Elevation Certificates: Who needs them and why
If your home or business is in a high-risk area, your insurance agent will likely need an Elevation Certificate (EC) to determine your flood insurance premium.
Floods mean rising water. Knowing your building’s elevation compared to the estimated height of floodwater helps determine your flood risk and the cost of your flood insurance.
An EC documents the elevation of your building for the floodplain managers enforcing local building ordinances and for insurance rating purposes.
How an EC is used
If your building is in a high-risk area—a zone indicated with the letters A or V on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM)—the EC includes important information that is needed for determining a risk-based premium rate for a flood insurance policy.
For example, the EC shows the location of the building, Lowest Floor Elevation, building characteristics, and flood zone.
Your insurance agent will use the EC to compare your building’s elevation to the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) shown on the flood map being used for rating and determine the cost to cover your flood risk.
The BFE is the elevation that floodwaters are estimated to have a 1% chance of reaching or exceeding in any given year. The higher your lowest floor is above the BFE, the lower the risk of flooding. Lower risk typically means lower flood insurance premiums.
For certain high-risk structures, an EC is required by an insurer as a condition for issuing flood coverage.
There are exceptions. For example, if your building was constructed before your community’s first FIRM became effective (known as pre-FIRM) and you are eligible for a subsidized rate, you do not need an EC to purchase coverage.
However, subsidized rates for pre-FIRM buildings are being phased out through annual premium increases. Your full-risk rate is specific to the property, and an EC will be needed to calculate the property-specific full-risk rate. Depending on your elevation, the full-risk rate could already be lower than the subsidized rate.
ECs are not required and are not used for rating in moderate- to low-risk areas (Zones X, B, and C), undetermined risk areas (Zone D), or certain high-risk areas eligible for other subsidies (e.g., Zones AR and A99).
There’s no way to know when having an EC could be financially beneficial until you gets one.
If you make substantial changes to your building in a high-risk area – for example, you make an addition to your home or convert the garage to living space – you likely need a new EC to reflect the new building characteristics and lowest floor elevation.
As long as the structure information on your EC is accurate, you do not need a new one.
If you get an EC from the previous property owner or have a copy of the one on file with your community, your insurance agent can use the EC to rate your policy.
If your community adopted new FIRMs and your building has not changed, your insurance agent can rate your policy using the information on the old EC and the FIRM used to rate your policy. However, you may need to provide additional information such as new photographs of your home or business.
There are several ways to secure an EC for your home or business.
First, ask your local floodplain manager if there is already one on file. Or check to see if an EC is included in the property deed. In a high-risk area, the developer or builder may have been required to get an EC at the time of construction.
When buying a property, ask the sellers to give you their EC. If they don’t have one, ask if they can provide one before settlement.
If you are unable to find an existing EC for your building, hire a licensed land surveyor, professional engineer, or certified architect who is authorized by law to certify elevation information. For a fee, these professionals can complete an EC for you.
Raise your elevation to lower your risk
Building code requirements may change over time as flood risk changes and maps are updated. If you are remodeling or rebuilding, consider elevating to lower your flood risk, which, in turn, can lower your flood insurance rates and reduce the financial impacts of flooding.