No matter where you live, there is always a risk that your area could experience a flood. It is especially important to know if you live in a high-risk flood zone, since you need to set up proper insurance and adequate flood-proofing for your house. In order to do this, you first need to understand how FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) designates flood zones.
FEMA utilizes a letter system to classify areas according to their overall flood hazards. The primary measurement used to calculate risk is the base flood elevation (BFE), which is the elevation that floodwater is expected to reach during a flood event. Areas that are well below the base flood elevation are at an increased risk to flooding, and are designated Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). These areas have at least a 1% annual chance of experiencing a flood event. Regions falling into this category are called “V” zones and “A” zones.
“V” zones consist of coastal areas, and are considered to be the most hazardous flood zones. V zones are below the base flood elevation, and face additional risks due to high-velocity waves from tropical storms. V zones typically constitute areas that are directly next to the ocean, such as beachfront properties. Flood insurance is mandatory if you live in a V zone.
“A” zones are classified as the second-most hazardous of the flood zones. “A” zones are most commonly located near bodies of water, such as rivers and lakes, though proximity to water is not a requirement--you might still live in an A zone even if you aren’t directly next to any water. The main risk these areas face is flooding caused by rising waters. Flood insurance is also mandatory if you live in an A zone.
“B” zones represent areas with moderate-to-low flood risk. B zones are usually less than one foot under the base flood elevation, but still have about a .2% annual chance of experiencing a flood event. B zones can include areas that are protected by levees, as well as areas where water is able to drain quickly.
“C” zones are the areas with minimal flood hazards, and are typically above the base flood elevation. The worst flooding that occurs in C zones is usually due to issues with local water drainage and overflowing ponds. Flood insurance is not mandatory in B and C zones, but it is still recommended, as over 20% of flood insurance claims come from areas that are not high risk.
FEMA recommends that houses in high-risk flood zones meet certain specifications to protect against flood damage. In V and A zones, the lowest floor should be three feet above the base flood elevation, and any space below that cannot be used as living space or store the house’s utilities. In V zones, it is recommended that coastal houses be elevated on piers or a column foundation. You can check to see if your house matches these specifications, but you should still find out for sure what your area’s flood risk is.
If you are unsure about whether or not you live in a high-risk flood zone, your easiest option is to visit FEMA's Flood Map Service Center at msc.fema.gov, and search for your address. If the area you live in is a Special Flood Hazard Area, the map will be highlighted in blue. FEMA’s flood maps also include a ton of useful information related to flood hazards and flood prevention, such as the locations of levees and areas below base flood elevation.
While it’s useful to know your area’s flood zone designation, it is also important to remember that flood zones can change over time. New buildings and changes in weather patterns can either reduce or increase an area’s overall flood risk. Some of the flood maps for historically low-risk areas have not been updated since the 1970s, but areas more prone to flooding, such as New Orleans, Louisiana, are given updates every few years. It’s essential that you stay updated on any developments that could affect your area’s flood risk, and adjust accordingly.
Even if you find that you don’t live in a high-risk flood zone, flooding can still occur literally anywhere, so it’s always best to be prepared. And what's one of the best ways to be prepared?... We're glad you asked! Consider installing a DriBot Home Flood Prevention Appliance in your home. No, it won't prevent the kind of flooding that is caused by being at the heart of a hurricane, but it will protect you from the common reasons homes flood like failed sump pumps, broken pipes, failed float switches, and much more!