Flooding: recovering from damage

A show of resilience

22 February 2019

The Cumbria Flood Resilience Showcase Project has made the most of donated supplies to refit 2 properties damaged in recent flooding, as Mary Dhonau describes

The Cumbria Flood Resilience Showcase Project aimed to make 2 properties into showcases for innovative resilience measures, and demonstrate to householders and business owners what can be done to reduce the devastation that flooding can cause.

The project was funded by private business together with the Environment Agency, and jointly managed by the agency, environmental services firm Adler and Allan, Business in the Community, the Building Research Establishment (BRE), Carlisle City Council and the Prince’s Trust. I spearheaded the work. The project was also task group 1 of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA)’s roundtable Property Resilience Action Plan, and more showcases are in the pipeline.

The issue of flooding is close to the hearts of many in the Cumbrian region, and indeed to mine; I have had the appalling experience of being flooded on several occasions. Our focus was to show how people could get back into their homes or businesses more quickly after a flood. We tried to keep the water out of the properties but also acknowledged that, after a major flood, it could still get in, so we used materials that would recover more quickly.

The focus of the project was to show how people can get back into their home or business more quickly after a flood

When I began the project in July 2017, I initially had to find some properties that had still not been repaired, some 19 months after the most recent flood event, and though it took me a while I got there. The 1st thing I did was to ask specialist surveyors to view these properties, conduct surveys and advise me on the way forward. They kindly gave their time and expertise for free, and I would like to express my gratitude to RAB Consultants, Trident, Cunningham Lindsey and BRE for supporting the project. Using their reports, I was able to identify what materials and products were needed to make the properties flood-resilient, and then set about my big ask: my remit for the project was to get all the required materials and services for free.

Our 1st property, Botcherby Community Centre in Carlisle, was badly flooded during Storm Desmond in December 2015. When I originally visited it in July 2017, it had been more or less put back to normal except for the kitchen, which was still a shell. We decided to use property flood resilience products on all the doors, airbricks and some low windows to the front. We carried out some maintenance to the kitchen’s external brickwork as well.

I was extremely grateful to Steelplan Kitchens for agreeing to donate a complete kitchen to the project. A team of specialist builders, RTC from Blackpool, came to make the kitchen structure resilient before installation of the kitchen, and the company owner Andrew Bradshaw allowed me to video the process for our bespoke YouTube channel, telling me what he was doing and why. I had decided that, instead of producing a lengthy written report we would record the whole process, enabling homeowners and professionals alike to access how-to videos. I also produced an e-magazine, which detailed the journey we took on both properties.

RTC used materials supplied free of charge by Safeguard Europe, which also allowed me to interview 1 of its scientists. During that week, the community centre was buzzing with activity, as all the companies kindly donating products arrived together – Flood Technologies, Lakeside Flood Solutions, the Flood Company, Flood Smart Systems and JT Atkinson. Again, we recorded the process and I interviewed all of them.

The community centre now has 2 sets of barriers to the back and boiler-room doors; flood-resistant windows to the front; and a normal-looking flood door and side panel to the side of the property.

The original airbricks have been replaced with a self-closing variety as well. RTC also applied Stormdry Masonry Protection Cream to the external brickwork of the kitchen area to waterproof it, helping provide some additional resistance to future flooding and protect the brickwork itself. The barrier to the front entrance will be fitted once an extension has been completed. We will also be helping the centre write an emergency plan to put into action if it receives a flood warning.

Residential resilience

Before any installations began at the 2nd property, the residential premises Edenside Barn, we worked with Aquobex and Oxford Brookes University to test the materials that I’d sourced for free in a small testing tank in Harwell. After a couple of tests, we decided to use polyurea donated by Adler and Allan, spraying it on internal walls to prevent water ingress.

Before application, we were visited by some DEFRA officials. As a demonstration some polyurea was sprayed on a purpose-built wall, and we then asked 1 of our visitors to take a lump hammer to the structure. Surprisingly, this caused no damage to the treated side, but the other side cracked – impressive stuff.

We asked a visitor to take a lump hammer to the structure: surprisingly, this caused no damage to the treated side, but the other side cracked

We used epoxy resin on the floor, kindly donated by Delta Membranes, and this went up to overlap the polyurea. A gypliner donated by British Gypsum was subsequently glued to the walls to support the closed-cell insulation from Kingspan, followed finally by Dragonboard.

All these materials tested well in the tank. We replaced the wooden room dividers with gypframe, again supplied by British Gypsum, and the same materials were applied to that. We had a flood-resilient kitchen shipped from Finland by a company called Puustelli – and once it was installed, I suffered from significant kitchen envy.

We finished the floors with porcelain tiles sold at cost by CTD Tiles, which also provided the waterproof adhesive free of charge. The property already had some flood barriers and, as these offered a higher level of protection – up to 0.9m – than the newer flood doors – 0.6m – Aquobex has refurbished them. The company also supplied a barrier to cover the heating matrix under the stairs.

Outside, quite a lot of the mortar had degraded, so this was made good using Delta Costa repair mortar supplied by Delta Membranes, and the walls were sprayed with nanoShell, which is a water-resistant, transparent breathable spray, also donated by Aquobex. A more detailed description of the work can be found in the electronic magazine.

The showcase was a huge learning curve for all involved. It was only made possible by donations from our major funders, with sponsorship from Axa, Flood Re and Barclays. It was my hope that once finished, Edenside Barn wouldn’t appear dissimilar to a non-resilient home, showing that flood-resilient repair needn’t look different or ugly. I wasn’t disappointed.

Mary Dhonau HonRICS is the founder of MDA Flood Resilience Consultants   

Further information