How Do You Know If The House Is In A Flood Zone In Massachusetts

Am I in a flood zone?  This is usually a question I get from my clients if they are moving to the North Shore.  But Massachusetts has a lot of waterways, very different than the west.  I have actually applied, appealed and won a flood insurance designation where my seller who lived in Middlesex county got his flood insurance designation removed and he got a check from the insurance company for the entire year

Buyers want to know if the property is located in a flood zone and what exactly does that mean?  The FEMA website is an amazing free tool to find out if the property is in a flood zone.  I like this website because it is run by the federal government and since the FEMA maps dictate the the flood zone the FEMA website makes sense.  Place the address In the search bar and you will be given the “zone of the property”.  It takes a few minutes to load so be patient and when it does there will be an option to download the FIRM panel maps – that stands for (flood insurance rate maps)

In the flood plain world there are areas that

  • Flood regularly
  • The 100 year flood plain (which does not mean the land floods every 100 years) ,
  • The 500 year flood plain (which does not mean the land floods every 500 years)
  • Coastal Barrier
  • Those that can’t be determined

The Moderate to Low Risk Areas – Do Not Require Flood Insurance

These areas area identified on the FIRM maps as “Other Flood Areas” and Other areas”

In “Other” flood areas Zone X – that are shaded is land that has .02% annual risk with less than 1’ of water.  This zone also includes areas that are protected from water management systems like levees.

There are areas that are un-shaded in area areas in the 500 year flood plain but the Zone X is land outside the .02 % chance and Zone D is undetermined.  And then there areas referred to as Zone B and Zone X as areas that are between the 100 and 500 year flood plains that are also moderate risk –  it starts to get so complicated and yes it’s the government and geology. The good news is you don’t need flood insurance in these areas.

The High Risk Areas  – Do Require Flood Insurance 

Flood hazard areas identified on the Flood Insurance Rate Map are identified as a Moderate flood hazard areas, labeled Zone B or Zone X (shaded) are also shown on the FIRM, and are the areas between the limits of the base flood and the 0.2-percent-annual-chance (or 500-year) flood. The areas of minimal flood hazard, which are the areas outside the SFHA and higher than the elevation of the 0.2-percent-annual-chance flood, are labeled Zone C or Zone X (unshaded).

These areas are identified on the FIRM maps as “Special Flood Hazards Areas”.  Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).  SFHA are defined as the area that will be inundated by the flood event having a 1-percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. The 1-percent annual chance flood is also referred to as the base flood or 100-year flood. SFHAs are labeled as Zone A, Zone AO, Zone AH, Zones A1-A30, Zone AE, Zone A99, Zone AR, Zone AR/AE, Zone AR/AO, Zone AR/A1-A30, Zone AR/A, Zone V, Zone VE, and Zones V1-V30. Each zone is different conditions such as ponding of water, sloping terrain, or wave action are some examples of different conditions. Look on the FIRM for specific notes and what the designations mean.

For example, the floodway areas in Zone AE are a little more serious because that means there is a water channel present, such as a river or  tributary and this area must be kept free of human encroachment, like homes and buildings.  Please note that every area is different because sometimes the water is really moving, other times it’s a trickle, sometimes have a ton of trees – every area is so different.

Options for Flood Insurance

So you have 2 options you can purchase insurance from

  1. FEMA a government funded program called the National Flood Insurance Program OR
  2. Your can purchase private flood insurance from and insurance carrier

A couple of things to note in Massachusetts is that any flood insurance provider can not require you to purchase insurance in excess of the outstanding mortgage balance, or with a deductible of less than $5,000.  You may opt for these services but they can’t require you.

As we all see on the weather report each year the storms are very destructive.  Many private insurance companies decided the business risk was too large and do not provide property insurance in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Sandy as an example and therefore homeowners along coastal cities purchased insurance from the Massachusetts Property Insurance Underwriting Association otherwise known as the Fair Plan.  Over time other alternatives have become available so check with your insurance carrier so you understand all the costs.

Does my Home Insurance Cover Flooding?

Your home insurance does not cover flooding from water coming into the home from the outside in.  Damage to your house under your home insurance is for a burst pipe etc….

Abated Flood Insurance

The reality is sometimes the FIRM maps are wrong.  In the wake of Hurricane Katrina there was to some extent an over reaction and the lines of the high risk zones in our state and land that was included in high risk areas that should not have been included.  If this is the case for your property there is an application process and several documents you must provide, like a signed elevation plan from a licensed surveyor, but, should you be successful in getting your insurance abated, your insurance company must refund you the  premiums for that calendar year, so it is worth it.  If you have let it go for multiple years the insurance carrier doesn’t have to refund those past years so, it’s good to get on it sooner rather than later.

How did I do it? Well, I knew because I used to be an urban planner but, here are the steps you can do – I copied these steps verbatim from the FEMA website and if you want to abate your flood insurance this is what you do…..

How do I request a change to my flood zone designation?

If you believe your property was incorrectly included in a National Flood Insurance Program – identified Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), you may submit an application to FEMA for a formal determination of the property’s location and/or elevation relative to the SFHA. For more information, please see the following page: Change a Flood Zone Designation. If you know you would like to request a Letter of Map Change (LOMC) through the Online LOMC application, you may do so through the following portal: Online Letter of Map Change.

If you are selling your home this is a big deal for buyers as they are scrapping together the money to buy your house so provide the insurance bills so they can understand if they can afford the property. That way the buyers will know if the house is in a flood zone in Massachusetts and the associated costs!

Flood Insurance In Massachusetts

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