FEMA Flood Zones: Everything You Should Know

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Flood insurance covers water damage that stems from heavy rains, storm surges, high tides and other natural disasters. While obtaining flood insurance can increase your annual premium by several hundred dollars, its benefits can well outweigh the costs if your property was to suffer flood damage.

The good news, however, is that you don’t have to leave the question of whether you should leave flood insurance to guesswork. FEMA flood zone designations are available to assess an area’s flood risk, and will go a long way in helping you decide if you need flood insurance for your property.

Here’s what you need to know about the different FEMA flood zones (including Florida Keys flood zones), and what they mean for your flood insurance needs.

Breaking Down FEMA Flood Zones

FEMA determines flood hazard based on the likelihood that an area will experience one flood during a 100-year period — or in other words, that an area has a one percent chance of experiencing a major flood event in any given year. Of course, there are many locations that could experience flooding on a much more frequent basis.

The 100-year floodplain standard (also known as the base flood) is the baseline for determining an area’s risk for flooding, and plays a direct role in whether an area will be given a high-risk or moderate to low-risk designation.

Within these broader categories of high-risk and low-risk flood zones, there are several letter designations that explain in greater detail the severity and type of flood threat an area may face.

Special Flood Hazard Areas

Areas that have a one percent or greater chance of being flooded in a given year are designated as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs) by FEMA. There are several different zones that help to describe the specific nature of the flood risk.

Zone A - used to designate an area with a one percent chance of flooding in any given year — which equates to a 26 percent chance of the property being flooded during a standard 30-year mortgage period. Zone A indicates the area hasn’t undergone a detailed analysis to determine the elevation or depth of base floods.

Zone AE - is used for base floodplains where base flood elevations have been measured. Zone AE is the standard for new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), which are being used to replace Zones A1-A30. The numbered “A” zones fulfill the same purpose as Zone AE, but are being replaced in the newer versions of these maps.

Zone AO - indicates a river or stream flood hazard area, including alluvial fans and washes. The area in question has at least a one percent chance of shallow flooding in any given year, with the floods expected to have an average depth between one and three feet. Flooding is typically the result of sheet flow — or when surface waters overflow because of high precipitation.

Zone AH - used when the annual flood risk is the result of shallow flooding from a pond. As with Zone AO, flooding from these areas is expected to have an average depth of one to three feet.

Zone A99 - indicates that while an area has a one percent chance of flooding in any given year, it is being protected by a federal flood control system, such as a dam, levee, or dike. These systems help control water in high-risk areas by reaching specific legal requirements regarding how they are built.

Zone AR - is a temporary designation that indicates an area is at an increased risk of flooding because a flood control system is currently being built or restored. After the restoration project is completed and all relevant data has been provided to FEMA, the Zone AR designation will be removed. The area will revert to its previous designation based on the level of protection offered by the dam or levee.

When a decertified flood control system is undergoing restoration, there are several subcategories that may also be used. Zone AR/A indicates a Zone A area is at temporarily heightened risk because the SFHA exists in tandem with a flood control system that is currently undergoing repairs or decommissioned. Zone AR/AE and Zone AR/A1-A30 apply in areas where base flood elevations and depths were previously measured. Zone AR/AO applies when rivers or streams may present an additional risk to some properties in the AR region.

Zone V - the Special Flood Hazard Area designation that is used for coastal areas. Like Zone A, these areas have the highest risk of flooding (one percent or more each year). Zone V areas, such as Florida Keys flood zones, are considered especially hazardous due to its proximity to the ocean, where hurricane storm surges can cause widespread flood damage — the “V” designation means that the area is subject to additional hazards from storm waves. As with Zone A, an area with a standard Zone V designation does not have a base flood elevation.

Zone VE and Zones V1-V30 - also similarly correspond with Zones AE and A1-A30, but are used for coastal areas where storm waves are also a threat. These areas have the same level of flood risk as a standard Zone V, but base flood elevations have been made available based on hydraulic analyses conducted by FEMA. VE is the newer designation, while V1-V30 are used on older maps.

Moderate Flood Hazard Areas

Areas with a “moderate” flood risk have been determined to have a risk between a 100-year “base flood” and a 500-year flood — or a 0.2 to one percent chance of flooding in any given year. Due to the lower risk in comparison to other flood hazard areas, there are fewer designations for these areas of moderate risk.

