Base flood elevation

Base flood elevation refers to the height floodwaters are expected to reach during a 100-year flood.

A flooded neighborhood

What is base flood elevation?

Base flood elevation (BFE) is the level that surface water will likely reach during a base flood. “Base flood” refers to a flood that has a 1% chance of being either equaled or exceeded in a given area in a given year. 

BFE Meaning
Put another way, a BFE shows how high water may rise during a 100-year flood (i.e., a flood that has a 1% chance of happening in any given year). 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps base flood elevations for several flood zones. They are:

  • AE

  • AH

  • A1–A30

  • AR

  • AR/A

  • AR/AE

  • AR/A1– A30

  • AR/AH, AR/AO

  • V1–V30

  • VE

FEMA also designates these flood zones as Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs). Property owners in SFHAs have to get flood insurance when they have a federally-backed mortgage.

How do I find my base flood elevation? 

If you want to find your base flood elevation number, you can look it up at the FEMA Flood Map Service Center by entering your:

  • Address.

  • Latitude and longitude.

  • Your town or a nearby landmark. 

This populates the map and shows your flood zone and its BFE if there is one.

Base flood elevations are represented on FEMA maps as EL plus a number (i.e., EL 14). This number represents the expected height rounded to the nearest foot, so EL 14 represents a base flood elevation of approximately 14 feet.

It’s worth noting that there are some questions about the accuracy of FEMA flood maps. More importantly, experts say climate change is making floods more common. Even if your home doesn’t appear to be in a high-risk area, you may still want to look into flood insurance.

Get a quote to see how much you might pay for flood coverage through Kin.

How is a base flood elevation used?

Insurance companies compare base flood elevations to the lowest floor of a structure to try and anticipate its chances of experiencing flood damage. This is important for determining flood insurance premiums. If a home’s lowest level is above the area’s BFE, then floodwaters are less likely to reach it, and the insurer may charge a lower rate.

Homeowners and builders can also use BFEs when building or renovating a home. Once you have your property’s base flood elevation, you determine where the lowest level of the house should be. All of your livable space should be above the BFE. You may also want to place your home’s major systems above your area’s BFE to reduce damage during a 100-year flood. This includes your: 

  • Electrical

  • Heating and air conditioning

  • Plumbing

Your insurance company may ask to see a flood elevation certificate when you apply for flood insurance, but we don’t.

Does a base flood elevation require flood insurance?

All flood zones with base flood elevations are also SFHAs which means they have a significant risk for flood. As a result, federally backed or regulated mortgage lenders can only loan money to people with flood insurance. 

Lenders are particularly stringent about meeting flood insurance if they provide loans from the:

If you don’t have flood insurance and are required to, your lender may purchase a policy on your behalf and bill it through your escrow account.

Even if you aren’t required to maintain flood insurance, you may want to get a policy if you’re in a flood zone. Climate change has caused more frequent and bigger natural disasters and more homes are at risk. Moreover, an inch of water can cause more than $25,000 in property damage. Without flood insurance, you’re left to pay for all losses on your own.

Tips for homes with a base flood elevation

If you live in a flood zone with a base flood elevation, you may want to reduce your flood risk and its subsequent damage. Risk mitigation is a good way to keep your insurance premiums from going up. A few ways you can do this is to:

  • Make sure your home is built with all usable spaces above your BFE.

  • Review other regulations, such as whether you can elevate your home with fill, columns, or crawl spaces.

  • Landscape your property so the slope goes away from your house.

  • Raise all water-sensitive equipment above the base flood elevation.

  • Install a backflow valve to prevent water damage from sewer backup.

  • Clean rain spouts and keep them positioned so water moves away from your house.

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