Floods are the most common and the most costly natural disasters in the United States. A single inch of water can wreak more than $25,000 worth of damage on a 1,000-square-foot home, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Flood Insurance Program.
Nearly 40 percent of Americans do not have a plan prepared for a flood or other natural disaster, according to a 2015 FEMA survey. To protect your loved ones and your home from the threat of rising waters, take action now by following these steps.
1. Understand your risk.
In California, sellers and landlords are required to tell prospective buyers and tenants whether a property is in an area that has a higher annual risk of flooding than most, but this isn’t the case elsewhere in the West. Nevada and Oregon require sellers to disclose if the property is in a designated floodplain—a low-lying area near a river or stream that’s likely to overflow. However, Arizona and six other Western states don’t mandate informing buyers or renters about a home’s flood risk or past flood damages.
Smart Tip: Find out whether a home, school, or other building is in a flood zone by entering its address into FEMA’s online flood map.
Homes near rivers, streams, or storm drains are among the most vulnerable to flooding, according to Gary Russell, a senior catastrophe claims manager for CSAA Insurance Group. Dangerous flooding can be caused by many factors, including heavy rains, storm surges, and damaged dams and levees. Flash flooding is particularly common in the West, where low-lying areas may be dry one minute and filled with rushing water the next.
2. Get flood insurance.
Know your risk so you can make an informed decision about flood insurance. “Because most homeowners and renters policies don’t come with it, many Americans don’t have flood insurance,” Russell says. “Without it, they risk having to pay out of pocket to make repairs, which can be financially devastating.”
Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program or through private-market insurance providers, including AAA. Typically, it covers any damages to your home’s structure (walls, cabinets, carpets), functional systems (electrical, plumbing, temperature-control), and major appliances, as well as your personal belongings (furniture, electronics, clothes). Experts recommend buying enough flood insurance to cover a full rebuild of your home and to replace your possessions (an insurance agent can help you determine the right amount for you). The average U.S. flood insurance policy runs around $700 per year, but your annual premium will depend on where you live and the level of coverage you choose.
Smart Tip: Don’t wait until rain or snowmelt hits to buy flood insurance—most policies go into effect 30 days after purchase.
Once you’re insured, create or update your home inventory. Apps such as HomeZada, Sortly, BluePlum, and Encircle can help you put one together, or you can make your own. “Go through your house and document your possessions,” Russell says, “even those tucked away in closets, drawers, and cabinets. Take photos and videos inside and outside your home, making sure to include your attic, basement, garage, and any outbuildings. Save copies of your home inventory online or in a safe place that you can easily access.”
If you’ve invested in any home remodels or upgrades, you’ll want visual proof of those as well. In the event of a loss, a thorough list accompanied by receipts and photos or video will simplify your insurance claim.