Cars under flood water

A flood zone is any geographic region that FEMA considers to be at higher risk for floods than other areas. Many flood zones require special insurance for floods, so it’s important to know what kind of zone you may live in and whether or not you may need flood insurance.

Types of Risk Area

Flood zones are rated based on the severity and type of flood risk. What type of zone you live in may affect the flood insurance you need as well as what precautions you may need to take to protect your home.

FEMA measures flood zones based on their risk of 100-year or 500-year flood. A 100-year floodplain is an area that is predicted to have a 1% chance of flooding in any given year. Similarly, a 500-year flood is a flood that has a 1 in 500 chance of happening.

Low-Risk Areas

Low-risk areas are categorized by FEMA as C and X. These are areas that are considered to be above the level of risk for a 500-year flood. They’re also protected from 100-year floods by levees.

Moderate Risk Areas

Areas of moderate risk are between the 100-year and 500-year flood limits. They may be protected by levees from 100-year floods, but there may still be up to 1 foot of flooding in these areas.

High-Risk Areas

There are a variety of different types of high-risk areas according to FEMA’s classification. Any zone that contains the letter A (A, AE, A1-A30, AH, AO, AR, and A99) are considered high-risk flood zones. Most areas classified as a type of A zone had a 26% chance of flooding over the course of a thirty-year period of time.

Coastal Areas

FEMA classifies coastal flood zones with the letter designation V: V, VE, and V1-V30. These zones are coastal areas that are, similar to high-risk areas, at a 26% risk of a flood during a thirty-year time period.

Undetermined

FEMA classifies any “undetermined” areas as D zones. These are areas where no analysis of the flood risk has been carried out, so FEMA cannot make an informed assessment of the risk.

Flooding outside house

Where Are Flood Zones Usually Located?

Flood zones can be almost anywhere, but the primary flood zones are areas that have lower elevation and coastal areas. Many high-risk zones are located near a body of water, such as a river or lake. More than 20,000 communities across the United State have been classified as being in a type of flood zone.

How do I know if I’m in a flood zone?

The Internet has a lot of resources that can help you determine whether or not you live in a flood zone. There are online maps, such as floodtools.com, where you can enter your address and the map will tell you not only the flood risk for your area but also the elevation and the amount of the average flood insurance payout for people living in that area. FEMA also has a flood map to help you determine what kind of area you live in.

Do I Have to Have Flood Insurance?

Anyone living in a flood zone marked as A or V must have flood insurance. Standard insurance policies in these areas generally don’t cover floors, so extra flood insurance is required. Even if FEMA classifies your area as a low-to-moderate risk area, local insurance companies may still require separate flood insurance.

If a flood damages your home, you must have flood insurance in order to be eligible for federal disaster aid.

What Is Considered a Flood?

The definition of a flood, according to FEMA, is “the partial or complete inundation of 2 or more acres of normally dry land or 2 or of more properties.”

Another type of flood occurs when erosion causes the land to collapse and water to exceed its normal levels for 2 properties or 2 acres.

Storm waves from the ocean

What Can Cause Floods?

Floods are caused by any large influx of water from any source because of either natural or human causes. Floods happen when water levels rise for any reason, but in areas where this is expected, there are dams and levees to prevent the water from reaching inhabited areas. If these protections are poorly designed, the flooding can be much worse.

Heavy Rain and Overflow

Heavy rain can accumulate in low-lying areas and can also cause bodies of water such as rivers and lakes to overflow.

Hurricanes and Storm Surges

In hurricane-prone coastal areas, floods are often caused by both the heavy rain of the storm itself but also from storm surges as the high winds push the ocean further inland than normal.

What Can I Do to Protect My Home from Floods?

If you live in an area that is at higher risk for floods, it’s important to make sure that your home is protected. There may be local restrictions on how high above the base flood elevation your home needs to be, so it’s important to make sure that you’re familiar with local requirements and that your home is up to code.

Keep All Electrical Systems Above Flood Level

Make sure that anything electrical is above the possible flood level. Any outlets and switches in your home should be high enough that flood waters won’t reach them and get into your electrical system.

Elevate All Outdoor Equipment

Any home system that has an outdoor component, such as a fuel tank or an air conditioner, should be elevated, anchored to a high place. Indoor equipment should also be above the potential flood level.

Install a Backflow Valve

If the sewer system in your area floods, there’s a possibility that sewage could back up into your home. A backflow valve, either inside or outside your house, can help prevent that from happening.

Install a Sump Pump

A sump pump can help drain any water that has managed to accumulate in your home. They’re usually installed in the basement, as it’s the lowest-lying part of the house and the most liable to flood.

Direct Water away from Your Home

The land around your home can be graded to direct water away from your house. During a rainstorm, watch how the water flows around your home to see where the water flows. If it flows towards your house, you can consider landscaping changes that would direct the water away instead.

Raise the Level of Your Home

If you live in a flood zone that has a high risk of high floods, you may want to consider raising the level of your home. This is a drastic step, but can protect your home from extreme floods. Many homes in known flood areas may already be built on stilts or supports so that the lowest level of the house above the highest flood level.

What Can I Do if There’s a Flood?

If a flood is imminent, there are some steps that you can take to help minimize the damage to your home and belongings.

Stock Up on Emergency Supplies

First, stock up on emergency supplies. If there is a flood in your area, stores may be closed and roads impassable. It’s also a good idea to stock up on food and water.

Flooding inside house

Move Belongings

Any important belongings should be moved to higher ground. Transport as many belongings as possible to higher floors to protect them.

Evacuate

Depending on the severity of the flood, you may be asked to evacuate. Pay attention to government warnings and alerts and follow any official instructions as quickly as possible. You don’t want to get stranded after an evacuation order has been issued.