Everyone is at risk for a flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says 99% of U.S. counties have had a flood since 1998. Most floods happen outside of mapped flood zones and 25% of claims happen outside of high-risk areas.
But you can minimize your risk with knowledge and preparation. Learn about different flood risks, ways to protect your belongings and how to select the best coverage for you.
Who needs flood insurance?
Standard home and renters insurance doesn’t cover damages caused by a flood. You’ll need a separate policy for that. Flood insurance covers flood damage to your home, personal belongings and other structures on your property.
Renters and condo owners need flood insurance, too. Your building owner might have flood protection, but it only covers their building and rebuilding costs. It won’t help you replace your things. Condo and renters flood policies are inexpensive since they don’t cover rebuilding. Some private flood insurance policies even cover added living expenses if you have to live in a hotel while your home is being repaired.
Ask your insurance agent about adding coverages to fit your lifestyle.
Know what flood policies cover
A growing mix of private insurance options and federally funded policies are available. Flood insurance coverage can get tricky. Government-backed policies like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and private flood insurance providers have their pros and cons.
|Residential coverage||NFIP||Private flood insurance|
|Limits for building and property damage||$250,000||$500,000 or more|
|Limits for damage to personal belongings||$100,000||$250,000 or more|
|Loss of use/additional living expenses||No coverage options||Optional coverage|
|Swimming pool damage and refills||No coverage options||Optional coverage|
|Guaranteed by federal government||Yes||No|
|Policy transfers to new owners if you sell your home||Yes||No|
|Premium rates locked or capped||Yes (premiums capped at 18%)||No|
|Guaranteed coverage and cannot drop due to claims history||Yes||No|
As noted above, vehicles aren’t covered under flood insurance. You’ll need a comprehensive auto policy for that.
Pro tip: Some insurers provide excess insurance to extend coverage beyond an NFIP policy. They’re also a form of private flood insurance, but they can get pricey and are usually geared toward high-net-worth homes. The benefit of using an excess policy in combination with your NFIP policy is your federally guaranteed rate.
Most policies have a waiting period before coverage starts, so don’t delay. Your insurance agent can advise you and help you obtain a policy that suits your needs.
Understand the types of flooding in your area
Floods are unpredictable and can happen for any reason, at any time. Flood insurance applies in many situations, including the following:
- Flash flooding happens when intense rainfall occurs in a short period, usually less than a few hours. Flash floods can turn streets and walkways into roaring rivers, sweeping away cars, trees, debris and mud. (Pro tip: Mudslides are flood events, usually caused by flash flooding. For mudslide damage, you’ll need flood insurance.)
- Coastal flooding happens when offshore storm systems force ocean water inland above the usual tide level. Hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis and unusually high tides typically cause coastal flooding. The rise in water is called a storm surge, which can occur in minutes.
- River and stream flooding can occur due to heavy rains, melting snow, storm surges, and dam and levee failures.
- Closed-basin flooding happens when a lake has no outlet or an outlet too small to drain. Seasonal rains and snowmelts can cause the lake level to rise faster than it can empty. As a result, the water overflows into nearby homes.
If you’re unsure of your home’s flood risk rating, find out. Review FEMA’s revised Risk Rating 2.0 flood maps or ask your insurance agent to help you.
Protect your property and belongings
Regardless of your home’s flood rating, you should safeguard your property and belongings. Try these tips:
- Protect in-home electrical and climate systems. Homes have many electrical components, including switches, sockets and circuit breakers. This wiring should be at least a foot above the expected flood level in your area.
- Elevate outdoor equipment. Take inventory of outdoor electrical equipment and create a plan to elevate it. This equipment may include fuel tanks, air conditioning units and generators.
- Modify water valves. Install backflow valves or sump pumps to minimize the risk of sewage backing up into your home.
- Inspect the perimeter. Walkways, dirt and rocks can shift over time, misdirecting water toward your home. Routinely inspect the outside and correct any issues.
- Clean gutters, downspouts and drains. Keeping drainage systems clear will help direct water away from your home.
- Elevate storage items. Install shelves to elevate your stored items. If you use a storage locker, put things in watertight bins. Place a waterproof tarp over the stack in case water leaks from above.
- Fight soil erosion using landscaping. Plants soak up excess water and help keep topsoil in place. Use plants with dense root systems to help prevent soil erosion. Plant options include ajuga, creeping phlox, marigolds, creeping juniper and sedge grass.
- Create barriers. When a flood is imminent, use sandbags to redirect water away from your home and block water from entering openings.
Safeguard essential documents
Most people think about property damage during a flood. But you must also consider other risks, like damage to essential and hard-to-replace items. FEMA recommends keeping essentials in a grab-and-go bag if you need to leave in a hurry. Examples include:
- Prescriptions — Gather essential medicines, medical equipment, batteries, eyeglasses, hearing aids and other necessary medical items.
- Critical documents — Assemble hard and electronic copies of birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports and other crucial documents. Organize your information into a digital wallet or secure cloud storage.
- Personal needs — Gather food, water, first-aid kits, cash and phone chargers.
- Priceless items — Place irreplaceable mementos and other valuables like photo albums and keepsakes out of reach of floodwaters. Use waterproof plastic bags.
- Pets — Have a plan for your pets, including food, medications, identification tags and immunization records. Pack an extra leash and collar (even if they usually don’t wear one) so you can safely remove your pet no matter where you are. Research pet-friendly establishments beforehand so you’ll know where to go in an emergency.
- Home inventory — Create and store a home inventory online. Include pictures, receipts and warranty information for your belongings. If you submit a claim, you’ll need proof you owned these things.
Secure your protection today
Insurance is one of the most critical items to consider when preparing for a flood. Remember, most flood insurance policies have a waiting period of 12 to 30 days, so don’t leave it to luck. Contact your insurance agent for a flood insurance review.