Flood Insurance in California: Do You Need Coverage and How Much Does It Cost?

Flood Insurance in California: Do You Need Coverage and How Much Does It Cost?

Find Cheap Homeowners Insurance Quotes in Your Area

Currently insured?
It's free, simple and secure.

Flood insurance isn't mandated by the state of California, but many homeowners still need to purchase coverage as a requirement of their mortgage lenders. Flood insurance is also a good consideration if you live within a flood plain, even if the area isn't designated as a high-risk flood zone.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies don't cover flood damage, but you can purchase a flood policy through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurer. The average cost of a NFIP policy in California is $779 per year, but homeowners may find lower rates and higher coverage limits through a private flood insurance company.

California flood insurance coverage

No matter the state, federally-backed flood insurance policies have limits of $250,000 for your home's structure and $100,000 for personal property.

Flood insurance can be purchased in California through the NFIP or a private flood insurance company, although some mortgage lenders will require a NFIP policy. The NFIP's flood insurance can be purchased through most insurers and agents, so you can typically buy coverage through the insurer you already use for homeowners insurance.

NFIP flood insurance policy options are the same in every state, but the price will be tailored to your home and flood zone. Your coverage doesn't cover damage to basements or additional living expenses if you have to temporarily relocate. The policy also won't protect your vehicle, as you would need to purchase a comprehensive car insurance policy in order to cover flooding damage.

A flood insurance policy covers several risks faced by California homeowners, including:

  • Overflow of inland and tidal waters, such as rivers that can flood during heavy rain.
  • Mudflow over areas that are normally dry.
  • Levee breaks.

However, flood insurance typically won't cover earth movement, even if it's caused by a flood. So, if a landslide or sinkhole developed due to a flash flood, this would not be covered by an NFIP flood insurance policy. And California homeowners will still need to purchase separate coverage for other common risks, such as earthquakes.

Do you need flood insurance in California?

Flood insurance isn't required for homeowners in California but is typically mandated by mortgage lenders if your house is within a high-risk flood zone. These “special flood hazard areas” are re-evaluated over time, so it's best to check the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Flood Maps to determine whether your house would be considered at high risk of flooding.

A map of California's flood zones will show if you may need flood insurance to obtain a federally backed mortgage. This is typically the case for zones that start with A or V. If your home is in an area labeled Zone B, X or C, it has less than a one percent annual chance of flooding, and you generally won't be required to purchase flood insurance.

However, even if it's not required, it's typically a good idea to consider flood insurance unless your home is far from any dams or levees and at a higher elevation than most of the surrounding area. If a flood occurs, damage to your property won't be covered by your homeowners insurance, as flooding is typically a named exclusion. And you're unlikely to receive government assistance unless a federal disaster is declared.

Risks of flooding in California

The majority of California is at risk of flooding, and every county has been declared a flood disaster area at least once. In recent years, heavy rain in northern and central California has caused rivers to flood and damage the surrounding area.

These floods can cause damage to your house and property. While flood insurance won't cover all issues and has policy limits, you may easily have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses yourself if you have no coverage in place.

How much does flood insurance cost in California?

The cost of flood insurance through the NFIP will vary depending on which flood zone your house is in, when it was built and how it's structured. For example, a house with a basement will have higher premiums than one without. Your premiums will also vary depending on the deductibles you choose for building and contents coverage.

NFIP flood insurance policies can have deductibles between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the amount you're willing to pay out of pocket in the case of flood damage. However, quotes for your property will be the same no matter which company you purchase flood insurance from, as the program is entirely underwritten by the NFIP.

The average cost of flood insurance in California is $779 per year through the NFIP. But, as you can see below, average premiums can vary significantly by region, more as 100% among the 10 largest cities.

Policies in force
Total coverage
Total premiums
Average cost per policy
Los Angeles9,839$3,043,334,200$6,119,220$622
San Diego3,020$869,281,500$3,207,647$1,062
San Jose6,878$1,797,825,800$6,192,617$900
San Francisco167$51,923,200$94,364$565
Long Beach3,035$819,228,600$3,819,401$1,258
{"alignsHorizontal":["left","right","right","right","right"],"alignsVertical":[],"columnWidths":[],"data":[["City","Policies in force","Total coverage","Total premiums","Average cost per policy"],["Los Angeles","9,839","$3,043,334,200","$6,119,220","$622"],["San Diego","3,020","$869,281,500","$3,207,647","$1,062"],["San Jose","6,878","$1,797,825,800","$6,192,617","$900"],["San Francisco","167","$51,923,200","$94,364","$565"],["Fresno","291","$90,541,900","$239,575","$823"],["Sacramento","43,423","$14,641,840,200","$18,972,593","$437"],["Long Beach","3,035","$819,228,600","$3,819,401","$1,258"],["Oakland","602","$156,503,000","$490,445","$815"],["Bakersfield","496","$167,871,100","$251,221","$506"],["Anaheim","470","$143,626,500","$372,504","$793"]],"footnote":"","hasMarginBottom":true,"isExpandable":true,"isSortable":false,"maxWidth":"1215","minWidth":"100%","showSearch":false,"sortColumnIndex":0,"sortDirection":"asc"}

If you want to get the cheapest flood insurance in California, then compare rates from the NFIP against rates from private flood insurance companies. This isn't always an option, as some mortgage lenders require NFIP flood insurance, but a private insurer may be able to provide both cheaper rates as well as higher coverage limits.

Maxime Croll

Maxime is a Sr. Director at ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry. Previously she was the Director of Product Marketing at CoverWallet, a commercial insurance startup, and helped launch NerdWallet's personal insurance business. Maxime has contributed insurance insights and analysis to Forbes, USA Today, The Hill, and many other publications.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.