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Flood insurance is available for most coastal homes and businesses as long as the community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Insurance companies and tens of thousands of insurance agents sell and service the policies. The rates are the same for all NFIP agents. The amount you will pay depends on your risk. Need to find an agent? Use the One-Step Flood Risk Profile to learn your risk and locate an agent near you.
Unless you have a property located in an area protected by the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (known as a CBRA zone), you can usually obtain flood insurance for a coastal property. In high-risk areas, most mortgage lenders will require you to have flood insurance. In moderate- to low-risk areas, the lower-cost Preferred Risk Policy is available for qualifying properties.
Wherever you live, your flood risk and flood insurance rate depend on where and how your building is constructed. A key factor is how high your building sits compared to the elevation that floodwaters are calculated to reach during a major flood.
The elevation that water will reach during a flood that has at least a 1 percent annual chance of occurring is called the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). In coastal areas, these elevations include the effects of storm surge and waves. Areas that will experience such flooding are known as high-risk areas. These areas are shown on flood maps as zones beginning with the letters "A" or "V." Areas that lie higher than the BFE are known as moderate- to low-risk areas. On flood maps they're the zones beginning with the letters "X," "B," or "C."
For coastal properties, there's another factor to consider: wave effects. Coastal storms bring not only drenching rains, but also storm surges and high waves. On flood maps, areas with wave heights at 3 feet or higher are shown as V zones. There are special building requirements for properties in these zones.
Waves with heights between 1.5 feet and 3 feet are more moderate in impact but can still cause major damage. Many flood maps now show Coastal AE zones subject to such wave action. The inland boundary line is referred to as the Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA). FEMA encourages higher building standards for these zones as well. Contact your building or planning office to learn more about coastal building requirements.
Communities began joining the NFIP in the late 1960s. To find out when your community joined, contact your local floodplain manager. Some structures in coastal high-risk areas were built before the community joined the NFIP and adopted its first Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). These buildings are referred to as "pre-FIRM" properties, and they might not meet more recent standards for coastal construction and elevation. For many years, their owners have paid subsidized flood insurance rates that do not reflect their true level of risk.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (BW-12) calls for ending the subsidies for some pre-FIRM properties and basing insurance rates on a property's actual risk. Full-risk rates are already being phased in for pre-FIRM non-primary residences (e.g., secondary homes, vacation homes, and rental properties), business properties, and severely or repetitively flooded properties.
Learn more about BW-12 and rate changes.
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U.S. Department of Homeland Security