Navigating the complexities of flood insurance is often challenging, especially for homeowners in flood-prone areas where premiums may be steep. However, gaining insight into your property’s flood risk can be empowering. Enter the flood elevation certificate. If you’re wondering what an elevation certificate is, it’s a document that holds crucial information about your property’s elevation in relation to flood zones and helps you understand your risk profile. With this knowledge, homeowners can make informed decisions about mitigating the risk of flooding and potentially reduce their insurance premiums.

What are flood elevation certificates?

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood elevation certificate provides specific property elevation information and may be especially beneficial for homeowners in high-risk flood zones. Although the primary purpose of elevation certificates is to ensure compliance with community floodplain regulations, they may also be used to help determine — and even re-evaluate — flood risk.

Elevation certificates assess the risk of future flood damage by examining your home’s:

  • First floor height
  • Build
  • Flood zone
  • Location

With these details documented, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and private flood insurance providers can better evaluate how likely it is that flood waters could damage your home. This helps these organizations, along with financial institutions like mortgage companies, determine your home’s level of risk. Flood insurance companies then use your specific risk level to determine your premium.

Elevation certificates and risk mitigation

Homeowners may also use elevation certificates for flood insurance discounts. If the certificate proves that the property is at lower risk for flood damage than the premium initially factored, or if the homeowner has taken action to mitigate risk based on the information provided in their property’s elevation certificate, their flood insurance premium might be lowered.

When do you need an elevation certificate?

Elevation certificates are no longer required to purchase flood insurance under FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0. However, homeowners can choose to provide one to their agent to see if they qualify for a premium reduction based on the information provided. While not required, these are some cases where an elevation certificate may be worth obtaining:

  • Your home is located in a historic floodplain. If your home is located in a historic floodplain — meaning it has been flooded multiple times over the course of 100 years — getting an elevation certificate could help you determine risk mitigation strategies.
  • You are buying an NFIP policy. If you purchase flood insurance through the NFIP, providing an elevation certificate may help you lower your premium.
  • The federal government is involved. If your home loan is going to be insured or issued by the U.S. government, an elevation certificate may be required before the loan will be approved.
  • Your lender requires flood insurance. Your mortgage lender may require you to purchase flood insurance if your home is in a flood plain. An elevation certificate might be useful in a few ways. If you do not believe your home needs flood insurance, an elevation certificate could help back up your claim. After you get the certificate, you can then submit a request to get a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA), which may allow you to bypass your lender’s flood insurance requirement by removing your home from a FEMA-designated flood zone. If your home is significantly elevated, you may still need flood insurance, but an elevation certificate could drastically reduce your premium.
  • You completed a major home renovation. Renovations like home additions or basement remodels could change the lowest elevation point of your home. After completing the project, consider getting a new elevation certificate to see if the renovation altered your flood risk.

If you are unsure if you should get an elevation certificate, talk to your mortgage lender or insurance agent for clarification. Your agent may also be able to clarify if an elevation certificate could lower your flood insurance premium.

How to get an elevation certificate

Each state has a floodplain manager who will likely be able to help you if you are wondering how to get an elevation certificate. You can contact your state’s floodplain manager and ask if your home already has an elevation certificate. If you are purchasing a home, the sellers might also have a copy of a current certification.

However, if your home does not already have an elevation certificate and you need or want to obtain one, you have a few options. A certified engineer, a state-licensed surveyor or a certified architect should be able to examine your home and provide you with an elevation certificate. Just be sure that whoever you choose to hire is certified to provide their services for an elevation certificate; not everyone has the proper training to do so.

FEMA suggests homebuyers or homeowners check with their state’s professional association of land surveyors. There may be a surveyor close by who can assist you.

Homeowners may also be able to self-certify their home’s elevation by completing the online form on FEMA’s website.

How much does an elevation certificate cost?

How much a flood elevation certificate is will depend on a few factors. Every individual engineer, surveyor and architect sets their own rates. Plus, factors like your home’s construction and its location could also affect your elevation certificate cost.

Other factors that could affect your elevation survey cost include:

  • The building’s structural details: If you have a basement or crawlspace, these areas may need to be measured and accessed, which may be difficult depending on the home.
  • The building’s location: If your home is difficult to access or GPS does not function properly at the property, your elevation certificate may be more expensive. Many tools that surveyors use rely on GPS data.
  • The building’s occupancy type: If the property is used for commercial purposes, the cost of the certificate may increase significantly. This is because mechanical structures, such as elevators, require different measurements and considerations than a residential property.
  • Your requested turnaround time: Elevation certificates require time and careful measurements. If you need a certificate quickly, it could put additional constraints on the surveyor, which can lead to higher costs.

Whether you are required to have an elevation certificate due to your federal loan or you are obtaining one willingly, knowing the details about the process can be helpful. Since homeowners insurance does not typically cover flood damage and a separate flood insurance policy is usually needed, insurance costs can add up quickly. An elevation certificate may help you to lower the cost of your flood insurance policy.

Frequently asked questions

    • Under Risk Rating 2.0, homeowners are no longer required to get an elevation certificate prior to purchasing flood insurance. Instead, FEMA determines a property’s first-floor height — one of the key factors in determining flood risk — on its own, along with other factors, to calculate rates. Still, an elevation certificate may provide more insight into your risk level and help inform ways to reduce your risk. If you’re purchasing a home, you may want to contact a local licensed land surveyor or see if the home already has an elevation certificate.
    • No. An elevation certificate is a document that shows how likely your home is to be damaged by flood waters. It analyzes elements like the elevation of your structure, the features of your building and the flood-mitigation features you may have installed. A land survey is a document that specifies the exact boundaries of your land. While it may include topographical information, a land survey doesn’t take your building’s specific features into account. However, if you’re getting a land survey, the surveyor might be able to complete an elevation certificate at the same time.
    • It could. If you don’t have an elevation certificate, your flood insurance rate will be largely based on the flood zone your home is in. But what if you’re in a high-risk flood zone and your home sits at the top of a large hill? Or the home is elevated on stilts? The only way to showcase the actual elevation of your home — the level to which it sits above potential flood waters — is to get an elevation certificate. If the certificate shows that your home is elevated enough that flood damage is unlikely, you may get a lower rate.
    • An elevation certificate plays a key role in insurance renewal by providing essential data on a property’s elevation relative to flood risk zones. This enables insurance companies to accurately assess flood risk, determine coverage qualification and set appropriate premiums.