How to buy flood insurance coverage
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Floods can be devastating, but having flood insurance may help protect your finances from the fallout of flood damage. If you’ve decided to buy a flood insurance policy, or if you’re required to buy one by your lender, you might be wondering where to start. After all, flood insurance isn’t as heavily advertised as auto or home insurance, and you might not know what information you need to get a quote. Bankrate can help. Our insurance editorial team walks you through the process of buying flood insurance.
How to buy flood insurance
Are you wondering how to buy flood insurance? It’s typically fairly easy, but it’s not quite the same as buying a home insurance policy. You can buy flood coverage in two ways: through the government-sponsored National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurer. Previously, only the NFIP sold flood insurance, but in recent years, private carriers have begun entering the market, so comparing rates from the NFIP and private carriers may help you find the best flood insurance rate.
Which insurance carriers offer flood insurance?
Many home insurance companies partner with the NFIP to offer flood insurance. To find a company in your state that sells flood coverage, you can use the flood insurance provider tool provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Rates from these NFIP-sponsored policies will be the same regardless of which carrier is helping you navigate the process. You’ll only find rates that differ from the NFIP by getting quotes from private flood insurers — companies that underwrite their own flood policies. Working with an independent insurance agent could be helpful if you want to get private flood insurance quotes. Many private flood insurance policies are sold by specialty carriers that an independent agent may have access to.
What to know before buying flood insurance
Before requesting a flood insurance policy quote, you may want to know some questions to ask to make sure you are getting the flood coverage you need. FEMA suggests asking your agent the following:
Does my community participate in the National Flood Insurance Program?
FEMA says that most communities participate, and your agent can tell you if that’s the case. To get flood insurance through the NFIP, your community must participate.
What flood zone do I live in?
Flood zones range from low-risk to high-risk. Technically, everyone is in a flood zone, although your zone may be the lowest possible risk level. It may be important to understand your flood risk level to make an informed decision about your coverage. FEMA’s flood map tool lets you put in your address or coordinates to find out what flood zone your property is in.
High-risk areas are marked with zones beginning with ‘A’ or ‘V’, whereas moderate- to low-risk areas are marked as ‘B’, ‘C’, or ‘X’. Keep in mind that if you live in a higher-risk flood zone, your mortgage company will likely require a flood insurance policy just like a homeowners insurance policy to account for potential flood damage.
How much flood insurance should I get?
As with any insurance policy, not all losses will be covered, so it is important to know what the policy covers before you buy flood insurance. Does it cover the contents of your home or just damage to the property? What types of floods are covered? Working with an agent could help you determine the right coverage level for you.
What does a typical flood insurance policy cover?
Flood insurance policies only cover damage from natural flood disasters, not from an overflowing toilet or broken pipe. So, for your flood policy to cover damage, it has to be from a naturally occurring incident.
If you need more clarification, FEMA’s definition of a flood may help sort things out. According to FEMA, a flood occurs when at least two acres of normally dry land are covered in standing water due to natural events or when standing water occurs due to a collapse of land along the shoreline of a natural body of water.
There are a couple of types of flood insurance, and what kind you have will dictate what’s covered.
Building property coverage
This type of coverage provides protection to:
- The structure of your house
- The electrical and plumbing systems
- Central AC, furnaces, vacuum systems, etc.
- Refrigerators and built-in appliances
- Permanently installed carpeting
- Window blinds
- Detached garages
If you want the items inside your house to be covered under your flood policy, you’ll have to purchase an additional type of coverage: personal property (or contents) flood coverage.
Personal property flood coverage
This covers most personal belongings or anything that is inside the house up to $100,000, including:
- Clothing, furniture and electronic equipment
- Portable air conditioners and window units
- Carpets not included in building coverage
- Washers and dryers
- Food freezers and the food in them
- Valuables like artwork and fur (up to $2,500)
For some homeowners, it may be worth looking into an excess flood insurance policy. These privately-offered policies cover your home’s structure and systems like a normal flood insurance policy but have a higher building coverage limit than the $250,000 limit on NFIP policies and also extend to your personal property. In some cases, excess flood insurance policies may even cover costs to pay for preventive flood measures or offer additional living expenses in the event of a covered loss.
Can I get discounts on flood insurance?
While you won’t find the same common discounts on a flood insurance policy that you would for a normal homeowners insurance policy, there are flood insurance discounts available.
Depending on the building structure and the rating categories you fall into based on FEMA’s designations, you may qualify for one or more flood insurance discounts with the NFIP. Your home or building’s foundation type, first-floor height, built-in flood openings and methods of mitigation all factor into potential discounts. Generally, the higher the building is off the ground, the lower the flood risk and the greater the discount.
You may also be eligible for a discount if you’re a part of any particular FEMA programs or ratings groups — such as the Emergency Program or the Community Rating System (CRS). CRS communities are those that have taken steps to reduce and prevent flood damage to insured properties and developed comprehensive floodplain management.
Rental-specific flood insurance coverage
Businesses and homeowners are not the only ones who need flood insurance; renters may also want to consider what options are available. If you are a renter, you can also get a policy through the NFIP that will cover the contents of your rental, up to $100,000. The cost of the policy will depend on where you live, the floor you live on and the flood risk to the property you are renting. If you are located in a low- to moderate-risk area, you may qualify for a Preferred Risk Policy, which will likely be significantly cheaper than a higher-risk policy.
Frequently asked questions
Through the National Flood Insurance Program, the average cost of flood insurance is around $700 a year, according to FEMA. This rate typically increases in regions more prone to flooding and lowers in places with less risk. Private carriers set their rates, which means you may be able to find a lower rate through the private market. Shopping your policy with the NFIP and a few private flood insurers might help you find a cheaper policy.
Flooding is considered a gradual event rather than a sudden accident, and this is why it is not included in a home or renter’s insurance policy. Additionally, flood damages tend to be widespread and cause large damage amounts, which home insurance companies may not be properly designed to handle. The NFIP, or a private flood insurer, has designed its finances to withstand the large influx of claims that happen with flood events.
Some ways you may be able to protect against flood damage include:
- Raising the house from the surface
- Installing sump pumps and checking valves on pipes
- Sealing cracks and gaps to prevent water from entering the house
- Waterproofing electrical wiring
- Directing runoff away from the house and towards the street or gutter.
Like home insurance, flood insurance is not state-mandated, but you may be required to purchase a policy if you have a mortgage and live in or near a high-risk flood zone. However, even if you own your home outright, having a flood insurance policy may help prevent the financial strain of being responsible for flood damages out of pocket. You can assess your home or building’s risk level by checking FEMA’s flood map. Before making a decision, you could consider speaking with a licensed agent to determine how necessary flood insurance is for your situation.