What is an elevation certificate?

By Allstate

Last updated: October 2021

An elevation certificate is a document that lists a building's location, lowest point of elevation, flood zone and other characteristics, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is used to enforce local building ordinances and to help determine flood insurance rates.

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When do I need an elevation certificate?

If your property is considered high risk of flooding, you'll likely need to obtain FEMA's elevation certificate for your property before you can buy flood insurance. The certificate shows how your property's elevation compares to the base flood elevation on a flood map, FEMA explains. Structures that sit at the base flood elevation are considered to have a 1 percent chance of flooding each year. Your property's lowest point of elevation is compared to the base flood elevation to help determine its flood risk and how much you'll pay for a flood insurance policy, FEMA says.

In addition, you will probably need a new elevation certificate if you make significant changes to your property. For example, building an addition or converting a garage into livable space may change your home's lowest point of elevation and flood risk, according to FEMA.

How Do I Get an Elevation Certificate?

If you're purchasing a home, you may also want to ask the sellers to give you its elevation certificate, if they have one, or to provide it before your closing, FEMA suggests. Likewise, if you're building a new home in an area that's high risk for flooding, the builder may have been required to obtain an elevation certificate, which you can ask them to give you. If yours didn't, there are other ways you can obtain one.

If your community participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, the floodplain manager at your local municipal office can tell you whether an elevation certificate is already on file there, FEMA says.

Hiring a professional land surveyor to evaluate your property and complete a new or updated elevation certificate is another option, according to FEMA.

What should I do with my elevation certificate?

If your home is in an area that's considered high risk of flooding, you'll probably need to provide your elevation certificate to your insurance agent to get a flood insurance quote.

Remember, not every property needs an elevation certificate. You can look up your property on FEMA's flood maps to help determine whether your property is in a high-risk flood zone and if you may need an elevation certificate.

Keep in mind, though, that all properties have some risk of flooding, so it may be a good idea to consider buying flood insurance even if you're not required to. Your insurance provider can help answer your questions so you can determine whether flood insurance makes sense for you.