Floods are the single most common natural disaster in the United States.
In fact, 90 percent of all the nation’s natural disasters include flooding. Yet the typical homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy doesn’t include flood coverage. That’s why it can be a good idea to purchase flood insurance, regardless of whether you live in a high-risk flood zone.
Insurify can help you find the right homeowners insurance package for your needs and budget. Compare quotes from several American insurance companies—and even unlock discounts—before you even start thinking about flood insurance.
What is flood insurance and what does it cover?
Flood insurance covers property owners’ personal property and possessions for direct physical losses caused by flood-related problems—not just storm-related floods but also floods caused by things like dam failures. To qualify as a flood for insurance purposes, the water must cover at least two acres or affect at least two different properties; only in these cases can you make a flood insurance claim.
The typical flood insurance policy covers up to $250,000 of physical damage to the home and up to $100,000 for the personal possessions inside the home. However, be aware that while the home coverage is calculated on a replacement cost basis, the personal possession coverage is calculated on an actual cost value basis.
Replacement cost means that the insurance policy will pay to rebuild or replace the structure to the same condition it was in before the flood, even if that’s more than the building was presently worth. Actual cost value, on the other hand, means the policy will only cover personal possessions up to their actual value at the time of the flood.
Flood insurance policies also have deductibles, which is the amount you’re responsible for covering before the flood policy kicks in. The lower your deductible, the higher your premiums for the insurance will be. If your mortgage lender requires you to get flood insurance, they may also set a deductible requirement.
Where to get flood insurance
Until recently, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—was the only source of flood insurance coverage. It’s now possible to buy comparable flood insurance coverage from private insurance companies in a few states. The main benefit of buying from a private insurance company as opposed to the federal government is that you can set higher coverage limits than the $250,000/$100,000 coverage level supported by the NFIP.
Individuals can’t buy insurance directly from the NFIP; you’ll need to go through a participating insurance agent to get a policy. If you choose to get flood insurance from a private insurance company, you can likely do so either through an insurance agent or directly from the company.
Be aware that there’s a waiting period between the day you buy the policy and the day coverage actually kicks in. NFIP policies always have a 30-day waiting period. Private insurance companies usually have a shorter, 14-day waiting period, but confirm this with the insurer before you buy the policy. (To learn more about the NFIP, visit www.floodsmart.gov.)
How much does flood insurance cost?
The average annual cost of an NFIP policy is about $700 per year, but the price of your own flood insurance policy will vary depending on where your home is located and a few other factors.
FEMA will set your flood insurance premiums based on whether you’re in a designated flood zone. You can still get flood insurance coverage if you’re outside of a flood zone, and your premiums will be considerably lower. Other factors that may affect your flood insurance premiums include your home’s age, its size, and how many occupants it has.
FEMA is currently redesigning its flood insurance system to consider flood risk factors other than community location, such as local levels of hurricane rainfall and distance to the nearest large body of water. The agency will announce its new rates in April 2020, and they’ll go into effect starting in October 2020. The changes are expected to increase rates for more valuable homes and those in the highest risk areas while decreasing rates for homes with a low risk of flooding.
Some cities and towns have joined FEMA’s Community Rating System, which means they’ve agreed to go above and beyond the agency’s minimum standards for communities located in floodplains. If your home is located in a community that’s a member of the CRS, you’ll likely be eligible for a discount on your flood insurance premiums.
Certain alterations that can protect your home from flood damage may also reduce your flood insurance premiums.
The most significant (and expensive) way to protect your home from floods is to have it elevated above the “base flood elevation,” which is the expected flood level for your area. You’ll also need to elevate machinery such as electrical and air conditioning equipment above that base flood elevation line.
Another option is to have your foundation retrofitted with enough flood vents to meet FEMA’s floodplain requirements.
Finally, homes that are located in a floodplain and have basements or subgrade crawlspaces will be hit with as much as a 20% increase on their flood insurance premiums; thus, removing such a crawlspace can help significantly with flood insurance rates.
The flood insurance marketplace is currently undergoing a significant shakeup, between the arrival on the scene of private insurance companies and the changes to how FEMA will set its premiums. If you need flood insurance, then during the next few years it will be especially important to get new flood insurance quotes on a regular basis to be sure you’re getting the best possible price for your coverage.