How to buy flood insurance coverage

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The purpose of home or auto insurance is to not prevent unexpected mishaps but to provide you with financial coverage in the event of a catastrophe. And one of the most severe damages to your house can be caused by floods. Even a few inches of standing water can wreak havoc on your property and result in thousands of dollars worth of damage. The bad news is that a standard homeowners or renters insurance policy does not protect against flooding. Regardless of the type of coverage you already have for your property, flood insurance has to be purchased separately.

Since floods are the most common natural disaster in the U.S., even when you live outside a flood zone, purchasing insurance coverage can be a wise move. Whether you own or rent your house, flood coverage could save you from a sudden financial setback in case of water damage to your property or belongings.

How to buy flood insurance

Wondering how to buy flood insurance? It is not like buying homeowners insurance. You can only purchase flood insurance through an insurance agent or an insurer that participates in the federally backed National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. If you already have an insurance agent, start with them, but be aware that not all agents offer it, and it can be tricky to find in areas that are prone to flooding. You cannot buy it directly from the NFIP, according to FEMA, so if your agent does not sell flood insurance, you can contact the NFIP Referral Call Center to request an agent referral.

Which insurance carriers offer flood insurance?

Not all agents or companies offer flood insurance. You can get it through:

  • One of the approximately 60 private companies that offer it, including Allstate, Farmers Insurance, Liberty Mutual and USAA.
  • The National Flood Insurance Program’s Servicing Agents, which is only an option if you are in one of the 22,000 participating communities. If you are hoping to bundle your car insurance with flood insurance, Geico offers flood insurance through the NFIP.

Both are backed by the federal government, which means either is a solid option.

What you need to know before you buy flood insurance

Before you make that call to your insurance agent, though, you need to know what to ask to make sure you are completely covered. FEMA suggests asking your agent the following:

Does my community participate in the National Flood Insurance Program?

FEMA says that most communities do participate, and your agent can tell you if that’s the case. In order to get flood insurance through the NFIP, your community will need to participate.

What flood zone do I live in?

Many, many communities are built on a flood zone, and you may not even be aware that your house is situated on one. It is important to know what the risk is for flooding to your home––a number of factors can affect it––and changes are frequently made to the flood map, which could raise the cost of your policy.

How much coverage should I get for my building and for my contents?

As with any insurance policy, there are things that will or will not be covered, and 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? Remember that being underinsured is not much better than being uninsured. You will want to make sure that you cover as much of your property as possible, provided that it fits into your budget.

What does a typical flood insurance policy cover?

In general, flood insurance policies only cover damage from natural flood disasters, not from an overflowing toilet or broken pipe. So in order 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 can help sort things out. According to FEMA, a flood occurs when at least two acres of normally dry land is 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 what is called…

Personal property coverage

This covers most personal belongings, or anything that is inside the house, including:

  • Clothing, furniture and electronic equipment
  • Curtains
  • Portable air conditioners, 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)

Rental-specific coverage

Businesses and homeowners are not the only ones who need flood insurance; renters should look at what options are available, too. 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 and how much of a flood risk there is 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, and it will not cost much at all.

Frequently asked questions

How much does flood insurance cost?

Through the National Flood Insurance Program, the average cost of flood insurance is around $700 a year, according to FEMA. This rate becomes higher in regions more prone to flooding and lower in places that are less of a risk.

Why is flood insurance not included in a home insurance 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. Any water that first touches the ground before entering the property is considered a flood and not covered by a standard policy.

How do I protect my house from flooding?

Some ways to protect against flood damage are by 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, and directing runoff away from the house and towards the street or gutter.

Written by
Cynthia Widmayer
Insurance Contributor
Cynthia Widmayer has over two years of experience as an insurance and personal finance writer. She covers home, car and life insurance products for Bankrate, the Simple Dollar, and Coverage.com, among others.