Most homeowner policies do not cover flood damage

Flood insurance is a special policy backed by the federal government.

By Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council
Published May 29, 2005

Flooding causes more than 90 percent of all disaster-related property damage in the United States but most homeowner policies do not cover flood damage. Because of this, homeowners need flood insurance - a special policy backed by the federal government, with cooperation from local communities and private insurance companies.

About 200 insurance companies, possibly including the company that already handles your homeowner's insurance, write and service flood insurance policies for the government, which finances the program through premiums. Although flood insurance is relatively inexpensive, most Americans neglect to purchase protection. For more information about federal flood insurance, visit www.fema.gov/nfip

Key things to know about flood insurance:

National Flood Insurance Program

Only about one-quarter of the homes in areas most vulnerable are insured against flood loss, according to the Federal Insurance Administration. In those areas, flooding is 26 times more likely to occur than a fire during the course of a typical 30-year mortgage. More than 19,000 communities have agreed to stricter zoning and building measures to control floods, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Residents in these communities are entitled to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program, a program FEMA oversees.

30-day waiting period

An important fact to know is that a flood insurance policy does not take effect until 30 days after you purchase it. So if a flood alert is issued for your area and you run to purchase coverage, it's already too late. You will not be insured if you buy a policy a few days before a flood.

Flood zoning

FEMA has placed more than 19,000 communities in the United States into a category of flood zones. Each community is able to participate in the agency's NFIP, with premium rates determined by the risks of flooding. To indicate the risks in different parts of the country, FEMA has assigned a character from the alphabet to each zone. The most hazardous flood zones are V (usually first-row, beach-front properties) and A (usually, but not always, properties near water). X zones are minimal-risk areas where flood insurance is not mandatory. D zones are areas that have not been studied, but where flooding is possible. Even though you are not in a "flood zone," flood insurance is available in participating communities and encouraged.

Living in a flood zone

If your home is in a V or A zone, adhere to the following recommendations:

The bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member of the lowest floor elevation must be at or above the base flood elevation. If your home was built before the NFIP regulations went into effect and is below the BFE, remember that if it is damaged more than 50 percent or if you want to make improvements that will increase the value more than 50 percent, you will be required to elevate your home.

Enclosed areas below the lowest floor cannot be used for living space.

In V zones, the building must be elevated on piles, piers, posts or column foundation. In A zones, fill is typically permitted.

Electrical, heating ventilation, plumbing, air conditioning equipment and other service facilities must be elevated to or above the BFE.

Flood map - how to get one

Flood maps are usually kept on file at your local county courthouse, municipal office or library. Once you have located the maps for your area, be sure to record the panel number on each map should you need to obtain additional information from FEMA, which provides copies of flood maps for a nominal fee. To obtain a copy of the current flood map for a specific community, community status book and the Flood Insurance Manual, you can call FEMA's Map Service Center toll free at 1-800-358-9616 or write to the Map Service Center, PO Box 1038, Jessup, MD 20794-1038.