|FEMA Elevation Certificate
Many homeowners and even those that own commercial properties are being faced
with the prospect of having to purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance is nothing an
individual can opt out of purchasing if the mortgage company has determined that the
property is located in a 1% annual chance of being inundated by flooding due to storm
The 1% chance means that a particular property is subject to flooding based on a storm
event that would occur at least one time in a one hundred year time period. The vast
majority of these properties that are prone to flooding are located near water
sources...creeks, rivers, tributaries, and tidal areas. As we have seen over the years, the
Mississippi River is prone to flooding more often than once every hundred years. Some
parts along the Potomac and Rappahanock Rivers flood as well. The reason for the
flooding is based primarily on rainfall intensity during a short duration. When we have a
heavy rainfall during a very brief period of time the drainage ways can become
overwhelmed and the creeks will begin to "back up" as there is no where for the storm
runoff to go fast enough. Ordinarily this does not pose a threat to property. However
when talking about the 100 year flood, serious damage can occur. Most of the readers
of this article have rarely experienced a ten year storm event much less a hundred year
event. Hurricane Katrina was estimated to be a 500 year event.
All of the data used to determine the 100 year flood boundaries is gathered by
surveyors and engineers. Flood studies are produced and maps are drawn. These maps
are used by FEMA, local governing jurisdictions, lenders, engineers, and surveyors as a
tool for land development. County regulations prohibit any development in the 100 year
flood plain. That was not always the case. Engineers have to account for the stormwater
runoff impact a new development will have on any adjoining tributaries. And lenders
require flood insurance for any property deemed to be in the 100 year flood zone.
FEMA reissues new maps every five to ten years for the different communities and the
flood boundaries are often redrawn. This is when the difficulty happens. When you
purchased your property the property may not have been shown to be in a 100 year
flood zone, however when you go to sell the property or refinace the property it may
very well be shown in the 100 year flood zone based on reissued maps. NOW WHAT?
Not many prospective buyers are going to be willing to purchase your property if it is in
a 100 year flood zone and they will have to pay an additional $200.00 or more per
month for flood insurance. That cost is permanent and can only increase. It does not
contribute a nickel to home equity. There are solutions.
I need to make one item absolutely clear before you read further. If your lender
has made a determination that your property is located in a 100 year flood zone
and require an elevation certificate to remove the requirement for flood
insurance, you need to understand that when engaging a surveyor or engineer
to complete the certificate, no guarantee can or should be made that, after the
work is complete the results would show your structure is not lying below the
There are 2 types of flood zone designations that will trigger a requirement for flood
insurance. They are Zone AE and Zone A. I will explain both beginning with Zone AE.
Zone AE is area that is located in the 100 year flood zone that has been studied
thoroughly and Base Flood Elevations, BFE, have been determined. The FEMA Maps
will show the elevations at different crossing points located along the water way
adjacent to the properties. The BFE can be different from one property to the next
depending on the width of the waterway and the embankments. The broader the flood
plain is that is next to the creek the more spread out the the BFE is, the narrower the
creek and embanketment is, the faster the BFE will rise. The surveyor must find an
established elevation point, usually a monument established by NOAA, USGS, or the
Army Corp of Engineers and survey an elevation loop to your property taking
elevations around the property and structure that are required for the Elevation
Certificate. I have included a blank Elevation Certificate at the bottom of this page. You
can download it and see what the requirements are. Don't be alarmed by what may
seem to be a lot of information and detail. To experienced surveyors and engineers, this
is a fairly simple and straight forward process.
Zone A is a little bit more complicated. In Zone A no base flood elevation has been
determined. You might ask how FEMA can put your property in a flood zone A if they
do not know the elevation of the hundred year flood. I don't have an answer for you.
The surveyor is required to perform all the elements associated with flood zone AE and
also provide a cross section from the adjoining waterway to the structure on the
property. This information is provided to FEMA and they make a determination of what
the BFE is at the structure. In addition to the fees to the surveyor, FEMA also requires
a fee to interpret the data and issue a finding. FEMA may take as long as sixty days or
longer to issue their finding. After they issue the finding you can opt out of the flood
insurance requirement. If you had to make payments for flood insurance you can usually
obtain a refund for any premiums you have paid if FEMA determines you are not
located in the flood zone A.
An elevation certificate can cost as little as $350.00 for Zone AE and possibly as much
as $2,000.00 plus FEMA fees for Zone A. However, these costs pale in comparison to
a lifetime of flood insurance premiums. If you need assistance with an Elevation
Certificate please contact us by filling in the form below. We provide this service for
Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline, Culpeper, Orange, Louisa, King George,
Westmoreland, Hanover, Prince William, Fairfax,and Arlington County, as well as the
City of Alexandria, Fairfax, and the Towns of Herndon and Falls Church. We will aslo
provide services for other counties in Virgina but the fees may be somewhat higher.
I hope this information has been helpful and we do look forward in assisting you getting
beyond the Flood. Just remember, there are no guarantees.