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Flood Zone FAQs


Important Information regarding changes in FEMA Flood Maps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the government agency that determines which properties in the United States are in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA).  In November 2004, FEMA updated their flood zone maps with new elevation information.  The result of this work is that numerous properties in Charleston County that were previously classified as low risk have now moved into higher risk flood zones. These residents are now forced to pay much higher premiums to maintain flood insurance, which is often required by mortgage lenders.

What is an Elevation Certificate?

An Elevation Certificate is an administrative document used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to certify the elevation of buildings in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone. Information collected by a Charleston surveyor for the elevation certificate includes the type of building, elevations of the ground outside the building, elevations of floors including basements and crawlspaces, and the location of machinery such as boilers and air conditioners.  For more information on the details of an elevation certificate, go to our page FEMA Elevation Certificates.

Who needs Flood Insurance?

Owners of property near water where the chance of flood damage is significant should have flood insurance to protect their assets. Your mortgage or home equity lender (or in some cases, your local community) may require that you have flood insurance if your building is in a hazardous flood zone.

Why do I need an Elevation Certificate?

If your building is at or above the Base Flood Elevation (which is a number determined by FEMA for each flood zone), you are entitled to lower insurance premiums. The burden of proof of these elevations is on the homeowner. The Elevation Certificate must be completed by a Licensed Land Surveyor and serves as the proof needed if you qualify for lower rates.  According to most local building codes, elevation certificates are required for new construction and for “substantial improvements” to buildings in a flood zone. This is to prove that the structure was built in compliance with the codes and ordinances written to minimize flood damage.
Sometimes there are properties identified on the Federal Flood Maps as being in a special flood hazard zone when, in actuality, the property is high enough to be classified as a low flooding risk. In this case, the property owner may choose to submit a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) to FEMA, which is a request to change the flood hazard designation for the property. An Elevation Certificate may be used to support a LOMA or LOMR.

Am I required to buy flood insurance?

Under federal law, most mortgage holders will be required to purchase flood insurance when they are mapped into a high-risk area.

Does my homeowners insurance policy cover flooding?

No. Flood damage is not typically covered by a homeowners insurance policy. You need a specific policy addition to cover flood damage.

What is the Base Flood Elevation (BFE)?

The Base Flood Elevation, or BFE, is the height of the base (1-percent annual chance) flood, usually in feet, in relation to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929, the North American Vertical Datum of 1988, or other datum referenced in the Flood Insurance Study report, or average depth of the base flood, usually in feet, above the ground surface. The BFE was adopted by the National Flood Insurance Program as the basis for floodplain management and flood insurance regulations.

Is my property in a FEMA flood zone?

Zoning can be determined by viewing FEMA’s Digital Federal Insurance Rate Map (DFIRM) or  Flood Risk can also be determined with the NFIP’s One-Step Flood Risk Profile.

What is FEMA?

FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. FEMA employees work all over the country – at FEMA Headquarters, the ten regional offices, the National Emergency Training Center, Center for Domestic Preparedness/Noble Training Center, and other locations – to support the larger emergency management team.

What is the NFIP?

The Flood Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA), a component of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Nearly 20,000 communities across the United States and its territories participate in the NFIP by adopting and enforcing floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage. In exchange, the NFIP makes Federally backed flood insurance available to homeowners, renters, and business owners in these communities. Community participation in the NFIP is voluntary.
Flood insurance is designed to provide an alternative to disaster assistance to reduce the escalating costs of repairing damage to buildings and their contents caused by floods. Flood damage is reduced by nearly $1 billion a year through communities implementing sound floodplain management requirements and property owners purchasing of flood insurance. Additionally, buildings constructed in compliance with NFIP building standards suffer approximately 80 percent less damage annually than those not built in compliance. In addition to providing flood insurance and reducing flood damages through floodplain management regulations, the NFIP identifies and maps the Nation’s floodplains. Mapping flood hazards creates broad-based awareness of the flood hazards and provides the data needed for floodplain management programs and to actuarially rate new construction for flood insurance.

What is a “100-yr flood”, “1%-annual-chance flood”, and “base flood”?

