What flood insurance does and does not cover

Flood insurance protects your home and personal belongings against flood damage, but certain types of property aren't covered by a standard flood policy.

Pat Howard 1600Kara McGinley


Pat Howard

Pat Howard

Senior Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Pat Howard is a senior editor and licensed home insurance agent at Policygenius, where he specializes in homeowners insurance. His work and expertise has been featured in MarketWatch, Real Simple, Fox Business, VentureBeat, This Old House, Investopedia, Fatherly, Lifehacker, Better Homes & Garden, Property Casualty 360, and elsewhere.

 & Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Editor & Licensed Home Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is an editor and licensed home insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about homeowners and renters insurance. As a journalist and as an insurance expert, her work and insights have been featured in Kiplinger, Lifehacker, MSN, WRAL.com, and elsewhere.

Updated January 5, 2021 | 3 min read

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Flooding is the most expensive and common natural disaster in the U.S., affecting homes in every corner of the country, but many people don’t know that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover water damage caused by flooding. If you live in a flood-prone area, you will want to consider taking out a flood insurance policy to cover your home and personal belongings against this costly disaster.

Most major homeowners insurance providers offer flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a federal government program with two types of policies:

  • Building property coverage, which covers your home up to $250,000

  • Personal contents coverage, which covers your personal property (like clothing, furniture, and electronics) up to $100,000

You have the option of acquiring one or both types of NFIP policies. If your home is mortgaged and you live in a high flood risk area, your lender may require you to get building coverage to protect your home. If your home needs more coverage than the $250,000 limit offered by the NFIP, many insurance companies offer their own private flood insurance product that could provide you with higher limits and better coverage.

Key Takeaways

  • A standard homeowners insurance policy won’t cover damage from flood disasters

  • If you live in a flood-prone area, you’ll want to protect your home and personal belongings with flood insurance

  • Flood insurance covers your home, its foundation, and contents like your furniture, clothes, and jewelry from flood damage

  • Flood policies usually provide limited coverage for basements

What does FEMA flood insurance cover?

Flood insurance covers your house and everything inside against flood damage. As previously mentioned, a standard flood insurance policy has two coverage types: building property coverage and personal contents coverage.

Building property coverage

Your maximum coverage limit for building property coverage under NFIP plans is $250,000 and you’re reimbursed for the home’s replacement cost when you file a claim. With building coverage, the following parts of your home are covered.

  • The home and its foundation

  • Home essentials like plumbing, air conditioning, furnaces, water heaters, and fuel tanks

  • Built-in home appliances like your refrigerator, oven, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer

  • Permanently installed carpeting over unfinished floor or window fixtures like blinds and curtains

  • Permanently installed cabinets, shelves, paneling, and bookcases

  • Detached garages (up to 10% of your building property coverage can be used)

  • Debris removal

Personal contents coverage

Your personal contents coverage protects the stuff inside your house and typically needs to be added separately to complement your building coverage. Your maximum reimbursement amount with the NFIP plan is $100,000. With personal contents coverage, the following items are covered.

  • Personal belongings like clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, and electronics

  • Portable AC units

  • Portable microwaves, refrigerators, and other types of appliances

  • Carpeting that isn’t over an unfinished floor

  • Spoiled food

  • Certain types of expensive valuables like jewelry, art, and furs (up to $2,500 per item)

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What does flood insurance not cover?

The following types of hazards and property types are typically not covered by the building or personal contents portion of a flood insurance policy.

  • Moisture or mildew/mold damage that “could have been avoided by the homeowner”

  • Sewer or sump pump backup unless it was caused by the flood

  • Precious metals

  • Cash

  • Valuable papers like stock certificates

  • Trees and plants

  • Decks

  • Fences

  • Pools and hot tubs

  • Loss of income

  • Additional living expenses like hotels or temporary housing if the flood makes your home uninhabitable

  • General clean up of your property or home after a flood

What does flood insurance not cover in basements?

Additionally, NFIP flood insurance has limited coverage for areas below the lowest elevated floor, like your basement, crawlspace, or bomb shelter. Certain types of property and home features not covered in your basement include:

  • Paneling, bookcases, and window fixtures

  • Any carpeting, rugs, or floor tiles

  • Drywall for both walls and ceilings

  • Walls and ceilings not made of drywall

  • Most types of personal property (except freezers and the food in them, washers and dryers, and portable air conditioners)

Private flood insurance

The flood insurance marketplace — long considered too risky for private insurers — has taken off in recent years and grown more competitive, as carriers have more sophisticated risk modeling and predictive analytics to assist them in underwriting.

In fact, according to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) study, over 120 insurers wrote their own private flood insurance in 2018, up from 90 insurers in 2017, and 50 in 2016. Additionally, a new rule that went into effect in July 2019 could be a boom to the private flood market, as it would allow mortgage companies to accept private flood insurance instead of NFIP plans (in areas where NFIP plans are currently mandatory).

Should I get private flood insurance instead of FEMA flood insurance?

If private flood insurance is available in your area, you may want to consider one over an NFIP plan. For one, NFIP policies only cover your home and personal property, and your coverage amounts are limited. As climate change intensifies and flood events possibly become bigger and more catastrophic, you’ll want insurance that can cover a full rebuild of your home. The $250,000 building coverage offered by the NFIP may not be enough.

With private flood insurance, you generally have coverage limits that are as high as what you’d have for homeowners insurance, and private flood plans typically include additional protection, like loss of use coverage. You may also find that flood insurance is cheaper than NFIP coverage — giving you both higher quality and more affordable flood protection.