All About Flood Insurance in California

Flood Insurance can be one the simplest forms of insurance for many.  However it can become extremely complicated in certain situations.  Most readers of this article will be able to read just a portion of it to get what they need.  Others may find benefit in reading the entire blog post.   This article was originally intended for homeowners needing to procure NFIP Federal Flood Insurance in California.

What is a flood?

According to Floodsmart, a Flood is ” A general and temporary condition of partial or complete inundation of two or more acres of normally dry land area or of two or more properties (at least one of which is the policyholder’s property) from one of the following:

  • Overflow of inland or tidal waters.
  • Mudflow.
  • Unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source,
  • Collapse or subsidence of land along the shore of a lake or similar body of water as a result of erosion or undermining caused by waves or currents of water exceeding anticipated cyclical levels that result in a flood as defined above.”
All About Flood Insurance

Don’t Live in Fear…

Types of Floods:

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory there are five main types of floods.

  1.  River Flood.  A river flood is just what it sounds like, a flood where “water levels rise over the top of river banks…”  The river can overflow for a variety of reasons including:  rainfall, snow melt, ice dams, and other reasons.   Ice Dams further up stream are of particular concern in cold parts of the country.
  2.  Coastal Flooding.    Coastal flooding is caused by “higher than average high tide and worsened by heavy rainfall and onshore winds.”   Just as the name would imply coastal flooding takes place along ocean and sea coasts.  It may also pertain to some of the largest lakes that have significant tides of their own.
  3.  Storm Surge.  A storm surge is a “abnormal rise in water level in coastal areas, over and above the regular astronomical tide, caused by forces generated from a severe storm’s wind, waves, and low atmospheric pressure.”  Most likely you hear of storm surges when reading about hurricanes.  None the less storm surges can happen in sub hurricane storms.  Storm Surges are very dangerous.
  4. Inland Flooding.  Inland flooding occurs when “moderate precipitation accumulates over several days, intense precipitation falls over a short period, or a river overflows because of an ice or debris jam or dam or levee failure.”  Inland flooding is often one of the two types of flooding that people tend to not focus on.
  5. Flash Flood.  Flash floods are one of the least understood, yet deadly and dangerous forms of floods.  They are caused by “excessive rainfall in a short period of time, generally less than six hours.”  Typically they involve raging walls of water.   Flash Floods can also be characterized by a high degree of velocity.   People that live in certain canyon systems are most likely extremely aware of the danger posed by these floods.

Types of Floods

These are most of the general categories of floods.  However there are few more options that are not as easily explained, such as Ground Failures.  FEMA has a long article on the subject Titled: Types of Floods and Floodplains.

I would be remiss if I did not again end by stating the partial definition of a flood.  “A flood is a general and temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow….”   This is according to FEMAs Floodsmart Website.  “Anywhere it rains it can flood.”

What are the Flood Zones?

There are many flood zones.   A list of flood zones can be found at Floodsmart and at   The most common flood zones that you are  most likely to see are: C, X, B, A, AE, AH, AO, and V(1-30) and VE. There are other flood zones.

Flood Zone C: “Areas determined to be outside 500-year floodplain determined to be outside the  1% and 0.2% annual chance floodplains.”

Flood Zone X: “Areas determined to be outside 500-year floodplain determined to be outside the  1% and 0.2% annual chance floodplains.”

Flood Zone B: “Areas of 500-year flood; areas of 100-year flood  with average depths of less than 1 foot or with drainage areas less than 1 square mile; and areas protected by levees from 100-year flood.  An area inundated by 0.2% annual chance flooding.”

Flood Zone A: “An area inundated by 1% annual chance flooding, for which no BFEs have been determined.”

Flood Zone AE: ” An area inundated by 1% annual chance flooding, for which BFEs have been determined.”

Flood Zone AH: “An area inundated by 1% annual chance flooding (usually an area of ponding),  for which BFEs have been determined; flood depths range from 1 to 3 feet.”

Flood Zone AO: ” An area inundated by 1% annual chance flooding (usually sheet flow on sloping terrain), for which average depths have been determined; flood depths range from 1 to 3 feet.”

Flood Zone V (1-30): ” Costal flood with velocity hazard (wave action); BFEs have not been determined.”

