Is My House in a Flood Zone? Search FEMA Flood Map by Address and So Much More
August 25, 2021 by Julia Weaver
Considering all that’s happening with climate change and the potential risk it brings to homeowners, you may be wondering if your house is in a flood zone. Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, looking to sell a vacation home, or simply a homeowner looking for some answers, you have the right and responsibility to find out.
Flooding is one of the most expensive natural disasters, causing damage to not only your house’s structure but your belongings. In fact, if your home floods just one inch, the damage can cost you upwards of $25,000. Flood damage can result from many environmental factors, such as hurricanes, a breached dam, severe storms, over-saturated ground from overflowing rivers, lakes, oceans, and more.
Whether you’re living in Vancouver, BC, or Miami, FL, floods can happen anywhere, and the number of homes at risk of flooding increases every year. However, many people across the nation aren’t sure what flood zone their home, or prospective home, is in and if they’re truly at risk. We’ll walk through how to check your home’s flood zone, what the different flood zones mean, and what you need to know if you’re buying or selling a house in a flood zone.
Check FEMA’s flood map to find out if your house is in a flood zone
To start, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center, a tool that displays information such as flood zones, floodways, and your home’s risk level. Type in a property’s address, and a map showing its flood zone will appear. As you’re analyzing the map, it’s important to remember that just part of the home’s lot could be in the flood zone. FEMA’s flood zone classifications range from low-risk to high-risk areas. Zones B, X, and C are low-risk flood zones, while A or V are high-risk flood zones. Let’s dive into what the different flood zones mean.
What do the different flood zones mean?
Zones with a letter grade of A or V are considered high-risk areas, while areas with letter grades of B, C, or X are considered low to moderate risk zones. FEMA has numerous flood zone classifications. Here are the most common flood zones and what they mean:
Zone AE is a newer version of what used to be zones A1-A30. These zones represent areas with a 1% chance of flooding each year, for which BFEs have been determined. Flood insurance is mandatory in these zones.
An area with a 1% chance of flooding each year, with the probability of 1 to 3 feet of water that pools in areas. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, the likelihood of a flood is 26%. This is a zone where flood insurance is mandatory with BFEs at selected intervals.
This zone is specific to properties located near a river or stream. Areas in this zone still have a 1% chance of flooding each year with a 26% chance of flooding over the course of a 30-year mortgage. Flood depths range from 1 to 3 feet, resulting in Zone AO requiring flood insurance.
An area with increased flood risk where temporary flood insurance is required. This area will be protected from the 1% annual chance flood by a federal flood protection system actively building or restoring a flood control system such as a levee or dam.
An area protected upon completion of an under-construction federal flood protection system like a dam or levee. This zone still has a 1% chance of flooding each year and is a required flood insurance zone.
This zone is designed to catch all other risk areas that are not defined by other flood zones. Zone D indicates a possible risk of flooding, but the hazard level is undetermined.
Coastal areas inundated by 1% chance of flooding. This zone doesn’t have BFEs, but is considered high-risk with mandatory flood insurance requirements. Over the course of a 30-year mortgage, the likelihood of a flood is 26%.
Coastal areas are subject to a 1% chance of flooding per year, with additional hazards due to storm-induced velocity wave action. BFEs are determined in this zone. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements and floodplain management standards apply.
X (shaded), B
This is a moderate risk flood zone with a chance of a flood somewhere between the 100-year and 500-year mark. These areas are typically protected by levees or have shallow flooding areas. Zone B is being replaced with shaded zone X on new flood insurance rate maps (FIRMs).
X (unshaded, C
Zone C and Zone X are low-risk areas with a .2% chance of an annual flood. These zones usually have minimal flooding, though there may be some ponding or local drainage problems. Zone X in particular is considered to be outside of the 500-year flood area and is protected from the 100-year flood by a levee. Zone C is being replaced with unshaded zone X on new FIRMs.
*Base Flood Elevation (BFE): The elevation of surface water resulting from a flood has a 1% chance of equaling or exceeding that level in any given year.
It’s important to note that just because your home is not in a designated flood zone doesn’t mean flooding won’t happen. In fact, 20% of flood claims each year come from areas that are low risk. This is partly because flooding is so unpredictable and can be the result of several factors, such as thawing snow, burst pipes, hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, construction issues, and more.
What to know about buying a home in a flood zone
For almost everyone, finding out a home you’ve fallen in love with is in a high-risk flood zone can be a little heartbreaking. Sure, buying a home in a flood zone comes with additional risks, but it’s not a total deal-breaker. However, there are some things to consider that make the process a little different than buying a house in a low-risk flood zone, including:
Flood disclosure requirements
In the United States, there is no federal law that says home sellers are required to disclose information about a property’s flood risk or previous flood damage to prospective home buyers. However, 29 states do have flood disclosure requirements. This means, depending on where the property is located, it may be in your hands to research the flood risk of a property by visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Map Service Center.
