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Many North Carolina residents face a high risk of flood damage to their businesses, homes and apartments. Home and renters insurance typically does not cover damages caused by flooding. Flood insurance protects buildings and their contents, but unfortunately, only a small percentage of residents carry North Carolina flood insurance.

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For many, North Carolina flood insurance is relatively affordable, but the cost of coverage can depend on several factors, including your location. While insurance providers sell private flood insurance, most homeowners buy coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Why North Carolina homeowners might want flood insurance

From 2000 to 2015, North Carolina received more than $456 million in federal assistance following floods, hurricanes and severe storms, according to North Carolina Flood Insurance. Among the top 10 most costly hurricanes, five have wreaked havoc on North Carolina. Following Hurricane Sandy, private insurance companies suffered $57 million in losses in North Carolina.

More recently, flooding in the North Canton region led to two deaths and 20 unaccounted for individuals following Tropical Storm Fred in August 2021. Officials estimated that Fred did $300 million in damage and destroyed 225 structures, leading to a state of emergency. In November 2020, heavy rain, which brought nearly 10 inches of rain, caused severe flash flooding across the state, causing three deaths, washed-out homes and collapsed roadways and bridges.

But the Atlantic coastline is not the only North Carolina region at risk of flooding. Floods, many severe, affect all North Carolina regions, with the central regions of the state being particularly high risk. Unfortunately, most North Carolinians are underinsured for flood losses. Although more than 4,000,000 people call the Tarheel State home, only around 130,000 property owners carried flood insurance in 2017. Even so, over 1.3 million acres of property in North Carolina, valued at $8 billion, remains vulnerable to flooding.

Standard homeowners and renters policies do not cover flood damage. NFIP policies pay up to $250,000 for residential building losses and up to $100,000 for contents, and you must buy building and content coverage separately. Private flood insurance may offer higher limits, plus other advantages, such as replacement cost protection for contents and structures and loss of use coverage, but is likely more expensive.

Flood events in North Carolina

Wake County, North Carolina’s most populous county and home to the city of Raleigh, historically has the most flood events with 132 events as of 2019. Guilford County has the next most frequent flood events, with 93 as of 2019. Neither county is on the coast, highlighting the fact that not only coastal homes are at risk of flooding or need coverage. Larger floods caused by wide-spread rain or hurricanes may receive the most press attention, but a heavy local rainfall that floods a nearby stream may also cause extensive damage to your home.

The most severe weather event in recent history in North Carolina was Tropical Storm Fred in 2021. This caused rivers throughout the state to rise as much as 20 feet above flood stage and river basins in eastern North Carolina to reach 1999’s Hurricane Floyd flood levels.

As climate change leads to more uncertain weather throughout the country, it’s likely that hurricanes and coastal storms will continue to increase in the U.S. Flood insurance in North Carolina may continue to become even more important for homeowners and renters, even those not living in current high-risk flood zones.

County Flood events between 1996-2019
Wake 132
Guilford 93
Watauga 81
Henderson & Durham (tie) 77
New Hanover 74

Cost of flood insurance in North Carolina

According to FEMA, in 2019, NFIP flood claims averaged $52,000 per claim nationwide. The same year, homeowners paid an average flood insurance premium of around $700. A few private insurers write private flood insurance policies, but the federal government administers the majority through the NFIP.

The underwriting process may vary among private flood insurance companies. Factors that can affect the cost of NFIP flood insurance may include:

  • Age and design of your property
  • Flood zone in which your property lies
  • Location and elevation of the property and its utility structures
  • Type of coverage, such as building, contents or both
  • Deductible levels

In 2021, FEMA updated its system of determining flood insurance costs to Risk Rating 2.0, which meant that those who already have flood insurance may see changes in their rate. Roughly 66% will see a small increase. For the most accurate insurance premium estimate, request a quote from a provider that sells NFIP or private flood insurance or speak with a licensed insurance agent.