Zone B - used to designate areas with moderate risk from “lesser” flooding hazards. These areas may have levees or dams that protect them from 100-year floods, drainage areas that are less than one square mile, or areas that experience shallow flooding with an average depth of less than one foot. Flood risk is between the 100-year and 500-year range, but will likely be less severe if it does occur.

Zone X - also considered to have a moderate annual risk of flooding — between 0.2 and one percent.

Minimal Flood Hazard Areas

Minimal flood hazard areas are not part of any SFHA, and are considered to have a 0.2 percent chance or less of flooding in a given year. This means that flooding probably doesn’t even occur every 500 years in this particular area.

Zone C - typically have a risk of one flood occurring every 500 years. However, they don’t meet the full requirements to be designated a Special Flood Hazard Area. As opposed to being part of a base floodplain, flood risk in these areas tends to be the result of ponding or local drainage issues, which don’t require as detailed of a study under FEMA standards.

Zone X - areas are the safest area in terms of flood risk. These areas have been determined to be outside of a 500 year floodplain, and also have protection from the 100-year floodplain thanks to a flood control system such as a dam or levee. Properties in areas with this designation often don’t acquire flood insurance, but will enjoy much lower rates if they do choose to obtain it.

Areas of Undetermined Risk

Finally, Zone D is used to designate areas that have not been mapped by FEMA to evaluate their flood risk. However, it is believed that there is still some flood risk for properties in that area, though the exact level of the risk is unknown.

These areas typically remain unevaluated because they are undeveloped and sparsely populated. Because the flood risk for the area is uncertain, insurers will typically charge higher rates than they would for homeowners who live in an area that has been determined to have low or moderate risk.

Rural areas with levee systems will sometimes be designated Zone D on FEMA flood maps.

So, When Do You Need Flood Insurance?

If you own your home outright, you technically aren’t required to purchase flood insurance. However, if you have a mortgage and live in a high-risk flood area, you will typically be required to obtain flood insurance. It is actually a federal requirement if you have a government-backed mortgage.

Even if you don’t have a government-backed mortgage, you will still probably need to obtain flood insurance if you live in a high-risk area. Similar to how mortgage lenders require that borrowers obtain home insurance for their property, lenders will also require that you obtain flood insurance if you live in a high-risk zone. Some lenders may also require flood insurance if you live in an undetermined risk area, based on local conditions.

If you refuse to obtain flood insurance when a lender requires it, they won’t lend to you.

In Florida Keys flood zones, most communities are part of the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which facilitates the purchase of flood insurance in exchange for the community adopting efforts to manage the local floodplain and reduce the area’s flood risk. NFIP policies are sold and administered by private insurers, and typically take effect 30 days after you sign the policy. Private flood insurance also exists outside the NFIP program, which may offer more control and flexibility over your policy.

While your mortgage lender may not require flood insurance if you live in a moderate or low-risk area, it is still worth considering based on your knowledge of local conditions. According to FEMA, roughly 25 percent of all flood claims come from areas that were designated as low to moderate risk. If your property is located in Zone B or Zone X (shaded), flood insurance may still be a good idea, even if your lender doesn’t require it.

By purchasing flood insurance for your property, you will have much-needed financial protection should flooding ever take place — and you can have peace of mind knowing that your assets are secured.

How Do I Find Out My FEMA Flood Zone?

Determining whether your property is in a FEMA Florida Keys flood zone is surprisingly straightforward. Simply visit the FEMA Flood Map Service Center, which allows you to search by your address or coordinates.

After entering your address, you will be taken to a satellite image of the address, overlaid with shading and other markers to indicate which areas near the property (if any) lie within a flood hazard zone.

These maps typically also include a date that show when the area was last mapped by FEMA. The agency will periodically reevaluate an area to reassess its flood risk, particularly if major development changes have occurred in the area. If you live in an area that is currently designated as a SFHA, new developments that reduce the flood risk could also change your property’s FEMA designation — which could result in lower insurance rates.

By going straight to FEMA, you can have reliable information to guide you in determining whether flood insurance is needed for your property. Knowledge about your area’s flood zone designation can also help you take steps to reduce your property’s risk of water damage.

Evaluating Flood Risks

FEMA estimates that a single inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damages to a home. Needless to say, this is a major expense that you don’t want to have to handle on your own. By understanding your area’s flood risk based on your FEMA flood zone, you can make the appropriate flood insurance selection for your unique situation.

Worth Insurance can help you choose the right flood insurance coverage to supplement your homeowner’s policy. Our Florida Keys flood zones experts will match you with quality insurance options from top carriers, while still meeting your budget needs.

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