Flood Zones: What You Need to Know Today

Flood Zones: What you need to know today

In America, flood zones cover more area than you might expect. In fact, it seems that many Americans live inside flood zones, but didn’t know it, and didn’t have flood insurance to protect themselves. 

Flooded South Caroline Street

A South Caronline street - via U.S. Department of Agriculture

The study that information came from also found that:

  • Less than 40% of those living in high-risk flood zones knew they were inside a high-risk zone. This leads many homeowners to neglect their insurance, thinking they aren’t at risk.
  • 54% in high-risk zones are aware of the National Flood Insurance Program.
  • Almost a quarter of insured people do know what their insurance covers.
  • People in the medium-risk areas are the least prepared.
  • 20% of respondents needed to borrow money to cover flood damage costs.

Interestingly, the study also found that people prefer government sources when they need information about flooding - yet FEMA appears to have wildly underestimated flood zones

By the end of this 5-minute read, you’ll know what to do if your home is in a flood zone.

Let’s Understand US Flood Zones More

A flood zone is any area that is at risk of flooding. FEMA bases flood zone ratings on elevation, water flow, proximity to water bodies, and other factors.

FEMA labels the flood zones high, moderate, or low risk.

You can find your zip code in the FEMA flood map by visiting the official portal.

Flooded Road on California Coast

A flooded road on California’s coast - via Bob Dass

In theory, data like this should help residents and local governments make actionable plans and even prepare for floods ahead of time. However, as we’ve seen from Fannie May’s recent study, the information doesn’t always make it to the locals.

Monitoring the entire country is a massive task and FEMA regularly updates congress on recent activity. As you’d hope, and expect, these maps can adapt if situations change. Sea level rise, as seen on Louisiana's shrinking coastlines, caused an overhaul recently. Even newly developed land can affect the zones, since water might pass more easily over it. 

Flood Zone Insurance: Are You Required to Have Coverage? 

FEMA states that, “All home and business owners in high-risk areas with mortgages from federally regulated or insured lenders are required to buy flood insurance.”

As for moderate-to-low-risk areas, "Flood insurance isn't federally required,” but FEMA recommends it - and certain lenders may do the same.

  • Minimal Risk Zones: Zone C, Zone X
  • Moderate Risk Zones: Zone B, Zone X
  • High Risk Zones: Zone A, Zone V

Basically, any zone that begins with A or Z requires flood insurance.

Flood Zone Label

Coverage Required

Annual Risk

Source of Flooding

B and X (shaded)


0.2% - 1%

Undefined lesser hazards

C and X (unshaded)


< 0.2%

Undefined lesser hazards




Undetermined potential hazard

A, AE, AR, A1-30, A99







Sources of shallow flooding, including ponds




Streams or rivers

V, VE, V1-V30



Coastal areas associated with storm waves and other hazards


You might be looking at 1% and thinking, “That isn’t very high!”, but consider the length of a 30-year mortgage. Over that span of time, you’ve got about a 26% chance of at least one flood.

What if a flood zone is too high-risk? Can you be insured? 

No matter what your risk level is, the NFIP will create and sell a policy to you. Private insurers are a different story and may not be as willing to cover high-risk homes. By using FEMA’s Rate Map, you can find out if you are required to have coverage.

Rerouting San Ysidro Creek

The National Guard rerouting the San Ysidro Creek in January, 2023 - via The National Guard

Flooding is Costly and Common in the US

In 2021, the US saw more than $3 billion in property and crop damage. 

A year later in 2023, the total property and crop damage was a slightly lower $2.8 billion.

Floods are involved in 90% of natural disasters within the US, making them easily the most common threat homeowners face from nature. 

June, July, and August are the most flood-prone months according to data. The same government source says that there’s a $1 billion flood each year (on average) and a cost per year of $4.5 billion. 

Flooded Laughlin Road and a Winery

The flooded Laughlin Road and a winery too - via Sarah Steirch

How to Buy a Home and Live Safely in Flood Zones

Start by finding out which coverage you are required to have, using the FEMA Rate Map.  

Coastal areas are usually more at risk, but anywhere that gets rainfall is also at risk. Individual properties might be lower risk, depending on how they are built. Naturally, hillsides offer more protection than beachfront homes. 

The unfortunate truth is; sometimes the most gorgeous homes are in flood zones with higher risk than buyers want. If that’s the case, you have two options:

  1. Search through other communities with lower risk.

  2. Identify homes with better construction and protection from floods.

Whatever you choose, protect yourself from flooding, no matter how unlikely you feel it is. A single inch of water can cause up to $25,000 in damages, according to FEMA. The cost of repairing and insuring your home will be far less financially painful.

Flood insurance is a separate policy, often not included with standard policies. Read more about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and contact us when you want to start your home search.

More Questions? Follow-up With Us!

If you have more questions about what to expect from the markets around the Bay Area, don’t be afraid to reach out to us today. Our experts are experienced in all property types and the entire San Francisco Bay Area, and we can help you to find what you need to know today.

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