Floods are one of the most common natural disasters in the United States, and they are the second-highest cause of weather-related deaths. In July 2022, historic flooding hit eastern Kentucky, when a storm dropped more than eight inches of rain on some parts of the state, resulting in almost 40 deaths. Not only can floods cause loss of life, but they can also destroy property. Standard home insurance policies don’t cover flooding, so you must carry flood insurance if you want flood protection.

Flooding statistics

Even if you don’t live in a high-risk flood zone, flooding is still a possibility in your area. Here are some statistics to know about flooding:

Insurance Home
  • 90% of natural disasters in the United States involve a flood, making flooding the most frequent and the most expensive natural disaster in the country. (FEMA)
  • More than 20% of all National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims come from outside the areas of highest risk. (FEMA)
  • A single inch of water in a home can cause more than $25,000 in property damage. (FEMA)
  • Flooding can be caused by a number of things, including snow melt, heavy rains, flash floods and mudflows. (DoSomething.org)
  • While some states have a higher risk of flooding than others, data shows that all 50 states are subject to flash floods. (DoSomething.org)
  • Hurricane Katrina was the most expensive flood on record in the country. The damages resulted in roughly $16 billion in insured losses. (Triple-I)
  • In the United States, there are more than 7.5 million homes at risk of damage from a category 5 storm surge. (Triple-I)
  • In 2022 alone, there have been 76 flood-related fatalities. (Weather.gov)
  • A majority of the flood-related deaths in 2022 have occurred at home, followed by flood-related deaths while driving. (NWS)
  • The majority of flood deaths in the country in 2022 have been among people between the ages of 60-79. (NWS)

Risk rating 2.0

Most flood insurance policies are backed by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which recently rolled out a new rating system that impacts how premiums are calculated.

The new system, called Risk Rating 2.0, moves away from the traditional risk evaluation model of looking at your home’s location on a map. Rates used to be determined based on your home’s elevation and its placement within the national flood map. Risk Rating 2.0, however, brings a greater number of relevant factors into consideration, including flood frequency, flood types, distance to a water source and, perhaps most importantly, the cost to rebuild your home.

According to FEMA, this new system will lower flood insurance rates for lower-cost homes while doing the opposite for higher-cost homes. It also ensures that every homeowner is paying their fair share based on the value of their house.

Flood damage

Flood damage can be incredibly costly. FEMA estimates that a single inch of water can cause as much as $50,000 in damage to a 5,000 sq. ft. home. Depending on the extent of the damage, and the value of your personal items, repairs after a flood could be significantly more expensive.

Flood damage cost estimates

In the table below, you can see how the cost of flood damage will differ based on the amount of water and the size of your home, based on data from Floodsmart.gov:

1,000 sq. ft., one-story 2,500 sq. ft., one-story 5,000 sq. ft., two-story
1” of water $10,819 $26,807 $53,454
12” of water $29,360 $72,162 $143,519
24” of water $36,660 $87,326 $171,775
36” of water $39,831 $94,538 $185,704
48” of water $43,400 $103,355 $203,280

While this data can help you determine how much flood damage might cost to repair, the actual cost of repairs will depend on the specific damages you’re dealing with. For example, if there is mold in your home after a flood, you can expect it to cost between $1,000 and $3,500 to fix. If you need to replace all your furniture on the first floor of your home, it could cost an additional $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the size of the home.

How do floods damage homes?

A little water may not seem like a significant concern, but even a single inch of water can do tens of thousands of dollars of damage to your home. Why is the total so high? Floods can damage your home in the following ways:

  • Structural damage: Flood waters can damage your flooring and compromise the integrity of your foundation. Flooding can also cause drywall deterioration and other structural problems.
  • Broken appliances: Most appliances are not designed to withstand water exposure. A flood could potentially ruin everything from your oven to your fridge to your washer and dryer.
  • Electrical system problems: Water is a problem for your home’s electrical system. Damaged wiring can also cause power surges that damage anything you have plugged in.
  • Septic tank issues: If you have a septic system at your house, floodwaters can wash in debris that clogs it.
  • Well water contamination: Similarly, flooding can wash debris and contaminants into your well.
  • Damaged belongings: After a flood, it’s likely that many of the items in your home will get damaged or destroyed. For example, you can expect to replace furniture, electronics, appliances and clothing that gets wet in a flood.
  • Mold and mildew: If flood waters enter your home, it’s possible that mold or mildew could grow inside. Even if the water is cleaned up promptly, mold can still grow. Also, keep in mind that items that get wet but are not destroyed can also grow mold or mildew. Therefore, it’s best to discard any items that touch flood waters, even if you think they are salvageable.

Flood danger by state

Certain states have a much higher risk of flooding than others. For example, states that experience tropical storms, like Florida and Alabama, have more flooding than states on the west coast. In the table below, you can see the average number of flood events, the average NFIP claim payout and the number of total flood fatalities in 2021. This data was collected and published by the National Weather Service (NWS), FEMA and Weather.gov.

State Annual flood events (2017) Annual flood events (2018) Annual flood events (2019) 3-year average annual flood events (2017 – 2019) Average NFIP flood insurance claims payment, 2019 Flood fatalities, 2021
Alabama 115 74 47 79 $32,187 8
Alaska 2 3 0 2 $14,078 0
Arizona 116 165 14 98 $33,200 11
Arkansas 199 213 136 183 $36,195 0
California 260 150 197 202 $37,590 3
Colorado 62 91 4 52 $20,017 4
Connecticut 16 25 2 14 $25,738 1
Delaware 23 21 0 15 $15,276 0
Florida 179 76 5 87 $37,385 0
Georgia 227 234 12 158 $29,787 0
Hawaii 78 93 24 65 $36,106 0
Idaho 122 27 16 55 $1,984 0
Illinois 277 284 204 255 $16,004 1
Indiana 156 186 104 149 $42,566 2
Iowa 68 400 239 236 $38,248 0
Kansas 144 174 166 161 $25,152 0
Kentucky 228 449 196 291 $34,800 3
Louisiana 142 86 102 110 $60,344 5
Maine 25 23 14 21 $18,341 0
Maryland 55 193 7 85 $12,306 1
Massachusetts 69 92 5 55 $16,875 0
Michigan 29 50 27 35 $14,424 0
Minnesota 30 123 96 83 $16,559 0
Mississippi 224 175 95 165 $24,216 3
Missouri 301 204 300 268 $34,532 2
Montana 23 80 29 44 $0 0
Nebraska 89 100 72 87 $33,163 0
Nevada 30 29 4 21 $39,988 0
New Hampshire 35 28 13 25 $62,740 0
New Jersey 100 141 10 84 $37,990 27
New Mexico 89 96 1 62 $21,134 6
New York 164 130 46 113 $33,248 17
North Carolina 124 362 44 177 $40,724 6
North Dakota 6 30 15 17 $5,463 0
Ohio 232 233 107 191 $24,348 0
Oklahoma 156 116 139 137 $44,050 0
Oregon 37 8 29 25 $15,473 0
Pennsylvania 173 260 36 156 $33,042 5
Rhode Island 5 5 0 3 $24,992 0
South Carolina 53 77 5 45 $16,401 0
South Dakota 35 198 271 168 N/A 0
Tennessee 140 183 114 146 $51,241 29
Texas 418 380 273 357 $32,074 8
Utah 49 38 2 30 $21,465 1
Vermont 28 27 15 23 $28,669 7
Virginia 131 571 48 250 $13,278 1
Washington 62 19 7 29 $39,584 2
West Virginia 104 285 72 154 $29,075 0
Wisconsin 93 205 46 115 $9,441 0
Wyoming 23 32 13 23 $0 0

Flood insurance basics

Flood insurance, which is designed to pay out for damage your home sustains after a flood, usually costs an average of roughly $700 each year. Most flood insurance policies are issued by the NFIP, which is federally-backed by FEMA. Unlike private flood insurance, NFIP policies are underwritten by the government.