The general rule of thumb is that a home seller should never hide material facts about a home from prospective buyers regardless of state laws. Some states do have a specific form sellers use to disclose any known issues that could impact the safety or value of the home.
Flood insurance requirements
Even if your home is not in a high-risk flood zone, you should consider getting flood insurance. For example, should your home flood just one inch, the damage can cost you upwards of $25,000. Your mortgage lender may require you to have flood insurance coverage even if your home is located in a moderate-to-low-risk area. While you can purchase flood insurance at any time, note that it won’t take effect until 30 days after you’ve paid your premium.
Homeowners with property in a high-risk flood zone can obtain coverage through a private flood insurance plan or through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a program that covers nearly 5 million policyholders nationwide. NFIP is funded and backed by the federal government, which FEMA oversees. However, NFIP coverage isn’t available everywhere. Find out if your insurance provider participates in NFIP, or simply call your provider to inquire about adding flood insurance to your homeowner’s policy. Let’s look at the differences between the two options:
Private Flood Insurance
Max rebuild cost
Typically up to $500,000 or higher
All 50 states
May only offer coverage in higher-risk areas
Elevation certificate required
Actual cash value
Loss avoidance coverage
Home values impacted by flood zones
Now, you may be wondering if property value can be negatively impacted if it’s in a high-risk flood zone. The short answer is yes. However, homeowners can offset this and protect the home from flooding by implementing a few strategies, such as purchasing flood insurance, installing a sump pump, investing in flood sensors, and adding barriers around your home.
What to know about selling a home in a flood zone
Real estate disclosures and flood zones
Real estate disclosures, or a seller disclosure, is a set of documents answered by the seller of a home, listing any known issues with the property and any remodel projects completed during the time they owned the home. All states have laws regarding real estate disclosures and documents that provide details about a property’s condition that might negatively impact its value. However, as mentioned above, the specific laws regarding previous flooding information and flood zone status vary state by state.
Strategies for selling a house in a flood zone
It’s true that some buyers may not be willing to take on the risk of living in a flood zone. However, there are some strategies to make your home more attractive to those on the fence:
- Adjust sale price based on flood zone and the local housing market. Work with your real estate agent on a pricing strategy to determine a competitive sale price and get buyers through the door.
- Be sure to mention if your home has never flooded. Request a copy of a free report showing your past seven years of insurance claims history through the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). This may help put potential buyers at ease and give them peace of mind if they’re hesitant about making an offer.
- Offer to cover the insurance bill. Another option is to offer to cover the flood insurance costs for a year as an incentive to buy the home. This can be done through an adjustment to the purchase price or as a credit at closing.
- Ask about the Community Rating System. The Community Rating System is an optional incentive program that encourages community-wide initiatives to reduce flooding. Communities enrolled in the program may be eligible for discounted flood insurance.
- Order a certificate of elevation. A potential buyer may be required to present the elevation certificate to their insurance agency as well as their lender. The certificate describes the risk a property would be at if a major flood were to occur and if the property is above the height of estimated floodwaters.
Reduce flood risk with home improvements
There are many ways to reduce the risk of flood damage, and not all of them are difficult or expensive. To appeal to more buyers, consider these home improvements and renovations:
- Elevate your home. Raise the first floor of your house by just one foot above base flood elevation, and you could see a 30% reduction in annual flood insurance premiums, according to FEMA. It’s important to note that a project like this, on average, costs about $47,500.
- Elevate major appliances. Save yourself and future buyers from an additional flood insurance surcharge by relocating your appliances, water heater, HVAC system, and furnace to an elevated platform.
- Reduce the risk of sitting water by adding vents in the crawl space. Water and moisture can cause costly structural damage to your foundation. If your home is ever to flood, vents in the crawl space will allow any water that enters the crawl space to exit back out. Sitting water can damage your foundation so it’s important to properly maintain a crawlspace to prevent costly repairs in the future. Vents in the crawl space allow water to flow freely in and out of the enclosure, reducing the risk of structural issues in the event of flooding.
- Add barriers or sandbags around your home. Beams, levees, and flood walls can reduce the risk of flood water entering your home. Be sure to research whether your local building codes permit barriers around your home. If permanent barriers aren’t an option, you can always add sandbags around your home to create a protective wall for added protection.
- Install an automatic shutoff valve and check valve. An automatic shutoff valve installed near the primary water inlet in your house can help reduce the risk of major flood damage to your home. When a battery-powered flood sensor is activated, it turns off the main water supply. You can also install a check valve in plumbing to prevent flood water from backing up into your drains.
- Be proactive and invest in flood sensors. Flood sensors are placed in several locations throughout your home and will notify you the moment water is detected where it shouldn’t be. It will also alert you of other events that can cause water damage, like a burst pipe or overflowing sink.
- Install a battery-powered sump pump. A sump pump is designed to remove water that has accumulated in your basement and out of your home to a dry well or storm drain. It can cost about $1,200 to install a sump pump but it’s a solid investment to minimize flood damage.