Key takeaways

  • Nearly all U.S. counties have at least some level of flood risk.
  • Standard home insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
  • Coverage may be obtained with a separate flood insurance policy or, occasionally, by an endorsement to your home policy.

Most homes are at risk for flood damage. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 99% of counties in the United States experienced at least one flood event between 1996 and 2019. In addition, just one inch of water can do as much as $25,000 in damage. That’s why it is important to understand what your existing homeowners insurance covers and what additional protection flood insurance can provide.

Does home insurance cover flooding and flood damage?

Flooding generally is not covered by homeowners insurance. Damage caused by flooding — which FEMA defines as “a general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties” — is not covered by standard home insurance policies.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get coverage, though. Typically, you’ll need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy for coverage. You may be able to buy coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), either directly or through an insurance carrier that sells the coverage, or from a private insurance company. You may also be able to add a flood endorsement to your home insurance policy. Although rare, a flood add-on is available from a few companies.

What types of water and flood damage are covered by home insurance?

While flood damage is not typically covered by home insurance, there are some types of water damage that may be covered. What is covered will depend on your policy, and water damage can typically be added as an endorsement to your existing homeowner’s insurance. You will want to review your policy to understand what it covers and what you may want to obtain additional coverage for.

The types of water damage that are covered by your home insurance will depend largely on which form you have purchased and what endorsements you have added. Policies come in different form types, and most policies are HO-3 or HO-5 policies. For HO-3 policies, your dwelling is covered for “named perils,” which means only the specific causes of loss listed in the policy language are covered, while everything else is not. HO-3 policies cover water damage from the weight of ice, snow or sleet; windstorms; freezing and burst pipes; and the accidental overflow from a household system.

HO-5 policies cover your dwelling for “open perils,” which means that anything not specifically excluded is covered. While this type of policy broadens your coverage, flooding is a common home insurance exclusion. If you aren’t sure what coverage you have, talk to your agent or a company representative to review your policy.

What types of water and flood damage are not covered by home insurance?

While standard HO-3 or HO-5 home insurance can cover a variety of water damage types, there are types of damage that are not usually covered. Flooding, as you know by now, is one of them.

However, there are other types of water damage that aren’t covered. For example, if your sump pump can’t keep up during heavy rains and overflows, you may end up with damage to your home. This type of damage, called sewer backup, is not automatically included on most home insurance policies, but can often be added. Water and sewer backup is a common home insurance endorsement.

Mudslides, mudflows and landslides can also cause water damage in your home, but these perils are typically excluded from coverage. According to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), you may be able to buy special policies for mudflow and landslide coverage, but mudslides are generally not covered by any type of insurance.

Who needs flood insurance?

Because the risk of flooding is present across nearly the entire country, most homeowners should at least consider buying a flood insurance policy. If you have a mortgage and you live in a high-risk flood zone, you’ll likely be required to carry a policy. For homeowners who own the property in full or who are in lower-risk zones, coverage may not be required but could still be a good idea.

Coastal homes, homes near bodies of water and homes in low-lying areas may be especially vulnerable to floods, although homes at higher elevations or miles from lakes or rivers could also be affected during heavy rains. FEMA offers a flood map tool that allows you to search for your address and see what flood zone you are in.

Tips for purchasing flood insurance

Buying flood insurance may seem intimidating, but the process is similar to buying any other kind of coverage. While not every home insurance company will have flood insurance options, many do. If you’re shopping for coverage, you may want to follow these steps:

  1. Ask if your insurer offers flood insurance policies. Some carriers offer their own privately underwritten flood insurance, or even a flood insurance endorsement for your home policy, and many others can facilitate the purchase of an NFIP policy.
  2. Know what coverage you need. Flood policies only have two coverage types: dwelling and personal property. You can purchase a dwelling-only policy or you can choose to carry both coverage types, but you cannot have a personal-property-only policy. Understanding your coverage needs (which may mean working with an agent) can help  you choose coverage wisely.
  3. Shop around. Until relatively recently, flood insurance was available exclusively through the NFIP, meaning you had no choice where to get your coverage. Now, though, some insurers underwrite their own policies, which means you can shop around and compare rates.
  4. Know the time constraints. Most flood policies come with a 30-day waiting period, which means your coverage won’t be effective until 30 days after you make the first payment. There are a few exceptions to this, but keep it in mind when you’re shopping. Additionally, don’t wait until a storm is coming to shop for coverage; many companies put moratoriums on their policies if the potential for damage is imminent.
  5. Make a payment to purchase the policy. To start your coverage, you’ll need to make a payment. Most flood insurance policies must be paid in full; payment plan options are rare. If you pay your insurance through your mortgage escrow account, the company will likely bill your mortgage and you will not need to pay directly.

Frequently asked questions

    • Usually, flood insurance policies have a deductible, and the amount you pay will depend on the extent of the damage. Some flood insurance policies actually have two deductibles — one for dwelling coverage and one for personal property coverage.
    • The cost of your flood insurance will depend on several factors. The most impactful aspect of your premium is your home’s flood zone. Your home’s flood zone is an indication of how likely flooding is in your area. Generally, the more likely that flood damage is, the more you’ll pay for flood insurance. However, you can lower your flood risk by elevating your entire home, installing floor drains or filling in your basement, and that may lower your premium.
    • It depends. The average cost of homeowners insurance is $1,393 per year for $250,000 in dwelling coverage. Home insurance generally provides coverage for many more scenarios than flood insurance, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more or less expensive. That will all depend on your flood zone and the features of your home. If you’re in a very high-risk zone, your flood insurance could be quite pricey. However, you can shop around to find cheaper flood insurance, just like you can find cheaper home insurance by comparing rates. While NFIP policies should cost the same no matter what company is facilitating the sale, private flood insurance rates vary and you might be able to find a cheaper policy.
    • Yes, flood insurance usually covers the flooding associated with hurricanes and storm surges. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t wait for a storm to be upon you to shop for coverage. If a company knows that the risk of widespread flood damage is imminent, you may be barred from buying coverage, or the storm may fall outside the standard 30-day waiting period.