risk for such problems. These are defined as areas near a river or stream that floods when water levels reach flood stage. However, in our deserts, even dry washes become sources for flooding when monsoon rains arrive.



A huge thunderstorm rolled through West Jordan and the Salt Lake Valley Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

Misty Redd, For the Deseret News


The residents of St. George and the surrounding cities understand this reality all too well. Recently, torrential rains have pelted the area, causing massive flooding, closing Zion National Park and Interstate 15 to Las Vegas.

While flooding is more common in southern Utah, a historic flood hit northern Utah in 1983. That excessively wet spring caused existing rivers to crest and overflow. The storm drainage system was equally overwhelmed and could not handle the canyon drainage. City Creek overran the pipes that had moved it below ground and turned State Street in Salt Lake City into a river.

Not all floods happen on such a grand scale. In each of our individual homes, we have to be smart about managing rainwater and averting potential localized floods.

• The first line of defense to water management is gutters and downspouts. Keep them in working order. Clean your gutters twice a year. When the leaves start falling off the trees, it is time to turn your attention to your gutters and downspouts. If your house doesn’t have rain gutters, install them. You should never go without the proper rain gutters and downspouts.

• Your roof is obviously a main line of defense against interior flooding or water damage. Fix any leaks or damage right away. If you ignore water problems, they will only get worse and will result in serious and expensive repairs.

• Yard landscaping is another important line of defense against water flooding your basement. Your yard should always have a positive slope away from the house. We all know that water flows with gravity and travels in the path of least resistance.

If your yard is sloping toward your house, you will have a channel of water collecting next to your foundation wall. Whether this water is from sprinklers or storms, it may end up inside the house if allowed to pool next to the foundation.

This happens when pressure from the water builds up in the soil and pushes into cracks or gaps in your foundation wall. This hydrostatic pressure can even cause basement cracks if left to its own devices.

• Snow can also cause basement flooding. If you push the snow up against your house, as it melts it will deposit water against the foundation wall. Proper management of your snow removal will eliminate this threat to your home.

• Proper basement waterproofing techniques should be installed when a house is built. Exterior waterproofing systems usually consists of waterproofing membranes or a waterproofing emulsion installed on the outside of your foundation wall.

These barriers should run continuously down the foundation wall and over the footing, as the joint between the wall and the footing is a common source for leaks. In addition, French drains (a perforated pipe) can be run along the footing of the foundation in an effort to drain water away from the perimeter of the house.

However, if you find you have a leaky basement, there are procedures to install an interior drainage system or to address the problem from the exterior. This involves excavating the soil next to the foundation and installing a waterproof membrane over the concrete foundation as it should have been done in the first place. Neither approach is easy or inexpensive, hence the above advice to prevent water from pooling near the house in the first place.

• As with checking on soil issues before you purchase a home, make sure you understand where it is in relation to existing flood plains. Flood insurance is available, but the cost and availability will vary depending on the location of the property.

Water can be quietly relentless and cause all kinds of problems. Select a home that is situated out of the path of natural or man-made drainage paths. Do your best to maintain your house. Keep your roof in good working order. Clean and maintain your gutters and downspouts. Fix drainage issues in your yard. Then when the winds blow and the storms rage, you can sleep peacefully, secure in the knowledge that your home will remain warm and dry.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at Send comments or questions to

Renovation Solutions: Guarding your house against floods