What flood insurance covers

What will your North Carolina flood insurance pay for in the event of a flood? There are two types of coverage: building coverage and contents coverage. These are purchased separately and each protects different items after a flood:

  • Building coverage protects your dwelling, including the following, according to FEMA:
  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Furnaces and water heaters
  • Refrigerators, stoves and built-in appliances
  • Permanently installed carpeting
  • Permanently installed cabinets, bookcases and paneling
  • Window blinds
  • Foundation walls, staircases and anchorage systems
  • Detached garages
  • Fuel tanks, water tanks and pumps and solar energy equipment

Contents coverage, meanwhile, will pay for damage to items including these:

  • Your personal belongings such as clothing or technology
  • Curtains
  • Washer and dryer
  • Portable air conditioners
  • Microwave ovens
  • Carpets that aren’t included in building coverage
  • Valuable items such as furs or artwork (up to $2,500)

There are some items or costs that your flood insurance will not cover, however. These include any costs incurred from living expenses while your home is being repaired, cars, property outside your home such as decks, patios and septic systems, and any personal property that you keep in your basement. The latter is why it is a good idea to move valuables out of your basement when flooding is predicted in your area.

When to purchase flood insurance

If you live in a moderate- or high-risk flood zone, buying flood insurance ahead of time can be an important financial protocol. You can find your property’s flood risk using the floodplain mapping tool on the North Carolina Flood Risk Information System website. In general, it’s worth considering flood insurance if you live in one of the high-risk counties we’ve listed above, including Wake, Guilford and Watauga counties, as well as regions along the coastline.

In most cases, you cannot file an NFIP claim until 30 days after purchasing a policy, so buying a policy as a storm approaches may not provide protection in time. However, the NFIP waives the 30-day waiting period under certain circumstances, such as:

  • When you buy a policy while taking out or refinancing a mortgage
  • When you alter your coverage when renewing an existing flood insurance policy
  • When the flood damage is caused by burning or flooding of adjacent federal property

When you purchase a house or commercial property within 13 months of the property being deemed high-risk for flooding, the NFIP reduces the waiting period to one day.

How to purchase flood insurance in North Carolina

Many major insurance providers sell NFIP policies, including Allstate, Geico and Liberty Mutual. If you already have a business, homeowners or renters policy, ask your agent if the carrier offers private flood insurance or NFIP policies. According to the North Carolina Department of Insurance, all but 28 communities participate in the NFIP. You can find insurers who participate in the NFIP program using the provider look-up tool on the FEMA website. Flood insurance is available for businesses, homeowners and renters. If you’re buying a new home, you can purchase a flood insurance policy at closing.

How to file a NFIP flood insurance claim

Following a flood, you will likely have a lot on your mind and may be badly shaken up. Fortunately, the NFIP makes it easy to submit your claim, which you should do as soon as possible. Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Contact the company that holds your flood insurance. If you’re not sure who that is, you can call NFIP at (877) 336-2627.
  2. Take photographs and videos of damaged personal property, including the contents of cabinets and closets and exterior and interior structures. If appliances such as a refrigerator or stove were damaged, take a photograph of the serial number.
  3. Remove wet items such as carpeting, curtains and furniture to prevent mold, but keep samples of destroyed items to present to the adjuster. If electrical or heating and air conditioning systems suffer damage, you can initiate repair before the adjuster visits your home but keep receipts for the services.
  4. Choose either an in-person or remote adjuster appointment. If you choose a remote appointment, the adjuster will guide you through the documentation process. They may ask for specific photographic or video documentation and may require you to take measurements of interior spaces or exterior walls. During the appointment, the adjuster can address questions about your coverage and the claims process.
  5. Check if you qualify for FEMA disaster assistance. If your business or home suffers damage from a storm that earns an official Presidential Disaster Declaration, you may qualify for FEMA disaster assistance, along with a flood insurance settlement. FEMA disaster assistance can help pay expenses such as temporary housing.

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