Flood Insurance: When Do You Need an Elevation Certificate?

First of all, what is an Elevation Certificate? It is a document that verifies the elevation of your building and the Federal Emergency Management Agency base flood elevation for a property in a floodplain. An elevation certificate is prepared by a licensed surveyor or engineer to compare the elevation of your building to the base flood elevations. The elevation certification is an important part of rating your building to determine the cost of flood insurance because it shows the depth of water on your property when a flood occurs.

Flood insurance costs are determined by the National Flood Insurance Program which is a federally backed program. This program has been going through some recent significant changes with the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and 2014 Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act. The results of these reforms mean that certain policy holders with subsidized Pre-FIRM or grandfathered rates may see or continue to see rate increases until the Federal Emergency Management Agency deems that the flood insurance cost for a property is based on the true flood risk to that property. One of that main determinations of the flood risk is the information on the relation between the elevation of the lowest floor of a structure and the base flood elevation which is found on the Elevation Certificate.

Owners of primary residences in the floodplain (also known as the Special Flood Hazard Area) may be able to keep their subsidized rates. This means that for Pre-FIRM properties, an elevation certificate may or may not be required in order to get flood insurance, depending on property type. For properties eligible for grandfathering, typically a new elevation certificate will not be required in order to get flood insurance. In the case of both Pre-FIRM and grandfathered properties, the property owner can always be rated according to an elevation certificate if they choose to do so and being elevation rated results in a lower premium. For newly constructed structures in the floodplain, typically an elevation certificate is required as part of the permitting process and for flood insurance rating purposes. In order to determine the correct rating situation for you, it is recommended that you consult with an insurance agent.

As the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and 2014 Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act are implemented, policy owners will continue to see changes in flood insurance rates and may see changes in when elevation certificates are required for rating. More information on the new law and its implementation within the National Flood Insurance Program will be forthcoming. For updated information go to www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.


Following are definitions of some common flood insurance terms which you may encounter when discussing flood insurance:

The cost for one year of flood insurance premiums.
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)
Federal program that makes flood insurance available to property owners in participating communities. The City of Lincoln is a participating community.
100-year floodplain
area that is flooded during the 100-year flood, which is the flood that has a 1% chance of being equaled or exceeded during any year.
Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM)
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) map showing areas of flood hazard (100-year floodplain) for a community.
Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)
term used to describe the 100-year floodplain as shown on the Flood Insurance Rate Map.
Base Flood Elevation (BFE)
refers to the elevation of the 100-year flood and can be determined for a specific property using the Flood Insurance Study Profile Maps.