Environmental cost of flood recovery

Project date
  • Publication
  • Research
North West England
Cumbria Action for Sustainability
Associated team members
Associated documents

In summer 2017 we were awarded a research contract led by Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) as part of their Rebuilding Together project, funded by the Big Lottery. The research evaluated the environmental cost of the current industry response to refurbishment after flooding. 

The aims of the study were to:

  • Develop an understanding of the drivers of current practice around post-flood clean-up and property refurbishment following flooding; and
  • To identify opportunities for the development of more environmentally sustainable and cost-effective practices. 

As part of this research we undertook reviews of current and best practice, running a workshop with industry and understanding the experience of householders affected. 

The work was part of the Rebuilding Together project which is being managed by Cumbria CVS. This wider programme aims to increase the resilience and sustainability of communities and third sector organisations across Cumbria. CAfS and Cumbria CVS are also working with ACTion with Communities in Cumbria (ACT).


Image by Gavin Lynn, reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0.

Project blog

13.10.2017, 11:52
Defra studies on Property Level Flood Protection

The following reports/guidance notes have been brought to our attention, and are interesting reading in the context of the resistance and resilience sections of the report. Published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in 2014 they cover:


Click on the links above to download the reports. 

25.09.2017, 11:43
Report available now

The final report is now available which you can download here


Extract from executive summary

It is perhaps obvious to state that the environmental costs of a flood event are huge, with this evident on every street affected in the immediate aftermath. At a household level the most significant impacts are the amount of waste created through disposal of flood damaged items and the strip out of sodden building materials, the increased fuel used to dry out properties, and the materials and energy needed to reinstate properties and make them homes again. We have made an attempt in this report to approximately quantify this impact, finding that:

  • Waste to landfill from flood affected homes is roughly equivalent to total annual residual household waste from a typical household in one year
  • Energy used for drying processes may add around 3 tonnes, or one third, to the average home’s annual carbon emissions.
  • Materials used in refurbishment, coupled with the replacement of items like appliances, add significantly to embodied impacts. A replacement set of kitchen appliances adds around one tonne in embodied carbon.


Transport of materials and labour adds further to these impacts.
We found evidence that whilst some of these impacts may be unavoidable, there is significant scope to reduce impacts through better processes in carrying out restoration work.


  • In strip out, materials and items are often be removed unnecessarily, due to a poorly developed understanding of the existing building context or the potential for retention and restoration. For example, solid wood floors are often stripped, but with careful cleaning and drying it may be possible to retain them. Walls with flood resilient renders and plasters are stripped, ‘just to be sure’. Solid wood furniture is disposed of because of a lack understanding or resources for refurbishment.
  • There is a limited understanding of the potential for unintended consequences of drying processes, that may result in further avoidable damage to existing materials, and therefore requiring a greater degree of strip out.
  • The extent of refurbishment required is greatly affected by what has gone before, but there is often additional waste created where poor quality work has to be redone, or by not considering and integrating resilience measures at an appropriate time. This in addition to the high levels of waste prevalent in the construction industry in the disposal of unused or damaged building materials.
05.09.2017, 15:26
Report launch

As we approach the end of our research into the environmental cost of flood recovery we can confirm that our findings and the report will be launched on the morning of Thursday 21st September in Cockermouth. We hope you will be able to join us to discuss the findings.

The launch forms part of the Cumbria Green Build Festival and you can book here.

You might also be interested in the tour of the Castle Street Community Centre in Kendal on the 18th September (1-2pm). Led by Emma at CAfS, the tour of the building will look at how the centre incorporated resilience measures so that they could re-open within a few weeks. Further details here

We hope to see you on the 21st. 

03.08.2017, 16:43

On Tuesday 1st August we held a workshop at the council chamber at Allerdale Borough Council in Workington. Around 20 people from various parts of the flood recovery process in Cumbria attended. The county suffers from repeat and extensive flood events, most recently in the winter of 2015/2016. 

The aim of the workshop was to share experiences of flood recovery and post-flood refurbishment work, and in particular the industry response and guidance provided to householders. Attendees ranged from those providing support and assistance to householders, or who were directly involved in the post-flood refurbishment works. This is part of our research project to better understand the environmental cost of the work undertaken, and to develop an understanding of opportunities for best practice.

We'll be using the learning from the workshop to shape our final report, alongside case studies from affected householders. The report will be launched during Cumbria Green Build Festival (run by CAfS) in the week of the 18th to 24th September, further details to follow.