The term “100-year flood” can be confusing. It is not the flood that will occur once every 100 years. Rather, it is the flood that has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded each year. Thus, the 100-year flood could occur more than once in a relatively short period of time or even within the same month. Because this term can be confusing, FEMA has also defined it as the “1-percent-annual-chance flood”. The “1-percent-annual-chance flood” is the term now used by most Federal and State agencies and by the National Flood Insurance Program.

What is an Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE)?

Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) provide a better picture of current flood risk than the existing Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), which in some cases are more than 25 years old. The new ABFEs are the recommended elevation of the lowest floor of a building. Some communities may require that the lowest floor be built above the ABFE.The ABFEs are based on FEMA coastal studies that were completed before Hurricane Sandy. The studies include data that has been collected and analyzed over a number of years. Though advisory now, eventually information used to develop the ABFEs will be incorporated into official FIRMs. FEMA Region II created this website with a tool to help you find the ABFE for your property. It is at

What is a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)?

The land area covered by the floodwaters of the base flood is the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) on NFIP maps. The SFHA is the area where the NFIP’s floodplain management regulations must be enforced and the area where the mandatory purchase of flood insurance applies. The SFHA includes Zones A, AO, AH, A1-30, AE, A99, AR, AR/A1-30, AR/AE, AR/AO, AR/AH, AR/A, VO, V1-30, VE, and V.

The floor of my basement/crawlspace is lower than the ground level; what do I do?

You may pay higher flood insurance premiums. According to FEMA guidelines in Technical Bulletin 1-08, if all four sides of the structure are below grade by even one inch, the structure has a basement. In a flood zone, having a basement almost guarantees very high flood insurance rates. To lower your premium, you need to equalize the interior and exterior grade on at least one side of the house. The easiest way to do this is to either add fill to the inside of the basement until at least one wall is at or above exterior grade, or to dig-out the ground outside until it is at or below the interior grade (floor) level. This will turn your basement into a crawlspace, which (if properly vented) should have drastically lower flood insurance rates.

What is a Flood Vent?

Flood vents protect houses and buildings in floodplains by preventing water pressure buildup that can destroy walls and foundations.

When are Flood Vents required?

The NFIP Regulations and Building Codes require that any residential building constructed in Flood Zone Type A have the lowest floor, including basements,elevated to or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Enclosed areas (enclosures) are permitted under elevated buildings provided that they meet certain use restrictions and construction requirements such as the installation of flood vents to allow for the automatic entry and exit of flood waters. This wet floodproofing technique is required for residential buildings. Commercial buildings have the option to wet floodproof, which can be more cost-effective compared to dry floodproofing.

What types of certifications are accepted for Engineered Openings?

In addition to your Code Official and Surveyor requiring a certification, Insurance agents will request that property owners provide documentation as part of applications for NFIP flood insurance. The documentation should be attached to the Elevation Certificate. The following are acceptable forms of documentation for engineered openings:
For ICC-ES Evaluated Flood Vents, simply attach a copy of the Evaluation Report to the Elevation Certificate and highlight the model or models used in the home. Liability of the vent falls on the manufacturer.Without an ICC-ES Evaluation an individual certification is required for each home that the vents are installed in. The certification needs to be an original certification with the signature and raised or electronic seal of the designer who is licensed in the state where the building is located. This option is for a licensed architect or engineer to design a unique opening for use in one particular home. Liability of the vent falls on the individual architect or engineer certifying the product.

What are some examples of Non-Acceptable Flood Openings as defined by FEMA?

• Standard foundation air ventilation devices that can be closed manually, because they do not allow for the automatic entry and exit of floodwaters unless they are permanently disabled (broken) in the open position.
• Standard foundation air ventilation devices that have detachable solid covers that are intended to be manually installed over the opening in cold weather, because they do not allow for the automatic entry and exit of floodwaters when the cover is in place.
• Standard foundation air ventilation devices that are designed to open and close based on temperature (unless they also are designed to allow for the automatic entry and exit of floodwaters).
• Windows below the BFE, because the automatic entry and exit of floodwaters cannot be satisfied by the expectation that windows will break under rising floodwaters.
• Garage doors without openings installed in them, because human intervention is required to open the doors when flooding is expected. Gaps between the garage door and the doorjamb or walls do not count towards the net open area requirement.
• Standard exterior doors without openings installed in them. For further information see the Unacceptable Measures Section on Page 19 of FEMA TB 1-08.



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