Flood Zone VE: “An area inundated by 1% annual chance flooding with velocity hazard (wave action); BFEs have been determined.”


Who maps Flood Zones?

Flood zones are mapped and created by the FEMA.  The original maps were created in the 1950s and 1960s.  Recently many of the maps in California have been upgraded and hence changed.   If you your home has been changed to a Special Flood Hazard Zone, read the section below about the Newly Mapped Program.  The date that your map page was created is important.

Don’t be intimidated about all of the information on flood insurance. 

How do you know what flood zone you are in?

Individuals can look up their location on a FEMA flood map.  Usually you can download the map and potentially find your property.  My experience is that the maps are too difficult to judge often with much accuracy.  Insurance agents and insurance companies therefore use a Flood Zone Determination.  The flood zone determination does the job of assessing what zone a given property is located in.

 If you live in a low risk zone the process can be very easy

What is a Flood Zone Determination?

A flood zone determination is a semi official document that is created by one of a handful of companies. It lists the Department of Homeland Security on it and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These companies essentially translate the FEMA flood maps for most properties in the United States into an exact zone.  A flood zone determination will list your address and some other flood note specifics.  These specifics may include any LOMA or LODR that are on file for your property.   Some of the other specific pieces of information listed on a flood zone determination include:  the town, the county, the state, a map number, a panel number (of the map), the panel effective date, and of course the Flood Zone.  It also includes information such as: NFIP community number, the date of the request, and the program status date.   The Flood Zone Determination will say if Federal Flood Insurance is available in the given area.    There is also an area for comments.  The comments section is one of the most overlooked areas.  In the comments section includes information about the Newly Mapped Program.    The Flood Zone Determination is one of the most important documents to begin your process.   If you are interested in a determination, please contact us for details.

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What to do if you Don’t Agree with your Flood Zone:

Some people find themselves in situations, where either their home is mapped incorrectly or their home is not on the low part of a property line.  What should you do?  Although I receive this question frequently, I am in no place to attempt to answer it.   I will simply say, that you should begin by checking your floodzone on the FEMA flood maps.  If you do not agree with what you see, I would solely suggest that you contact FEMA.  Its possible you may be a candidate for a LOMA (see below.)

Areas that are prone to Flooding:

There are certain areas of land that are more prone to flooding.  Some of these are obvious such as coastal regions.  Others may be less obvious, such as wide swaths of land that abut rivers and creeks.  Generally speaking these areas are likely to be mapped in the higher risk flood zones.

About Floods In Marin County:

Being a coastal county surrounded on three sides by the Ocean/Bay and containing a large mountain, Marin has had a long history of floods.  There is a wonderful history of flooding in San Anselmo posted on San Anselmo    Judy Coy also penned a nice piece on Patch about the legendary flood of 1982, titled 30 Years After the Flood.

Flood Control in Marin County:

Flood control in the county is orchestrated by  Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.   Their goal is to ” to reduce the risk of flooding for the protection of life and property while utilizing sustainable practices.”  There are eight zones in the district that makes up the county.  The district is mostly paid via “via ad valorem taxes and fees paid by property owners.”   You can see a map of the zones and the county on the counties website.

About Floods in California:

A so called MegaFlood hit both Southern in Central California which began in 1861.  It is believed that the mega-flood was caused by what we today call an Atmospheric River.   Scientific American has an interesting article on the subject.  The article is titled: California Megaflood:  Lessons from a Forgotten Catastrophe.  There have been many flood control changes since those times.   Wikipedia contains a good list of many of the floods that have caused havoc in the State of California.   A key take away from reading about the history of floods in California is that Significant Floods Do Happen in California.   They have happened in the past and likely, they will happen in the future.

About Community Participation:

For Federal Flood Insurance to be offered in your town / township / city / county / etc – your community must partner with the NFIP.  If your community does not participate than federal flood insurance can not be offered in your area.   Community participation is very important, obviously to FEMA.   If you live in an area where there is no community participation you might want to research why that is the case.   When a community actively and successfully works with FEMA, flood rates can decrease.  Recently Marin County has had this happen in 2016.

Why Don’t Homeowners Insurance Policies Cover Floods?

