How to buy flood insurance

A complete guide to buying flood insurance.

Pat Howard 1600

Pat Howard

Published September 5, 2019


  • You can typically buy flood insurance through the same company that insures your home

  • Flood insurance is available through both the National Flood Insurance Program and the private flood insurance market

  • If you live in a high-risk flood zone, you’ll be required to get an elevation certificate in order to get insured through the National Flood Insurance Program

Since homeowners insurance doesn’t cover property damage caused by flooding, it’s a good idea to get a flood insurance policy to ensure your home and personal belongings are fully protected. Buying flood insurance coverage is fairly simple; there’s a good chance the company that insures your home sells it, and they sometimes even offer it as a coverage add-on to a homeowners insurance policy. But in many cases, you’ll have to buy standalone flood insurance either through your homeowners insurance company or a separate company.

Step 1: Find out what type of flood insurance is out there

The first thing to keep in mind with flood insurance is that it works a little differently than homeowners insurance, which is serviced and insured exclusively by private insurance companies. With flood insurance, you have a few options for insuring your home against flood damage:

  • You can go the more traditional route and get National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood insurance, which is financially backed by the federal government and sold by private insurance companies
  • You can get private flood insurance, which is both written and financially backed by private insurance companies
  • If you have NFIP flood insurance, you can get excess flood insurance to supplement your NFIP flood insurance with more comprehensive protection and higher coverage limits

The most distinct difference between NFIP and private flood insurance is the coverage limits available for homeowners. With federal government flood insurance, your building coverage is capped at $250,000. That means if your home is damaged by flooding, the maximum you’ll be reimbursed for the loss is $250,000. Private flood insurance typically offers higher building coverage limits, depending on which company you go with.

If you’re happy with your NFIP coverage but your building coverage limit isn’t high enough to cover a full gutting and rebuild of the home, you may be able to supplement it with excess flood insurance. Excess flood insurance simply increases your flood protection above and beyond your NFIP coverage limit.

Check out this guide for a more complete breakdown of the difference between the NFIP and private flood insurance

Step 2: Determine your home’s flood risk

Be sure to check what flood zone you’re in by consulting the FEMA flood map. If the map reads like ancient Greek to you, a FEMA map specialist can help you determine what zone you’re in. Contact information for map specialists is available through the FEMA website.

If you live in a high-risk flood zone, or Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), your lender will most likely make that clear to you and require flood protection as part of your mortgage terms. If it’s determined that you live in a moderate- to low-risk flood zone, you’ll likely be eligible for a Preferred Risk Policy through the NFIP. A Preferred Risk Policy is essentially discounted flood coverage that can cost as little as $250 a year.

(Keep in mind that private flood insurance typically doesn’t use the FEMA flood maps when determining your rates, as FEMA maps are considered outdated. If you noticed your rates are higher or lower when getting quoted for a private flood policy, that’s because private companies’ methods for assessing risk is based on their own flood models — not traditional flood maps.)

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Step 3: Check for flood insurance availability

You know what kind of flood insurance options are out there, but is it available in your area?

For NFIP flood insurance, that depends on if your home is in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), most communities participate in the NFIP. You can check to see if your community participates in the program by checking FEMA’s community status book here.

If your community doesn’t participate in the NFIP or you simply want more comprehensive flood protection for your home, check to see if private flood insurance is offered in your area. As of 2018, 124 insurers offer private flood insurance, according to the Insurance Journal.

Looking for homeowners or flood insurance for your home? Talk to a licensed agent at Policygenius who can help you get both.

Step 4: Find out who offers flood insurance?

Currently, 59 private insurance companies participate in the NFIP’s “Write Your Own” (WYO) program. The WYO program essentially allows private insurers to service and put their branding on NFIP policies. Check to see if your insurance company participates in the WYO program here.

If you want private flood insurance, you can find a list of companies that offer it here.

Step 5: Get an elevation certificate

If you live in a high-risk flood zone and you’re getting flood insurance through the NFIP, you’ll be required to get an elevation certificate. An elevation certificate is a six-page document that details your home’s flood risk, and the NFIP will use the information contained in the certificate to determine your flood insurance rates.

In some cases, elevation certificates can lower your rates. For example, if you have a decades-old elevation certificate attached to the home and it recently underwent a renovation or flood retrofitting to raise the home above the base flood elevation (BFE), getting a new elevation certificate to reflect the home’s new decreased flood risk could lower your rates. A home elevated three feet above the BFE can lower your flood insurance premiums by as much as 60%, according to FEMA.

Elevation certificates aren’t required for private flood insurance, but many insurers offer discounts on your insurance premiums if you get one.

Read more about elevation certificates here

Step 6: Figure out your coverage needs and shop

When setting your flood insurance coverage amounts, you should ask yourself two questions:

  • How much coverage do I need for my home?
  • How much coverage do I need for my personal belongings inside of my home?

If you already have homeowners insurance, you could simply apply the coverage amounts in that policy to your flood insurance policy. But keep in mind that a home with a replacement cost of $400,000 won’t be fully covered by NFIP flood insurance. Since the building coverage maximum is $250,000, that’d give you a $150,000 gap in coverage, leaving you either underinsured or in need of filling that gap with excess flood insurance.

You’ll want to be sure that you protect as much of your property as possible, provided that you can work it into your budget.

Insurance Expert

Pat Howard

Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is an Insurance Editor at Policygenius in New York City, specializing in homeowners insurance. He has been featured on Property Casualty 360, MSN, and more. Pat has a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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