Elevation Certificates

Risk, FEMA Flood Zones, and Insurance Premiums

This article is written to aid property owners regarding their flood risk. Floodplain Managers, flood insurance professionals, surveyors, etc. may note that this information is high-level and not every variable is covered. Even so, it is hoped this information helps those not directly involved in the industry understand the basic terms and how they relate to flood risk and flood insurance rates.

Will it Flood? It's all about Elevation!

Of course, the best way to keep a home from flooding is to build it well outside of a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). But we know, about 25% of flood claims come from properties not in these high-risk zones. Further, the risk of flooding is obviously vastly different between properties considered to be in low-risk areas when one is a few inches above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and the other is many feet above that imaginary line (the elevation at which a hydrology study predicts 1% chance of flooding in any given year). What’s more, many individuals have to consider properties in SFHAs. Cities like New Orleans, Houston, and Charleston to name a few, don’t give home buyers and businesses many choices other than high risk areas.

What is an Elevation Certificate

An Elevation Certificate is a form the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses to document the elevation of a structure in comparison to the elevation of the 100-year flood. The difference between the structure and flood elevation is used for many purposes such as:

Explaining the FEMA Clear Communication Initiative and Elevation Certificates

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) “Clear Communication Initiative” is intended to inform federal flood insurance policyholders of their flood risk as reflected on the most current Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).  This is something congress mandated in the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIAA, and specifically Section 28 of that Act).  The reasoning is sound, but there are parts that may be confusing, so I want to try and explain “Clear Communications”.

FEMA Clear Communication Initiative Letters and What They Mean for You

In early 2016, FEMA began mailing out clear communication initiative letters to flood insurance policyholders with new policies effective April 1, 2016 or later, and/or renewal dates of October 1, 2016 or later.  The purpose of these letters was to inform the policyholders of their current, re-mapped flood risk rating, and explain how that rating was assessed, as well as how it would likely impact what one would pay for flood insurance.  The letters further explain how the property owner may reduce flood insurance premiums by obtaining an Elevation Certificate.

FEMA separated the letters into 7 categories, each defined by a letter, A-F.  Your category can be found in the bottom right hand corner of your letter.  The categories are as follows:

What Does an Elevation Certificate Cost?

We are asked this all the time and rightfully so.  You are told you need to buy a flood insurance policy, which is separate from your homeowner’s policy.  And then you are told you need a separate elevation certificate to calculate the proper premium.  Or maybe you already have flood insurance and you were told getting a proper elevation certificate could lower your rising premium.  So what does the elevation certificate cost?

The national average cost for an elevation certificate is about $600 and the range is about $169 to $2,000 or more.  There are a lot of reasons elevation certificate costs vary, including: occupancy type, structure type, demand, location, timing, data, and quality.

The FEMA 100 year flood zone explained.

I use the term “100-year flood zone daily for elevation certificates, LOMA’s, and explaining flood maps.  But it doesn't mean what you might think.  It means there is a 1% chance you will see a flood like the one on the FEMA flood map each and every year.  Since 1% is also "1 out of 100", the term "100-year flood" was adopted because that's easier to talk about than rattling off a bunch of statistics.

 

FEMA sometimes shows a 500-year flood on their maps and that is technically the 0.2% annual chance flood.  Try saying "zero point two percent annual chance flood zone" two dozen times a day and you can see why we use the short version.

 

Where does the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) come from?

FEMA defines the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) as the computed elevation to which the flood is anticipated to rise during the base flood.  The base flood is also referred to as the 1-percent annual chance flood or 100-year flood.  Just in case those terms are new to you, the 1-percent annual chance flood means that, statistically, there's a 1% chance every year that there will be a flood that looks like the one on the FEMA maps.  But it could flood less, or more, or many times a year, or not at all.  The Base Flood Elevation is a baseline pulled together from historic weather data, local topography, and the best science available at the time.

FEMA is Changing the Elevation Certificate

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is considering several changes to the Elevation Certificate and Floodproofing Certificate.  The public comment period for those changes has closed, but the comments from the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM), and others, can be viewed in the Federal Register.

 

Stay Safe.

Why do I need an Elevation Certificate?

Property owners are often informed by their insurance agent or lender that they need an Elevation Certificate—and their first response is typically, “what the heck is an Elevation Certificate?”