In the event of a flood, you can file a claim with the NFIP and receive a payout for the repairs. Like regular home insurance policies, flood insurance covers your dwelling and your personal belongings. However, you must wait 30 days before you can use your flood insurance coverage in most circumstances.

For homeowners and renters in flood-prone areas, flood insurance serves as an important piece of their overall coverage portfolio because homeowners and renters insurance almost always exclude flooding as a covered peril. The good news is that many large property insurance companies sell flood insurance, often through the NFIP.

What does flood insurance cover?

Flood insurance usually covers your home and personal belongings, assuming you get both dwelling and personal property (also called contents) coverage. Here are some things that are commonly covered:

  • The structure of your home, including the foundation
  • Plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems
  • Flooring
  • Appliances
  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Clothing
  • Window coverings

Just like homeowners insurance, your flood insurance may cover valuables like rugs or art, but there is usually a limit on the payout.

How to lower your flood risk

The good news is that even if you live on a flood plain, you can take some steps to protect your home against water damage — and you can potentially land more affordable flood insurance as a result. However, flood mitigation often looks different for current homeowners vs. prospective homeowners who may be building a new home.

Here are some things you can do to lower your flood risk as a current homeowner:

  • Elevate your utilities: Your flood insurance will probably cost more if your utilities are situated below the base flood elevation (BFE) or the level to which water would likely rise in a flood. Move electrical panels, water heaters, HVAC systems and other utilities to the attic or place them on an elevated platform.
  • Install flood openings: Flood openings allow water to flow out of your house if the water levels rise inside. Basically, they prevent standing water in your home (which can also help to minimize mold damage). The NFIP will not count doors and windows as flood openings unless they have flood openings installed in them.
  • Fill in your basement or crawlspace: Generally, if your basement is located below BFE, the NFIP will either not cover it, or you could pay as much as 20 percent more for your flood insurance policy.

If you’re in the process of buying or building a home, here are some ways that you can reduce the risk of major flood damage:

  • Avoid buying a home in a flood zone: If you don’t already own a house, one of the best and most obvious ways to lower your flood risk is to avoid buying a house in a high-risk flood zone. You should also ask the seller about any flooding or water issues they might have experienced during their ownership. If flooding has been a problem in the past, you might consider passing on the deal.
  • Build a house with flood-resistant materials: If you are building a new home, consider using flood-resistant materials, like marine-grade plywood, concrete, closed-cell foam insulation and ceramic tiles, to prevent major flood damage inside and outside your house.
  • Improve the lot grading: When buying or building a home, pay attention to the lot grading. Make sure that water is draining away from the home, not toward the foundation. You may need to change the landscaping of the lot to improve the grading and redirect water away from the house.
  • Look for homes with a sump pump: During your house hunt, look for homes that have a sump pump installed in the backyard. Having a sump pump can help you avoid flooding in the lower levels of your home by pumping groundwater away from the house.

What is an elevation certificate?

To measure your flood risk with or without the above preventive measures in place, the NFIP may also require you to secure an elevation certificate for your home.

An elevation certificate measures the elevation of your home against the surrounding area, identifying things like the specific elevation of your lowest floor and any features of your home that could change its risk for flooding. Ultimately, an elevation certificate is used by the NFIP to determine how much flood risk your home faces.

Getting an elevation certificate can often help reduce your premium, but keep in mind that they are often expensive to obtain. To get the elevation certificate for your home, you should contact your local floodplain manager by calling your city or town office. If you have trouble reaching your local floodplain manager, you can reach out to your state’s floodplain manager. Another way to get an elevation certificate is to contact the developer or contractor that built your home. You can ask the seller for a copy if you are shopping for a house in a flood zone.

If there is not an existing elevation certificate for your home, you can hire a licensed land surveyor, architect or professional engineer to conduct the report.

Whether you have access to an elevation certificate or not, the most important thing is that you understand your home or apartment’s specific risk for flooding and that you purchase flood insurance to protect yourself.