Floods are unpredictable hazards. You can experience flooding due to weather-related incidents like heavy rain or melting snow or just from an unexpected pipe burst. But once floods start, they can wreak havoc in a matter of minutes. That’s why, no matter the cause, it’s crucial for homeowners to secure adequate protection from flooding.

Since standard homeowners insurance doesn’t include flood protection, you’ll need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. Property owners can either secure private or federally backed flood coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Both options will provide necessary protections from flood costs; the policy you choose simply depends on your home’s flood zone and the amount of coverage you’re looking for.

Before you start your flood insurance search, you’ll need to know if your home is located in a floodplain. The best way to find this information, as well as to estimate your flood insurance costs, is with a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about flood maps, flood zones, and flood insurance to help you find the best policy for your needs. But if you’re looking for savings on home, car, or life insurance, Insurify can help you compare those rates, too! Check out comparison tools to save on your homeowners, auto, or life policies, and keep reading to learn how to identify your home’s flood risk

What Is a Flood Insurance Rate Map?

Before private flood insurance became a readily available option, most homeowners in need of flood insurance turned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for protection. FEMA established the NFIP to provide low-cost insurance to high-risk homes. 

Since every community and region has a different risk of flooding, FEMA established FIRMs to determine any given area’s flood risk and estimated insurance rates. You can access these flood maps through FEMA’s map service center. After inputting your address or community, you can view the FIRM for your chosen municipality.

At first glance, FIRMs can seem overwhelming and confusing. Don’t freak out—reading a FIRM is simple once you understand the information it’s showing you.

There are a few terms you’ll need to know in determining your home’s flood risk. First and most important, a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) is any area that has a one percent chance or higher of flooding in any given year. SFHAs are also commonly referred to as 100-year floodplains. FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps typically indicate SFHAs with blue shading. 

Within SFHAs, there are flood zone designations, which indicate low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk flood areas. High-risk flood zones begin with letters A and V, while lower-risk areas are marked B, C, and X. Keep in mind that low-risk doesn’t mean there is no risk, as nearly every home has some annual chance of flooding.

FIRMs also illustrate the base flood elevation (BFE) of the city you live in. Your BFE is the level floodwaters are expected to rise during a 100-year flood. This is especially important to homeowners who live in risk areas. If your home’s lowest floor falls below your BFE, it means your home has a high risk of sustaining flood damage. Most homeowners who live in risk zones are required to provide their home’s elevation certificate before obtaining a flood insurance policy for this reason.

Regional Differences in Flood Risk

It’s no secret that certain areas of the U.S. have higher flood risks than others. With coastal cities at risk of hurricanes and northern states facing brutal winters, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all flood map.

Because of this, FEMA has local floodplain administrators across the country who help with mapping and flood mitigation efforts. Any community that participates in the NFIP has a floodplain administrator to help FEMA and any community members in need of information or flood insurance assistance.

Some communities have their own flood maps for ease of access for their residents. Still, when it comes to finding your specific flood map and risk, there is no “Florida Flood Insurance Rate Map” or “Houston Flood Insurance Rate Map.” Each community works together with FEMA to compile and provide the necessary information to make FEMA’s FIRMs work. 

Determining Your Insurance Rates

Nearly 15 million homes are estimated to be in danger of flooding each year. Flood maps help homeowners ensure their humble abodes are protected. But they also help mortgage lenders to determine flood insurance requirements and insurance agents to decide how much it costs to insure any particular home.

This is why homeowners in high-risk areas are required to purchase flood insurance and why they pay some of the highest flood insurance premiums. 

High-risk homeowners used to only have one option for flood protection—FEMA’s NFIP. Now, homeowners can shop for competitive rates and higher levels of protection with private flood insurance companies. 

Still, it’s expensive to repair flood damage, and many insurers are going to charge high premiums to mitigate these high risks. So NFIP policies may still be the best option for those looking for basic protection at a low cost.

Homes located in low- and moderate-risk flood zones account for one in three flood insurance claims, so it’s still important to get protection even if you aren’t located in an SFHA. Plus, low-risk homes qualify for cheaper premiums with private flood insurers. Or homeowners with low and moderate risks can opt for the NFIP’s Preferred Risk Policies (PRPs), which also offer lower premiums in lower-risk flood zones.

Flood Insurance Rate Maps: The Bottom Line

The first step in protecting your home from risks is identifying potential hazards, from natural disasters to theft and vandalism. Go to floodsmart.gov to learn all about your home’s flood risk to make sure you have the protection you need before floodwaters start rising. Find flood hazard data, floodplain management information, tutorials, and more at fema.gov.

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Updated August 10, 2021

Jacklyn Walters is a freelance writer for Insurify. Jacklyn has a background in journalism and is passionate about informing and serving others through writing. In her spare time, Jacklyn enjoys running, practicing yoga, and writing music.