Home Insurance, also called Homeowners Insurance does not cover the peril of flood, general because it is a catastrophic peril.   Wikipedia states that home insurance does not cover against flood due to  “adverse selection.”   Adverse selection is when people most likely to make a claim on insurance take out the policy. Flood and Earthquake coverages are carved out onto their own insurance forms.  If you want coverage for floods, you need to get a separate flood insurance policy through either the NFIP or the Private Flood market.  Likewise if you want coverage for Earthquakes, get an earthquake insurance policy.   A significant number of homeowners are under the false assumption that home insurance protects you from floods.  Flood Insurance is not covered by homeowners insurance.

Flood in California

Rain on your Parade

Two Types of Flood Insurance Policies:

There are in essence two types of flood insurance now being offered.   National Flood Insurance policies issued through FEMA (NFIP) and Private Flood Insurance Policies.   FEMA / NFIP Flood Insurance, confusingly, are sold by many of the name brand home insurance companies that advertise on Television.   Even though your flood insurance may have been sold to you by your home insurance agent from company XYZ, most likely it is a National Flood Insurance Policy.  In comparison true Private Flood Insurance is not underwritten by the Federal Government in any way shape of form.

What is Covered under Federal Flood Insurance?

NFIP Insurance allows for a maximum of $250,000 of Building Property and $100,000 in Personal Property.  The program has a variety of deductible options.  Both the Building Property and Personal Property have their own deducible.   Federal Flood Insurance only covers you from (obviously) the peril of flood.   “A flood is a general and temporary condition where two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties are inundated by water or mudflow…”  There are numerous exclusions to coverage.

But my home rebuild is More than $250,000:

I stated above that Federal Flood Insurance has a maximum cap of $250,000.  However, in many parts of the country that is not nearly enough to cover a complete rebuild. In general, mortgage companies likely will accept only the $250K in coverage.  There is, however, a market for excess flood insurance to sit over the $250K limit.

What is not Covered under Federal Flood Insurance?

Lots.  There are lots of items in and around your home not covered by flood insurance.  This is really just a sampling taken from the NFIP Summary of Coverage brochure.

  1.  Autos
  2.  Business Income
  3.  Temporary Living Expenses
  4.  Property and Personal Property Outside of the home.  Property outside your home could consist of some of the following: ” trees, plants, wells, septic systems, walks, decks, patios, fences, seawalls, hot tubs, and swimming pools.”
  5.  Currency and other Valuables
  6.   “Damage caused by moisture, mildew, or mold that could have been avoided”

*this is not a complete list.

FEMA Flood Insurance covers your home from the peril of flood only.  Obviously it does not cover your home from the peril of fire, which would typically be covered under a homeowners policy.   Nor does it cover anything else covered under a home insurance policy.    There is one type of “flood type incident” coverage which MAY be covered under an home insurance policy.  That coverage is for burst pipes or a sewer line backing up into your home.  A backup and sewer endorsement may be required for your home insurance policy for this coverage to be present.  Speak with your insurance agent regarding this.  FEMA Flood Insurance also does not cover Earthquake or other earth movement.

About Private Flood Insurance:

Within private flood insurance there two distinct categories.   Private Flood Insurance that is actually underwritten by your Home Insurer and Standalone Private Flood Insurance.  This article does not detail the Private Home Insurer Flood Coverage.  Needless to say just a very few of these companies are around.

For certain high cost flood insurance situations, it may make sense for some clients to consider Standalone Private Flood Insurance.  Unlike NFIP Insurance, Standalone private flood insurance is not  backed up by the federal government.  In California Private Flood Insurance is usually considered a form of Non Admitted Insurance.  Non Admitted Insurance is insurance that is not regulated by the State of California and does not take part in the State Guarantee Fund.   Standalone Private Flood Insurance will also take you out of any possible NFIP Grandfathering program.  It is important for people considering these policies to speak with a licensed insurance agent about your options considering this form of insurance.  For the most part this article deals with the Federal Flood Insurance policy form.  The Private Flood Insurance policy form can be different.  The coverages, the exclusions, and sometimes the rules.

