How to Know If You Live in a Flood Zone

Written by | Updated October 15, 2019

If you’ve ever seen a birds-eye view of your neighborhood from a satellite image, the layout may seem random. But lay a flood zone map over that view, and those curving streets and areas of wilderness make more sense. 

Flood zones are areas that become “inundated by the flood,” during an event.1  These areas are more at risk of flooding during a weather event or disaster. And while there are different levels of flood zones, it’s best to prepare your home for the worst .

Here are some steps you can take to evaluate the flood risk your home faces—and protect against it.

1. Check with FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has an easy tool that shows if your address is in a flood zone. The Flood Map Service Center shows information like flood zones, floodways, and the risk level your home faces. There’s also topographical and infrastructural information about features like levees, coastal barriers, and the base flood line. At first the map may not make much sense, but it’s easier to read than it seems.

How to use the map

The map shows overlays of specific floodplains and the risk areound your property. You might say lables such as, “Area of Minimal Flood Hazard,” or “0.2 PCT Annual Chance of Flood Hazard”. FEMA’s Managing Floodplain Development through the NFIP can help you decode some of the more confusing terms. 

If you look closely, some of the labels may seem dated. These dates just refer to when the map was officially adopted by your area. You toggle these dates on and off or see updated versions by checking out the Dynamic Map.

FEMA flood map

2. Consider Flood Insurance

If you live in a flood zone, the next thing to do is find out if you have flood insurance. While floods are much more comman fires, most homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage.2 

Flood insurance policies are available through private carriers, but you can also opt for government-sponsored coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Flood insurance costs between $200 and $800 a year, but the NFIP has ways that you can lower that cost by better protecting your home against flooding. Visit FloodSmart.gov to learn more about the NFIP and how you can pay less for flood insurance.

We also recommend a series of Flood Insurance Whiteboard Videos to help you better understand your flood insurance options.

3. Use a Flood Sensor

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There are several ways to prevent your home from flooding. One of them is using a flood sensor, devices that notify you of water leaks. They can detet leaks from your water heater, washing machine, and weather-related flooding in your basement.

Home security systems also offer water detectors to catch flooding early.

We recommend the iHome iSB02 Battery Powered Wi-Fi Leak Sensor.

4. Keep Track of Changes

With new construction and changes in topography, floodplains and flood zone designations can change over time. Make a plan to check for changes in your property’s flood zone designation every five years or so.

If you think you’ll have a hard time remembering, try to tie it to your milestone birthdays—whenever you reach an age that ends in a five or a zero, it’s time to visit FEMA again to check your home’s flood zone status.

FAQs

Aren’t sellers legally required to disclose if a house is in a flood zone or if it’s had flood damage in the past?

No, they’re not. Federal laws don’t require sellers or agents to disclose any previous flooding on a property when it’s up for sale (although ethically it would be wrong not to).

It’s up to you as a buyer to find out the property’s history—but keep in mind that even if you don’t, your mortgage company will, and a flood zone designation could impact your ability to get financing. You don’t want any surprises when it’s time to get a mortgage for your new home, so do the research before you make an offer.

Can I still get a mortgage on my property without flood insurance?

Maybe—it depends on its flood zone designation. Properties in flood zones with a higher risk factor usually require flood insurance for a mortgage.

Your house is your collateral for your home loan, and if it’s destroyed in a flood, your mortgage company stands to take a financial hit, so flood insurance is pretty important to lenders.

My area only has a 1% chance of flooding—so why is it still considered a flood hazard zone?

Floods are a rare occurrence, even for areas with high risk, like waterfront properties and coastal areas. A one percent chance of flooding means that your area is expected to get a devastating flood once every 100 years.

While that may not seem like a huge risk, it’s pretty high, considering the fact that an entire geographical area could be wiped out. A one percent risk should be taken seriously, especially since you don’t know where you are in that 100-year cycle.

Will having a house in a flood zone make it harder to sell later on?

Possibly, but having flood insurance on the property can help, because that way, potential buyers will know their options for insuring the home. You can also take proactive steps to protect your home against flood, like elevating it or taking other measures to make your home more flood resistant.

Read FEMA’s Reducing Flood Risk to Residential Buildings that Cannot Be Elevated to learn more about how you can better protect your home.

Sources:

1. FEMA, “Flood Zones

2. FEMA, “FEMA Flood Map Service Center

Written by Kasey Tross

Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more

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