What is an elevation certificate?

03 Feb

If your home is located in a high-risk (or even medium risk) area for flooding, you will most likely need a flood insurance policy to full protect your home. You can purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or in the private market. Regardless of where you purchase your flood coverage, you will most likely have to provide your insurer with an elevation certificate before you can purchase a policy.

Here is everything you need to know about homeowners insurance and an elevation certificate:

What is an elevation certificate?

An elevation certificate simply documents features of your home including its elevation. These certificates will typically include information regarding your home’s location, flood zone, characteristics of the building materials as well as the elevation of its lowest floor. This elevation is the most important factor of the document when it comes to purchasing a flood insurance policy. An elevation certificate is issued by the NFIP and this information is used by insurance agents to set your flood insurance premium.

How are elevation certificates used?

An elevation certificate is used by an insurance agent to calculate your flood insurance premium. The elevation certificate measures how susceptible to flooding the lowest level of your home is and is one component that insurers consider when setting a premium. Insurers will consider other factors of your home to calculate a premium, but the elevation certificate is one of the more important factors 

What information does a elevation certificate include?

  • Location of property and flood zone: The certificate will specify your homes exact location as well as it’s flood risk zone. The NFIP has flood zone maps that put properties in certain zones depending on the likelihood the home will flood. 
  • Building characteristics: This will mention the materials that the home is build out of as well as any notable features of the property such as an attached garage, pool, and any other detached outbuildings.
  • Lowest floor elevation: This will measure the elevation of the lowest floor of your home which is the most likely to flood. This could be the first floor of the home or even a basement or garage.  A professional surveyor will assess the elevations of your home to determine the lowest flood elevation. This is the most important factor to be considered when setting a flood insurance premium. 

How the elevation is used?

The lowest elevation of your property will be compared to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) for the location of your home. The BFE is the elevation at which the NFIP estimates there is a 1% chance of floodwaters reaching in any year. If your lowest flood elevation is well above the BFE your risk of flood is lower and will result in a lower premium. However, if the lowest level of your home is located near the BFE your premium will shoot up. 

Do I need an Elevation Certificate to buy flood insurance?

Not always, if you are buying flood insurance in the private market, they may not require an elevation certificate. If you are purchasing it from the NFIP you will need to provide an elevation certificate. Here are some other factors that may require you to provide an elevation certificate:

  • Your home is financed with a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender
  • Your home is located in a FEMA designed Special Flood Hazard Area, which puts you at a high risk for flooding. 
  • Your flood insurance policy is backed by the NFIP. It should be noted that NFIP policies are sold by regular insurance agents so even though you are dealing with your regular agent, the NFIP may be backing the policy.

If any of these conditions apply to your property, you will need to get an elevation certificate in order to buy flood insurance. 

How can I get an Elevation Certificate?

Hopefully, your elevation certificate has already been created by a previous owner or the builder. If it hasn’t already been created you will have to hire a professional surveyor to create one. Check these sources before creating a new one to make sure an elevation certificate for your property doesn’t already exist:

  • Local Floodplain manager: This is the community administrator for flood activities in your area. They will update flood maps, policies and plans for your local community and basically deal with all things flood related for your area. They may already have an elevation certificate on file for your home. 
  • Property seller: If you are purchasing the home the seller may have an elevation certificate. Ask them if they have one and make sure it is included in the closing documents so you have a copy of it. 
  • Builder: If you are purchasing a new home, ask the builder or developer if they have an elevation certificate and make sure you get a copy of it at closing. 
  • Deed: Check your property deed as sometimes there is an elevation certificate in the deed paperwork.

Getting a New Elevation Certificate

If you cannot get an existing elevation certificate, you will need to create one by hiring a local professional surveyor. This process can take one to two weeks and the cost can vary dramatically depending on where you live.

Professional surveyors include licensed land surveyors, engineers or even an architect who is authorized to complete an elevation certificate. Check your state professional association for land surveyors or ask your local NFIP official for recommendations. 

The cost for an elevation certificate can vary dramatically depending on your location and the size of your home. Expect to pay anywhere between $200 to $2,000 or even more depending on your home’s factors. 

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