When you buy flood insurance, the amount you pay is based on your specific risk for flooding. To determine that, insurers often turn to an elevation certificate, especially when policies are backed by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Learn what an elevation certificate is, when you need it and how it is useful.
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What is an elevation certificate?
Under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the NFIP issues elevation certificates showing several key flood risk assessment factors, including the lowest elevation of the building for which the certificate is issued.
Your insurer uses the information in the elevation certificate to determine your flood risk and set your flood insurance premiums. Because flood insurance is excluded from most homeowners insurance policies, this certificate helps you get coverage if you need or want it.
What is elevation in this case? The elevation certificate looks at your elevation above a specific baseline: the base flood elevation. This is the elevation that experts predict has a chance of floodwaters reaching in any given year.
You can look at a blank FEMA elevation certificate to get an idea of what’s covered. Here are the basic things on it:
- Property information: The first section of the elevation certificate lays out your property location and important factors to consider when looking at your flood risk, like flood openings to your crawl space or garage.
- Flood insurance rate map (FIRM) information: The NFIP issues FIRMs to give flood plain information. You can find your local flood map with FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center. When you pull up your local flood map, look for the letters “A” or “V”. These indicate an area with high flood risk. Flood authorities also use the FIRM to determine your area’s base flood elevation. You want your home’s lowest elevation to be above that base flood elevation, lowering your risk and your flood insurance premiums.
- Building elevation: These are details specific to your home, like the lowest grade adjacent to your house and the elevation of the top of the slab in your attached garage.
The form gets more technical from there. It compiles all the information your insurance company needs to understand flood risk in your area and whether your home is exposed to risk based on its specific construction.
Who needs to get an elevation certificate?
You’ll likely need an elevation certificate if you live in an area marked A or V on the aforementioned flood map for your community, also called its FIRM. One of the easiest ways to know if you need an elevation certificate is to shop for flood insurance. If your insurer tells you it’s required, start the process to get your elevation certificate.
Not all flood insurance purchasers need to get this certificate. Usually, you’ll only need it if you live in an area with a high risk for flooding and are buying insurance backed by the NFIP.
If you’re buying flood insurance, it’s probably because you live in a high-risk area, and many insurers only issue high-risk flood policies with the NFIP’s backing. So, it’s common to need an elevation certificate as part of the flood insurance purchasing process.
How can I get an affordable elevation certificate?
You have a few options for getting your elevation certificate. Fortunately, several of them are free.
To start, find your local floodplain manager. The NFIP has one for every participating community. Unless you just built your home, a FEMA elevation certificate might already be on file for your property.
If not, ask the developer or builder who constructed your house or the people from whom you purchased it. Check your property deed because some deeds attach the elevation certificate.
If that doesn’t work, hire a professional authorized to complete the elevation certificate for your property. Your local building permit office or state floodplain manager can identify a professional with the right authorization to visit your property. Usually, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars to have a surveyor perform this service.
What home improvements can I make so my flood insurance is cheaper?
If your elevation certificate identifies your home as a high-risk building, you’ll pay a higher amount for your flood policy. Fortunately, you can make some changes to reduce that risk.
First, you can elevate your house to save on flood insurance. This is the best way to save on your insurance costs and protect your home from floods.
If you can’t elevate your home, FEMA has a robust resource to give you other flood risk-reducing options to explore. Share any changes you make with your insurer to see about discounts.
The bottom line
While you can buy private flood insurance, many people — especially those living in high-risk areas — buy policies backed by the NFIP. When they do, they’re almost always required to provide an elevation certificate for their home, which shows:
- The property’s location
- Details about the property, including flood openings to crawlspaces and the lowest elevation of the home
- Details about the flood plain in which the property is located and its base flood elevation
With this certificate, insurers can determine how likely the home is to be impacted by floodwaters. From there, they set flood insurance premiums for the property based on its unique risk.
If you find out you need an elevation certificate, there are a few free channels to help you get this document you can go through before you need to pay for one.