Is my house in a flood zone? Well, there are many different ways you can find out. This is critical information whether you're buying, selling, or planning additional construction on a piece of land. Whether or not the property is in a flood zone can have significant implications on what you can and can't do. It also poses a financial and safety risk.
Here's an overview of how to find out if your house is in a flood zone, what flood zoning resources are available, and how real estate investors can protect themselves from flood risks.
How to find out if your property is in a flood zone
The best place to start is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, where you can search by address to view your particular parcel of land. This portal may seem overwhelming, but it's easier than you think. Type in a location or address and zoom into a particular parcel of the flood map, click on it, and you'll get an informative legend with all the details of that FEMA flood zone. For instance:
As you can see on this flood zone map, this particular plot may have some flood zone hazard associated with it, as it's designated AE. As you read through the different codes and zones within your map area, consult FEMA's glossary of terms if you need more information.
There are a number of different flooding zone classifications that categorize areas based on the likelihood of storms causing flooding in that particular area. Zones B, X, and C are considered low risk, whereas A or V zones are classified as high risk. V zones are coastal areas. The higher risk zones are classified as such because there is a 1% probability of flooding every year.
One of the more important terms you need to understand is Base Flood Elevation (BFE). This is a flood elevation, calculated by FEMA, to which floodwaters can be anticipated to rise during a flood event. This is important because it will dictate the flood-proofing of your structure and the elevation of your building.
Let's take an A flood zone as an example. This is considered a high-risk flood zone by FEMA and is typical of properties close to rising bodies of water. If you have a property on any type of A flood zone (there are many different A categories), then the following requirements apply to you:
- The lowest-floor elevation must be equal to or higher than the BFE.
- Anything enclosed in a structure below the BFE cannot be a living space.
- HVAC, electrical, and plumbing services must be at or above the BFE.
Next, you will need to find your local jurisdiction's guidelines and rules on flood zones. The municipality you reside in will have its own flood plain information and guidelines that you will need to digest. For instance, in Pinellas County, Florida, there are specific guidelines concerning the elevation certificate you need to obtain prior to building in any flood zone.
You can also consult tax and title records through your local municipality, which typically contains flood zone details of each property. Further, you can consult a local insurance broker to get a better understanding of your flood event risks and the specific requirements for that property.
Consider flood insurance
The federal government offers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that subsidizes flood insurance policy premiums for a property owner. The average annual NFIP premium is $700, but this can vary significantly depending on the type of flood plain you reside in. Keep in mind that if you are in a high-risk flood zone, flood zone insurance is mandatory.
The power of insurance is always to reduce risk and cover liability. Flood zone insurance is no different for flood loss. If you have any risk of flood damage, most home insurance policies do not cover this, so you should consider a separate policy, such as the NFIP.
Does being in a flood zone affect a home's price?
Yes, it can. There are many factors to take into consideration, but the higher your flood zone risk, the less you can do with the property and the higher your insurance premiums. There are dozens of factors that contribute to a valuation of a property, and if you live in a high flood-risk zone, you could see downward pressure on home prices.
Glossary of important flood zone terms
As you can tell, a lot of these different terms and categories can be confusing. This is why it's important to consult with a local professional, such as an insurance adjuster, before you purchase a property in a flood zone. Here are some of the more critical terms from FEMA related to flood zones that you can use as a guide.
Base flood: The 1% chance, or 100-year flood, adopted by the NFIP as the basis for mapping,
insurance rating, and regulating new construction.
Coastal high-hazard area: That part of the coastal flood plain where the wave heights during
the base flood will be three feet or more.
FIRM: Flood Insurance Rate Map. An official flood map of a community on which the Federal
Insurance Administration has delineated both the Special Flood Hazard Areas and the risk
premium zones applicable to the community.
Flood plain: Any land area susceptible to being inundated by flood waters from any source.
Post- and Pre-FIRM building: For insurance rating purposes, a post-FIRM building was constructed or substantially improved after December 31, 1974, or after the effective date of the initial Flood Insurance Rate Map of a community, whichever is later. A pre-FIRM building was constructed or substantially improved on or before December 31, 1974.
Zone B: Moderate flood hazard area.
Zone C: Minimal flood hazard area.
Zone D: Undetermined but possible flood hazard area.
Zone V: The Special Flood Hazard Area subject to coastal high-hazard flooding.
The bottom line
Although it can be at times complicated, understanding whether your house is in a flood zone is a critical ability for real estate investors to master. Buying a building lot or rental property without first consulting the flooding resources can be a financial and safety risk.
Resources are available, including FEMA's comprehensive flooding map as well as local government websites with guidance on bylaws and requirements for building or renovating in a flood zone.
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