Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you live in an at-risk area, you will likely need to buy flood insurance, as standard home insurance typically does not cover flood damage.
To help you better understand your flood risk, you may want to consider getting an elevation certificate. This document tells insurers exactly how high your home is compared to known flood levels in your area. It can also potentially help you pay less for flood insurance.
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What is an elevation certificate?
An elevation certificate (EC) provides details about your home’s elevation relative to the estimated height of floodwaters in your area. Flood insurance companies use this certificate to assess your flood risk and determine your premiums.
A land surveyor or engineer typically prepares the elevation certificate. It includes things like your property address, the elevation of your lowest floor and the elevation range of ground around your property. This information helps determine if your home is above or below the local Base Flood Elevation (BFE).
The BFE is the elevation that floodwaters are expected to have a 1% chance of reaching each year. The logic is simple: The higher your home is above the BFE, the lower your risk of flooding.
Why does an elevation certificate matter?
Without an elevation certificate, your flood insurance company will rely on general datasets to estimate your flood risk. This estimate will include factors like your home’s distance from flooding sources, its ground elevation and your foundation type.
The elevation certificate provides the insurance company with specific, detailed information about your property’s elevation relative to the floodplain. This allows the insurer to more accurately assess your home’s actual flood risk.
An elevation certificate can also affect your cost of flood insurance. You might qualify for a discount if your home’s first floor height, or the elevation of your home’s lowest floor, is higher than the minimum floodplain standards in your area.
When do you need an elevation certificate?
Here are a few situations in which you might want an elevation certificate.
Buying or selling a property
If you’re buying a home in an area at high risk of flooding, ask the seller for the property’s EC. The certificate gives you a more accurate picture of the flood risk, as well as what you might pay for flood insurance. On the flip side, if you’re selling your property, having an EC can be a big plus for potential buyers.
Buying flood insurance
Before April 2023, some homeowners were required to get an elevation certificate when purchasing a flood insurance policy through the National Flood Insurance Program. The NFIP no longer requires ECs. However, you may still want to get one to see if it will help you qualify for cheaper flood insurance.
Building or renovating
If you’re building or renovating a home in a flood-prone area, local building codes might require you to have an EC. This ensures your new or improved home complies with local floodplain management ordinances.
Getting a new EC after a renovation is also a good idea if you made changes to lower your flood risk. According to FEMA, you can reduce your flood risk by:
Relocating or elevating utilities so they’re off the ground.
Installing flood openings around your house.
Filling in basements and crawlspaces that are below the BFE.
Elevating your property so it’s above the BFE.
How do you get an elevation certificate?
To get an elevation certificate, start by contacting your local floodplain manager. Depending on where you live, you may need to contact your municipal, county or state government to find the right person. The floodplain manager might already have an EC on file for your property, especially if your community is part of the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System.
Sometimes, an EC is included in your property’s deed or other real estate documents. Check these sources, especially if your home is in a high-risk flood area.
If you recently bought your property, the previous owners or the developer might have gotten an EC when it was built. Reach out and ask if they can provide a copy.
If the above steps don’t yield results, you can hire a licensed land surveyor, professional engineer or certified architect. These professionals are authorized to certify elevation information and can complete an EC for your property for a fee.
If you like to do it yourself, FEMA offers an EC form on its website. You can complete this to self-certify your home’s first-floor height, although it’s wise to consult a professional for accuracy.
What should you do with an elevation certificate?
Share your flood elevation certificate with your flood insurance company to see if it can lower your premiums. Store the original certificate in a safe place with other property documents, such as your deed and home insurance policy. Having it easily accessible can help if you need to reference it quickly.
How much does a flood elevation certificate cost?
On average, homeowners can expect to pay $600 for a flood elevation certificate, according to data collected by HomeAdvisor. But the actual price can range from $170 to $2,000 or more depending on your location, property size and terrain challenges.
Getting quotes from local professionals helps determine the best rate. Keep in mind that investing in an EC could potentially save you money on flood insurance premiums. So even if you have to pay for it upfront, it could be worth it over time.