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What Everyone Should Know About Determining Flood Zones

When you want to know the impact that future flooding may have on a particular piece of real estate, you may find yourself wondering how and who determines flood zones. Well, it isn’t a secret. In fact, the federal government has a lot of information on the topic (See

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is the government agency tasked with national floodplain management. Carrying out that task requires that FEMA determine flood zones.

On the FEMA website, you will find more than 20,000 communities whose properties FEMA divides into zones for purposes of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) applicable to the National Flood Insurance Program. The National Flood Insurance Program forms the foundation for most floodplain management programs on the local, state, and federal levels.

FEMA conducts extensive studies of community properties to help it determine:

  • base flood elevations,
  • flood-ways (channels built to safely take flood waters away from properties), and
  • other flood data.

It uses the results of these detailed studies to determine flood zones.

Flood Zones. FEMA’s zones for those areas most likely to face inundation are known as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA).

  • SFHA properties are those most likely to face inundation in a 100-year flood event. SFHA properties fall into Zone A, Zone AO, Zone AH, Zones A1-A30, Zone AE, Zone A99, Zone AR, Zone AR/AE, Zone AR/AO, Zone AR/A1-A30, Zone AR/A, Zone V, Zone VE, and Zones V1-V30. These properties are lower than the base flood elevation (the elevation associated with the 100-year flood).
  • The FIRM shows moderate flood hazard properties as Zone B (or Zone X on the newer maps). These properties likely face flood inundation in a 500-year flood event.
  • FEMA identifies those least likely to face flood hazards as Zone C (or Zone X on the newer maps).  These properties are outside the SFHA zones and higher than the 500-year flood elevation.
  • FEMA has not conducted studies on Zone D properties; if you are considering such a zoned property, understand that it may face possible floods.

What The Zones Mean. In practical terms, the most hazardous properties fall into the V zones, generally beach-front properties; the V zone gets its name from the wave velocity such properties face in floods.

The A zone comprises properties that lie near water like streams, rivers, or lakes and so they are likely to face rising waters rather than water with wave velocity. The various A zones are named based on the different ways in which they might flood, however, they all have the same rates applied under the flood insurance program.

Flood insurance is mandatory in both V and A zones. Flood insurance is not mandatory in Zone X. FEMA has information on the flood risks and available flood insurance for all parts of the country on

How Flood Zones Help You. Every property owner should know that standard insurance policies do not provide coverage in the event of damage caused by floods. And you don’t have to own a property in a severe flood plain to buy flood insurance for your particular site. That’s because all property carries a risk of flood. What you need to know is whether that risk is severe, moderate, or low. FEMA’s flood zones give you that information.

Once you know your flood risk, you might want to consider improvements to help minimize the risk, such as:

  • elevating the property
  • putting in flood vents; or
  • filling in enclosures part way.

How You Can Discover What Zone Your Property Occupies. FEMA’s website makes this easy for you. You can view flood maps for specific addresses by visiting FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center and plugging in the particular address sparking your interest.

Don’t let floods catch you off-guard. To discuss how to save money on flood insurance, contact us here.

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