FEMA Elevation Certificates

Why would I need a 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 events.

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 such as creeks, rivers, tributaries, and tidal areas. As we have seen over the years, the Houston, Harris and surrounding counties have been prone to flooding more often than once every hundred years. Some parts along the Gulf Coast, local rivers, and bayous 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 run-off 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 refinance 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 flood elevation.

There are 2 types of flood zone designations that will trigger a requirement for flood insurance.

Flood 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 embankment 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.

Flood 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 a 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 click the quote button below or calling us (713) 941-8600. We provide this service for Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston and Harris County.

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.