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Insurance companies determine flood insurance rates by examining the risk and the likelihood of paying out a claim on the insured property. Elevation certificates help insurers assess that risk.
The certificate documents the elevation of your home’s lowest floor, including the basement. Insurers compare that elevation to an estimated baseline flood height for your area to decide your risk level and set your rates.
Securing an elevation certificate requires less work than you may expect. This article will explain certificate details, cost, how to get one, and how it might affect your flood insurance.
A flood elevation certificate is a six-page form from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that documents your home’s elevation in great detail. You’ll need to hire a professional surveyor, architect, or engineer to survey the house and create one for you.
The form details the following information about your home:
Address and property description of its location
The size of the basement, crawl space, or foundation enclosure and its number of openings
Size of garage and its number and type of flood openings
Height of other floors, decks, and stairs of your home
Grade height of land next to your home
The professional you hire to create the certificate will take photos of your home showing the foundation and vents or flood openings.
The form also indicates the base flood elevation (BFE) for your community, which represents the estimated elevation that floodwaters have a 1% chance of meeting or surpassing.
Good to know
Flood vents — also known as flood gates or flood ports — are openings in a home’s foundation that allow flood water to pass through exterior foundation walls. If flood waters enter a foundation but cant get out, the pressure the water creates could cause significant damage to the home.
Why is a flood elevation certificate important?
Flood elevation certificates affect flood insurance costs for homeowners. Insurance companies use the information in the certificate to “rate” the home and calculate a premium based on its vulnerability to flooding.
The National Flood Insurance Program from FEMA no longer uses elevation certificates for risk assessment; it uses a newer process. However, some circumstances still require the use of a certificate.
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When do you need an elevation certificate?
Most people who need an elevation certificate for insurance live in high-risk areas, such as near a levee, in a floodplain along a river or stream, or in an area designated as a special flood hazard area (SFHA) on the flood insurance rate map.
Certain areas have elevation levels that mark the height that a flood has a 1% chance of reaching or exceeding in any given year. FEMA deems areas below this elevation as special flood hazard areas. FEMA also refers to the flood with a 1% chance as the base flood or 100-year flood.
Although FEMA doesn’t require an elevation certificate for National Flood Insurance Program coverage anymore, you might need one in these circumstances:
You want to finance the purchase of a home located in an SFHA, coastal barrier resources system, or otherwise protected area. The lender will use a FEMA Standard Flood Hazard Determination Form to determine whether your home sits in the A or V flood zone, which makes flood insurance mandatory. The insurance might be required for your home, detached buildings on your property, or both.
You want to refinance a home previously excluded from current flood insurance requirements in an area where flood insurance is now required.
You remodel or rebuild a home in a way that changes the lowest elevation.
How can an elevation certificate affect flood insurance rates?
Flood maps show insurance companies the location of flood zones and the risk of flooding in a particular community. However, flood maps don’t show the risk to a particular home within that community. For that, insurance companies need a flood insurance elevation certificate to compare your elevation to the base elevation.
At the very least, reviewing an elevation certificate helps the insurance company price your flood insurance policy more accurately. If you make changes to your home later, updating the certificate to show the new elevation information could earn you a significant discount.
A first-floor elevation of 4 feet can reduce your flood insurance by nearly one-third, and an elevation of 8 feet can reduce it by more than 40%, according to FEMA. If you make changes to your home that raise your lowest level — by filling in your basement or elevating your home via stilts — or add flood openings to reduce risk, you’ll need an elevation certificate to document the changes.
Why flood insurance is important
Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover damage from floods, so you won’t be protected unless you purchase flood insurance. Every property — even outside of designated flood zones — faces vulnerability to flooding. The average flood insurance claim in 2018 exceeded $40,000, according to FEMA.
Before you get your own FEMA flood elevation certificate, find out if one already exists. Contact your municipal offices to connect you to your local floodplain manager. Alternatively, call your state floodplain manager, who you’ll find listed on the Association of State Floodplain Managers website. You might also find one recorded with the property deed or from the sellers, builders, or developers.
Some insurance companies provide access to flood elevation certificate lookup databases, but listings may not be up to date.
If you can’t find one on record, you’ll have to get your own through the steps below:
Contact a licensed surveyor, engineer, or architect. Your real estate agent or insurance agent may recommend one.
Provide the professional you choose with any information they request.
Submit the certificate to your insurance company or mortgage lender.
How much does an elevation certificate cost?
Elevation certificate pricing varies according to the type and location of the property and how quickly you need it. Based on fees from home-survey companies, the cost for an elevation certificate seems to range from $200 without a boundary survey to $550 to $2,900 with a boundary survey.
Here are answers to some common questions people ask about flood elevation certificates.
Do you need an elevation certificate to buy flood insurance?
No, you don’t need an elevation certificate to buy FEMA flood insurance. FEMA used to require it for homeowners purchasing National Flood Insurance Program policies but no longer does. However, a private insurer might require it.
What is the cost of elevation certificates?
It depends. Fees seem to range from $200 to nearly $3,000. Several factors affect the price, including the property type and location and how quickly you need the certificate. Expect fees at the higher end if you also need a land survey.
How do you get an elevation certificate in Florida?
A licensed surveyor in Florida will need to prepare your elevation certificate in Florida. You’ll then submit the certificate to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. The division has an online portal where you can upload your certificate.
How do you get an elevation certificate in Louisiana?
In Louisiana, licensed land surveyors, engineers, and architects can complete certificates. First, check with your town or city to see if it already has an elevation certificate for your property on file. If not, you’ll have to hire a licensed professional to prepare one for you.
How do you know if your home is in a special flood hazard area?
Flood maps show whether a home is located in a special flood hazard area. You can search for your address on FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. FEMA notes that flood risks do change over time, so it makes sense to check your community’s map periodically.
Daria Uhlig is a freelance writer and editor with over a decade of experience creating personal finance content. Her work appears on USA Today, Nasdaq, MSN, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, GOBankingRates and AOL. As a licensed Realtor and resort property manager, she specializes in real estate topics, including landlord, homeowners and renters insurance. In her spare time, Daria can be found photographing people and places on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Connect with her on LinkedIn.