About Personal Property Coverage, Flood Insurance, and Actual Cash Value:

For personal property coverage, FEMA flood policies cover goods on an Actual Cash Value Basis.  Actual Cash Value is “The cost to replace an insured item of property at the time of loss, less the value of physical depreciation.”  Home insurance can be written under either Actual Cash Value or Replacement Value.  But Flood Insurance can only be written with Actual Cash Value.  In general Replacement value is considered the better coverage. As with all personal property coverage, if you Cannot prove it exists, than no insurance will cover it.  In other words, you need to document items that you own.  Receipts, Photos, Videos, Lists, etc.   You should also do this for your home insurance and home insurer.  Keep a list of all of your items for both home and flood insurance.

The difference between Actual Cash Value and Replacement Personal Property Coverage is Significant

How long does it take to Get Flood Insurance:

A flood insurance quote and application can typically be generated over the phone in real time. Occasionally there may be a slight delay in getting an exact zone determination.  That delay can be upwards of 12 hours or more.  After the quote is established an application can then instantly be created.   It is important to note that typically the largest delay is often from the client answering all questions.  On occasion certain properties fall into the mystery category.  These properties can take much longer.

Federal Flood Insurance is notorious for its 30 day waiting period for new insurance issue.  After clients sign documents initiating flood insurance, the policy coverage will not begin for a full 30 days.   This waiting period can be avoided in lender required flood insurance.

How do I get Flood Insurance:

Contact your Insurance Agent to get Flood Insurance.  If you would like a second opinion, kindly contact us.   We are happy to quote out in competing situations.  We would also love to be your first and only option.   Our turn around time is typically 2 to 4 hours.  However in certain complicated situations it can take longer.   To begin with we need to know the following:

  1.  Address.
  2.  Flood claims history.
  3.  Is the property your primary residency.
  4. Type of Foundation.
  5.  Is the home elevated from the ground surrounding it.
  6.  Is there a garage and is it attached to the home.

What decisions you need to make in order to get Flood Insurance in California?:

The main decisions you will need to make are:

1.  Do I want flood Insurance

2.  How much Building Coverage do I need?  In most of the San Francisco counties the answer is almost always the maximum: $250,000.

3.  Do I want Personal Property?  Coverage is Available up to $100,000.

4.  What deductibles would you like to go with?

What is Preferred Rate Pricing:

Preferred Rate pricing is usually available to people that reside in their home full time, have not past flood insurance claims, and are in a low hazard flood area.  Preferred pricing is a package insurance policy that includes the standard up to $250K in building property and up to $100K in personal property.  If you qualify for preferred pricing than generally there is no private company that is able to compete with it.  Preferred flood insurance pricing costs pennies on the dollar compared to standard flood policies.


About Grandfathering:

In years past, clients that have kept and maintained NFIP FEMA Flood Insurance have benefited from a slower and more gradual rising of flood insurance rates over the years during certain periods of time.

If you change to the Private Flood Program you would be excluded from the Grandfathering program.

About the Newly Mapped Program:

If your home has been mapped from a lower risk flood zone to a higher risk flood zone, than you may be able to qualify for the newly mapped flood program.  This program, through FEMA, allows for more gradual rate increase over several years.  If you own a home in this situation you should inquire with your insurance broker about this program.

Normal Flood Documents Required:

When purchasing a standard FEMA Flood Insurance plan, you will need to sign an Insurance Quote, an Insurance Application, a Payment Authorization Form, and probably a statement of Primary Residency.   The statement of Primary residency will indicate that you live in the home full time.  If you are in a high risk flood zone you may need an Elevation Certificate.

if you live in a high risk flood zone you may need an elevation certificate

Special Flood Documents:

There are a few types of Flood Documents that most insureds will most likely never need to deal with.   These include but are not limited to: Elevation Certificates, Letter of Map Amendments, Letter of Map Change, Letter of Map Revision, and Letter of Determination Review.  I am certain that this is not a complete list.

Flood Insurance Marin

Miller Creek in Unincorporated Marin County

What is an elevation certificate?

An Elevation Certificate is a document that certifies the height of your home.  Typically if you live in a low risk flood zone you will not need an elevation certificate. According to the NFIP on Floodsmart – an Elevation Certificate is “a certificate that verifies the elevation data of a structure on a given property relative to the ground level. The Elevation Certificate is used by local communities and builders to ensure compliance with local floodplain management ordinances and is also used by insurance agents and companies in the rating of flood insurance policies.”  The information on an Elevation Certificate include: Property Address, Building Location Description – which may include a parcel number.  It includes information on the use of the structure, Square Footage, and a Latitude and Longitude coordinates.

