Boulder Flood Lessons

Having lived in Vancouver, London, Edinburgh and New Zealand, it is ironic that I haven’t had to face water damage until I moved to Colorado!

I’ve had six incidents in Boulder – four last week.

Here’s what I learned.

Whether you are a renter, owner or landlord… spending a few hundred bucks, now, will save you thousands of dollars later.

Go buy your flood prevention kit.

Many locals didn’t stand a chance – older houses in a flood zones were completely submerged, or washed away. However, some people made great decisions and saved themselves from significant property damage.


Sand bags and cinder blocks are cheap. If you have an inward sloping driveway then get yourself a dozen of each and lay them out when you hear the flash flood warning. This is at least a 100:1 return on investment.

Your next line of defense is a 1/3rd horsepower submersible pump, portable generator and 100 ft of 1.5 inch flexible pipe. If you don’t need to save your own stuff then it will make you a neighborhood hero. A few hundred of these in Boulder (ten days ago) would have saved us millions.

If you don’t have a submersible pump then you can take the pump from an evaporative cooler, attach it to a garden hose and place it on top of a dinner plate. It won’t save you from a large flood but it might buy you enough time to sand bag your hot water tank and furnace.

I rent to a bunch of college kids that saved my HVAC equipment with dirt-filled grocery bags and a shop vac. They will be getting a large credit on their October rent!

Even if you think “it’s only rain water,” remember that flood water is poopy water! You can visit YouTube to see college kids enjoying their four-day weekend by tubing in sewage.

Hip waders, rubber gloves and a respirator might seem like overkill but will keep you safe. Last Friday night I was up to my knees in who-knows-what wearing flip flops and board shorts. Following my exposure, I had a rash and lot of little cuts that took a long time to heal. That night, I was so tired that I slept in my clothes. In the morning, my wife was thrilled. At least I washed my hands.

If your carpet/wall gets soaked then bite the bullet and rip it out. Replacing carpet and drywall is cheap relative to the nightmare of mold mitigation. Wet carpet is heavy – use a serrated knife to cut it into pieces that are easy to carry out.

Eventually, I got myself work boots, full body coverage and a disposable N100 mask (N95 doesn’t protect you from airborne nasties).

The next step was fans and dehumidifiers running continuously. A step ladder and a garden hose will let gravity drain your dehumidifier into a sump, or bathroom.

Once everything was dry, I shop vac’d (used an internal bag) and did two treatments of bleach (1 part) mixed with water (2 parts). I sprayed the bleach treatment with a portable garden sprayer. I should have had a respirator as my N100 mask let vapors through. Bleach spray doesn’t go well with eyes so wear protection and turn the fans off when you lay down the treatment. After spraying, turn the fans on and get the heck out of there.

$500 will get you all of the above – that’s half of my insurance deductible (per incident).


What else did I learn?

If you live at the bottom of a 10-mile wide, 7,000-foot high funnel then stuff will happen.

Every single mountain road that I ride (and love) has been damaged. The pictures from the canyons show the devastating power of fast water.

12 inches of water can kill you. The saddest story was the death of a two teenagers that stepped out of their car and were immediately swept away. The couple died near a favorite running spot in North Boulder. If you can’t see the lines on the road then turn around.

Good government and strict urban planning make a difference. Given the amount of water that came out of the Rockies, Boulder came out well. The city, county and state governments did an outstanding job of co-ordinating our first responders. The planners should be proud of how well decades of work held up.

A reminder to myself as a property investor – flood zones are easily avoided. While it’s wonderful to live beside water, a better decision might be to overlook.

I received questions about my personal situation – we were very lucky. Our house is protected by a knoll that diverted the runoff. There was extensive damage one block in every direction from us.

Take action early.

Early mitigation is cheap.