What Is an Elevation Certificate and How Do You Know if You Need One?

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An elevation certificate is an administrative document issued to a property owner by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
This document helps to maintain compliance with building codes in high flood risk areas, but it also informs the pricing of premiums for flood insurance.
Basically, the elevation certificate states the elevation of a structure in relation to the base flood line, which is a way of estimating how likely flooding is to occur, what type of flood insurance you'll need, as well as helping to set flood insurance rates for your home. Here's what you need to know about elevation certificates.
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What is an elevation certificate?

An elevation certificate is a document used by the NFIP to understand a particular building's flood risks and hold compliance of building codes.
For the average reader who wants an elevation certificate for flood insurance, the certificate is a document you need in order for you to get flood insurance. The information on your elevation certificate will determine your risk, which the insurance company will use to calculate your premium and coverage levels.

What's on an elevation certificate for flood insurance?

Your home’s location

An elevation certificate is for a specific structure, such as your home. On the certificate, the structure’s location is clearly defined with the address and a property description. This ensures accuracy and prevents any confusion about if the certificate applies to your building.

Lowest point of elevation

In terms of flood risk, the base of a building is more prone to damage than its top. So, the identification of the lowest point of elevation in relation to the base flood level is of prime importance in flood risk assessment and determining flood insurance premiums.
The elevation information is, after all, where the foundation on which the rest of a building lies.
For perspective, the elevation point of base flood level has a 1% annual chance of flooding. As the lowest point of elevation decreases, the risk of flooding increases, and vice versa.

Flood zone

An elevation certificate also lists the flood zone of your home. This designation may be a letter or a combination of a letter and a number. The letter indicates a range between low and high risk of flooding, while the number relates to either specific parts of the zone or degree of risk.
The letter A denotes a high risk flood zone while the letter V denotes a high risk coastal flood zone, and these high risk areas areas that will have the highest flood insurance premium rates. The letter B or X (with shading on the map) indicates moderate flood risk, while the letter A or X (with no shading) indicates low risk areas.

Other characteristics

Other characteristics of the structure or property that influence flood risk are also listed on elevation certificates. This could be if a body of water lies nearby. It might also show if your home has any structural properties that increase or decrease flood risk.

Do I need an elevation certificate?

In general, a homeowner only needs an elevation certificate if the property is in a high-risk area for flooding. If you have opted for additional flood insurance coverage in lower risk areas, you will also need an elevation certificate for the insurance company to calculate your flood insurance premium.

How to get an elevation certificate

To obtain an elevation certificate, you might first check with the NFIP to see if one is on record. If you are in the middle of purchasing the property, you can ask for an elevation certificate to be provided at closing.
Alternately, you may wish to hire a licensed land surveyor to look at your property and craft a new or updated elevation certificate. This will help ensure your insurance agent is able to correctly determine the base flood elevation and issue you the best rates for your flood insurance policy.
If you're planning to flood proof your home, you need additional permissions from the NFIP. Flood proofing means making the parts of your home watertight that lie below the base flood level.

How much does an elevation certificate cost?

Elevations certificate costs can range from $170 to $2,000 or more, with the average cost for homeowners being $600.
Your specific cost will depend on a few factors, such as your location, if you need it for a commercial building or personal home, the structure of the building, and how fast you need the document.
Though the cost of an elevation certificate is steep, you may find that the certificate will save you on flood insurance, and it might even be necessary to qualify for flood insurance. The cost will be worth it if you ever need to file a claim on your flood insurance.
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