Flood Zones & How They Affect Insurance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) categorizes communities that have an increased risk of floods into one of several flood zones. If your home resides in one of these areas and you take out a mortgage, you will be required to purchase a flood insurance policy. A standard homeowners’ insurance policy will not cover flood damage, and is therefore insufficient to satisfy a lender’s needs. Even homeowners who live in zones where lenders require flood insurance, and do not have a mortgage, should nonetheless strongly consider buying a policy.

How to Find Out What Flood Zone Your House is in

FEMA maintains a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), which you can use to look up your property's flood zone. The agency is charged with updating flood maps every five years, although they have sometimes fallen behind in that schedule. When revisions are made, you may find your home reclassified from one level of flood zone to another that confers either a higher or lower risk of flooding, according to the agency.

To look up the map for a specific address, visit this website. On the homepage, enter your property's location in the upper right-hand corner and hit Enter on your keyboard. You may also want to change the "Basemap" option on the upper left-hand side to a light gray canvas, or another background that will make the map more readable.

Be patient with this map and website, as it can sometimes take a little while to load. Once it has finished loading and you can see your address on the map, your flood zone should be displayed in close proximity.

Flood Zone Definitions & Flood Risks

Once you know your flood zone, the next step is to understand what it means for your home. The flood zones indicate how large or small the flood risk is deemed to be in your particular area. Even in the most flood-prone communities, the likelihood of flooding in any given year are low--between 0.2% and 1%. However, over the 30-year lifetime of a mortgage, a 1% annual risk translates into a 26% chance of being flooded at least once. Keep in mind, though, that these percentages refer to the odds of flooding in your area, and not to the likelihood of your home specifically sustaining damage. That latter risk will, of course, depend on the severity of the particular event, where within the zone your home is located and how floodproof you’ve made it.

Flood ZoneFlood RiskFlood SourceFlood Insurance Available/Required?
B and X (shaded)Moderate. 0.2% - 1% chance in any given year.Undefined lesser hazards.Available, Not Required.
C and X (unshaded)Moderate. < 0.2% chance in any given yearUndefined lesser hazards.Available, Not Required.
A, AE, AR, A1-30, A991% annual chance of flooding and 26% chance over the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage.Undefined.Available & Required.
AH1% annual chance of flooding and 26% chance over the life of a 30-year mortgage.Ponds and other sources of shallow flooding.Available & Required.
AO1% annual chance of flooding and 26% chance over the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage.Rivers or streams.Available & Required.
V, VE, V1-V301% annual chance of flooding and 26% chance over the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage.Coastal areas, associated with storm waves and other hazards.Available & Required.

Flood insurance is available to all residents living in the flood zones listed above. You can purchase policies from private insurers, but premiums are typically lowest if policies are purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a division of FEMA. Mortgage lenders will require you to purchase a policy if you live in any zone that is more hazardous than B, C or X.

How Flood Zones Impact Insurance Premiums

The type of flood zone you live in has a huge effect on the price of your flood insurance. In the most extreme cases, you may pay more than 300% as much to insure a house in a Zone A area than a Zone V one. Insurers raise rates to account for the increased risk. As with all lines of insurance, the greater the chance the company will have to pay out for damages, the more they will charge customers in order to meet the company's financial requirements. Homeowners who find these rates to be exorbitant can always seek out flood insurance discounts by contacting private flood insurers.

Here are some sample rates for an NFIP flood insurance policy sold in Pennsylvania.

Zone

Rate per $100 Building CoverageRate per $100 Contents Coverage
V, VE, V1-V30$1.30$2.00
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (No BFE)$0.59$1.00
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (BFE 0)$0.59$0.30
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (BFE* 1 or Greater)$0.29$0.21
B,C, X$0.10$0.14

*Base Floor Elevation

If a home straddles two or more flood zones, the insurer will rate the premiums based on the most hazardous zone.

To better illustrate the impact your flood zone has on your monthly premium, we calculated the annual cost for a sample home built in 2000 and requiring $250,000 in structural coverage and $100,000 to insure its contents. The policy has a $1,000 deductible.

Zone

Monthly Premium
V, VE, V1-V30$6,987
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (No BFE)$3,296
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (BFE 0)$2,365
A, AE, A1-A30, AO, AH (BFE 1 or Greater)$1,248
B,C, X$523

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