The key to an elevation certificate is that it provides information on the height of your home not just the height of the property.

It will indicate if your structure has engineered openings in it.  It will also include some of the same information that is found on your Zone Determination on it such as map panel number, community number, map effective date, flood zone, and the FIRM index date.   Of most use though, will be the detailed information in regards to the elevation of your structure.  It will reference a BFE or Base Flood Elevation.   It will delineate the exact height of your lowest floor, the next highest floor, elevation of machinery, and possibly the elevation of the garage.  The Elevation Certificate will be stamped and the name of the surveyor (or engineer) with their license number.   The modern version of these documents contain photos of the property and building from multiple angles as well.  Lastly, and this is extremely important is that it must be signed by the surveyor.

How you get an elevation certificate:

An elevation certificate is not something that an insurance agent can produce for you.  If you find yourself needing an elevation certificate I would first recommend that you confirm that one does not exist.  If you have been in a house for decades and do not have one, then perhaps none exist.  However, if you have been in a house for less than awhile, there may be one on file.  You would want to contact your local governing agency to discover if they have files of such things.   In Marin that would include either the county of Marin or the City that you live in.   If your property had some major reconstruction done and you are in an A or V flood zone than one may have been produced.

a seasonal creek in san rafael

Could Marin Flood?

What is a LOMA?

LOMA stands for Letter of Map Amendment.  A LOMA is for situations where owners believe that their property does not deserve to be in a given flood zone.  This is almost always a high hazard flood zone.  Such as zones A and V.  A LOMA is “an official amendment, by letter, to an effective National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) map.”  These letters are official and on the record.  “Because a LOMA officially amends the effective NFIP map, it is a public record that the community must maintain. Any LOMA should be noted on the community”s master flood map and filed by panel number in an accessible location.”   You can read more about LOMA on the floodsmart site.  Both the LOMA and the LOMR are types of LOMC (s).   LOMC stands for Letter of Map Change.

“Anywhere it rains it can flood.”


A LOMR is a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill.  A LOMR has very little to do with individuals and their property as “All requests for changes to effective maps, other than those initiated by FEMA, must be made in writing through the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the community…”  Floodsmart Website.


A LODR is a Letter of Determination Review.   This letter does not considering the elevation of the property, rather the location of the structure on the property.  It “considers only the location of the structure relative to the SFHA shown on the effective FIRM.” A LODR is jointly submitted with both your lender and you on behalf of the property in question.  The cost is around $80 for a LODR. “The LODR review process enables FEMA to verify whether the building’s location was correctly identified on the applicable Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).”  Read more about Letter of Determination Review here.  It is claimed that the process is completed in 45 days.

How to Get a Letter of Map Amendment:

According to the Floodsmart website, you should follow the first fill out an MT-EZ form.  You will need a Recorded Deed, a GIS based Flood Map, Elevation Data, and a FEMA Firmette Map.  Compile all of this information and submit it to FEMA in Elkridge, Maryland.  Please follow the specific instructions found on the Floodsmart site here: How to Apply For a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or Letter of Map Amendment.

Conclusion and Summation of All About Flood Insurance:

Thank you for reading All About Flood Insurance.  I hope All About Flood Insurance in California answered most of your question.  One thing to keep in mind is that much of this information is not necessary to understand if you trust your insurance agent and especially if you live in a low flood hazard area.   Owners of Homes in the Special Flood Hazard Area will often need a much higher level of knowledge to procure federal flood insurance.

Flood Insurance Marin

Let it Rain!

About Marindependent Insurance Services LLC:

Marindependent is an Independent Insurance Brokerage and Agency based in Marin County California.  We have a client based focus on securing our clients with fairly priced comprehensive insurance.   Flood Insurance is one of the many types of insurances that we offer.  Reading about Insurance is not a suitable replacement for speaking with a licensed insurance agent or broker in your state.  Please read our disclaimer.  This article deals with Federal Flood Insurance and its general rules and regulations.    There are numerous rules and regulations not contained in this article.  FEMA flood rules subject to change at any moment with no notice.

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Marindependent Insurance Services LLC is regulated by the California Department of Insurance.  California License Number 0K10734.   415-294-5454