If you have a mortgage on a home in a high-risk flood area, you'll likely need an elevation certificate. ECs help determine your flood insurance premiums.
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If you live in a high-risk flood zone and have flood insurance coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), you’ll most likely need to get an elevation certificate for your home in order for your coverage to become active. An elevation certificate, also known as an EC, is a certification that indicates the difference in elevation between your home’s lowest floor and the ground level.
Your flood insurance rates are largely determined based on your home’s flood risk. The higher off the ground the base level of your home is, the lower your rates will be. An elevation certificate is an easy way for an insurance adjuster (the people in charge of determining your premiums) to gauge your home’s flood risk.
Elevation certificates are used by insurers to determine your flood insurance premiums
If your home is in a high-risk flood zone, elevation certificates are generally required
Elevation certificates can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000
An elevation certificate is a six-page document that verifies your home’s susceptibility to flood damage. It includes important information about your property, including its flood zone, its location, details about the home’s build, photos, and the elevation of its lowest floor. An EC is used for a few main purposes:
It ensures that homes in high-risk areas are compliant with community floodplain management ordinances
To support a request for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA). If you don’t believe your home is in a high-risk flood area, you can request a LOMA, which can your lower flood insurance rates or exempt your home from flood insurance requirements if the LOMA is accepted. (Flood insurance is generally required by lenders if your home is in a Special Flood Hazard Area according to FEMA maps; homes in high-risk areas have higher premiums)
So that the NFIP can determine the proper flood insurance premium for your home
The key section of an elevation certificate as it pertains to flood insurance is the part that indicates what your home’s elevation is relative to the area’s base flood elevation (BFE), which is the level that floodwaters are expected to rise in the event of a flood catastrophe. This helps the insurance adjuster determine the likelihood that floodwaters will penetrate your home. If your home’s lowest floor is below your community’s BFE, it poses more flood risk and your rates will probably be higher.
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Elevation certificates are generally required if the following conditions apply:
Your home loan is insured or financed by a federally regulated entity
You get flood insurance is backed by the National Flood Insurance Program
Your home is located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (100-year floodplain), as determined by FEMA
If the previous conditions all apply, you’ll have to get an EC. However, if you suspect that your home isn’t located in a high-risk area but your lender is still requiring you to get flood insurance for a federally regulated or insured loan, you can get an elevation certificate to dispute your home’s placement on the flood insurance map.
If you determine that your home is elevated far above the BFE in your area or that it's not even in a flood zone, you can submit a request (the aforementioned Letter of Map Amendment) to remove your home from the high-risk flood map and use the elevation certificate as proof. If your claim is legitimate and your request is accepted, your lender is legally prohibited from requiring flood insurance.
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We just discussed how elevation certificates can be used as proof to remove the flood insurance requirement, but what if you want flood coverage and simply want to lower your rates? Elevation certificates can help with that.
For example, say you live in a high-risk area and you recently retrofit your home so that it’s not only above the BFE, but it clears it by about five feet. (Elevating your home could involve raising it with jacks or filling in your basement or crawlspace, among other possibilities.)
Since your home’s elevation certificate reflects the home’s characteristics prior to it being retrofitted, you’re probably paying more than you should for flood insurance. According to FEMA, a home elevated three feet above the BFE can lower flood insurance premiums by as much as 60%. Updating your elevation certificate after a retrofit can save you tens of thousands of dollars down the road.
If you have private flood insurance, an elevation certificate isn’t required, but some insurance companies offer discounts if you have an elevation certificate that proves your home is above the base flood elevation.
If this is your first time looking into an elevation certificate, check with your local floodplain manager to see if there is already an elevation certificate on file for your home. You can also simply ask the seller if they have the certificate, ask the developer or builder, or look to see if it’s included with the property deed.
If there is no prior elevation certificate for the home, you’ll need to hire a state-licensed surveyor, engineer, or certified architect who is authorized to certify elevation information. To find a professional surveyor, FEMA recommends checking with your state professional association for land surveyors, asking your state NFIP coordinator, or talking to your local building permit office.
The national average for an elevation certificate is around $600, according to MassiveCert, a company that specializes in flood zone analysis and elevation certificates. But costs will vary depending on the home’s occupancy type, structure type, location, and the complexity of the job.
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