Updated June 29, 2021
Reading time: 6 minutes
Here's our guide to the cost of coverage, how it works, and what you can expect.
California is known for endless outdoor adventures. With beautiful beaches, mountains, valleys, lakes, and mesmerizing deserts, California gives homeowners many reasons to love the Golden State. But there’s a natural disaster you can’t escape, no matter where you live in the state: flooding.
Flooding is the number one natural disaster in the United States, and California is no exception. From storms, heavy rain, and tsunamis along the coast to flash floods throughout the desert areas, most of the state is prone to floods.
There isn’t a single county that hasn’t been declared a flood disaster multiple times over. It’s best for homeowners in California to understand flood insurance costs, coverage options, and requirements before disaster strikes.
And if you’re looking for a California homeowners insurance policy, use Insurify to compare homeowners insurance quotes. It only takes a few minutes to see how much you could save by updating your existing policy or purchasing a policy for your new home.
You might think your homeowners insurance would cover flood damage. However, even the best home insurance companies exclude damage from flooding. Renters insurance also omits flooding as a covered peril. To protect your home and your personal belongings from water damage, you must purchase a separate flood insurance policy.
Flood insurance is a coverage option many California homeowners should consider due to the increased risk of flooding throughout the state. It may even be required.
For instance, government-backed mortgage programs, such as FHA loans, expect you to purchase flood insurance if your home is in a high-risk flood area. Some lenders can also require you to have a policy even if you don’t live in a high-risk flood zone.
Flood insurance is meant to offer property coverage — dwelling, other structure, and personal property— for you damage resulting from a flood. FEMA defines a flood as a “complete or partial inundation of two or more acres of land, from inland or tidal waters; or from a rapid accumulation of surface waters from any source; or mudflow.”
Whether you need flood insurance in California depends on where you live and the flood risk for that area.
If you buy a house in a high-risk flood zone, there’s a good chance you’ll need a flood policy. But keep in mind that nearly 25 percent of flood insurance claims are from low- to moderate-risk areas. Even though you may not “need” a policy, consider purchasing one for the peace of mind of knowing your property and belongings are protected.
Your local real estate agent may be able to tell you which neighborhoods require flood insurance. You can also contact your insurance agent to ask about flood insurance or call the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP ) Help Center at phone number 1 (800) 427-4661 to ask for an agent referral.
Thousands of miles of streams, rivers, lakes, and coastline put many California areas at risk of flooding.
However, State-Federal levees, such as the one in the Central Valley, are human-made devices that put 17 counties in a high-risk area. Known as the Levee Flood Protection Zone, the state recommends homeowners in this area obtain flood insurance.
Here’s a guide to California flood zones:
Zones A, AE, AH, AO, and A99 are Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA). They’re part of the 100-year floodplain and have a 25 percent or higher risk of flooding at some point during a 30-year mortgage term.
Zones B and C are moderate risk and are not required to have flood insurance.
Zone X is a minimal-risk zone. Low-risk areas in Zone X are part of the 500-year floodplain and are also not required to have flood insurance.
To determine which zone you’re in, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ) provides California ’s flood map, also known as the Flood Insurance Rate Map. FEMA ’s Flood Map Service Center is the official online tool to locate your flood zone.
When you buy flood insurance coverage, you get added protection for your home and contents coverage for the personal property inside your home.
If floodwaters rise in your neighborhood, you can generally expect your policy to cover:
Your home’s structure and detached garages
Cabinets, paneling, and built-in bookcases
Carpeting and window treatments
Essential systems, such as electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning
Appliances, including the food within refrigerators and freezers
Furniture, electronics, clothing, and other personal belongings
Original artwork, furs, and other valuable items
For flood insurance to kick in, a flood must directly cause the loss. According to FloodSmart.gov, a flood is an excess of water on normally dry land that affects at least two acres or properties. If those conditions aren’t met, flood insurance won’t cover the damage.
However, even if flooding is the direct cause, most policies do not cover:
Damage that could have been avoided
Damage to trees, decks, and fences
Cars and other vehicles
Temporary housing and additional living expenses
Personal property left in basements
The Insurance Information Institute (III) found the national average flood insurance premium was $642 per year in 2019.
Because California is prone to flooding, rates tend to be higher. On average, flood insurance in the Golden State costs just over $800 per year.
Like most things in life, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all flood insurance policy. How much you’ll pay depends on your home and the flood risk in your area. You could also pay a higher or lower rate based on the deductible you choose for your policy. Generally, higher deductibles can lower your premiums and save you money on your flood insurance policy.
According to the III, California has over 214,000 active flood insurance policies. The NFIP from the federal government provides most policies, and you’re eligible to purchase a policy from the flood insurance program if you’re in a participating community.
You can also buy what’s called a write your own (WYO) policy from a private insurer. Private flood insurance typically has more options to customize your policy.
Government flood insurance is available as a policy from the NFIP. NFIP policies are typically sold through private insurers, such as AAA and Allstate.
You can purchase a policy based on replacement cost value (RCV) or actual cost value (ACV). To find a local flood insurance provider in California, visit FloodSmart.gov.
Private flood insurance is available in California. Many property owners may prefer to get their policies through a private insurer. Luckily, California has many participating WYO companies to choose from.
You can choose primary flood insurance similar to an NFIP policy. Private insurers also offer excess flood insurance to supplement a primary policy purchased from the government or private companies.
Remember that private insurance companies come with waiting periods unique to the policy. While waiting periods are standard, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 30 days for your policy to be in effect. Your private insurer may also have exclusions not seen in government policies. For example, a private insurer may not cover mudflows.
Flood insurance is expensive, so finding any way to save on your home insurance is worth it. Luckily, there are several ways to save:
Bundling your home insurance with an auto insurance policy. If your insurance provider offers many insurance product, you may be able to earn more savings by bundling more policies.
Raising your deductible lowers your premium costs. Just don’t raise it so high that you can’ afford the deductible in the event of a claim.
Install a sump pump, to reduce the risk of flooding in your basement
Grading your lawn so water flows away from your home reduces the risk of flood and can lower your insurance costs.
Installing water-proof windows and doors lowers the risk of water damage in these areas.
Installing a flood gate, though expensive, can better protect your home and lower your insurance rate.
Regularly comparing home insurance quotes can help you take advantage of rate changes and lower your costs without any additional cost.
Most flood insurance policies won’t let you file a claim right away. Generally, policies aren’t effective until 30 days after their purchase. There’s an exception if you buy a home in a high-risk area using a federally regulated lender. In that case, you can bypass the 30-day waiting period, and your policy will take effect immediately.
FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides most flood insurance policies throughout the United States. You’re eligible to purchase an NFIP policy if you live in a participating community. However, you can also purchase flood insurance from a private insurer.
Flood insurance isn’t just for property owners. Renters can purchase flood insurance, too. If you have renters insurance, you’ll need separate flood insurance coverage to protect your personal property in the event of a flood.
Amy is a personal finance and technology writer. With a background in the legal field and a bachelor's degree from Ferris State University, she has a talent for transforming complex topics into content that’s easy to understand. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.Learn More