Your home's hurricane zone, flood zone and evacuation zone will help you assess the risk of serious property damage.
Depending on the state in which you live, homeowners insurance policies may not cover hurricane damage.
Making upgrades to an older home's windows and doors is a key part of hurricane preparedness.
Elevating the first floor of your home and your utilities can help you save money on insurance premiums.
If you decide to purchase a house in a hurricane zone, you’ll need to have hurricane insurance to protect you, regardless if a hurricane actually hits your home. In many states — except for high-risk coastal states — this insurance is included in homeowners insurance. In high-risk states, you’ll need to purchase hurricane insurance coverage on your own. The same goes for flood insurance.
Keep reading to learn about buying a home in a hurricane zone and how to hurricane proof your home to stay fully protected.
Determining if your home is in a hurricane zone
Where you decide to buy a home is tied to your premiums and risk level. FEMA maps flood zones for use in the National Flood Insurance Program. Each flood zone designation, represented by a letter or letters, tells homeowners exactly what the risk is for flooding at their property over a period of years, regardless of the cause. In other words, Hurricane Zone A has very different implications than Zone E.
“Just because a home has not flooded previously doesn’t mean it won’t flood tomorrow,” says Luis Torres, senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “Consider whether you are downstream from a dam or reservoir. Following Hurricane Harvey, many Houston homes were damaged by the release of water, not by the actual hurricane.”
Choose your desired location carefully, but keep in mind that flood maps change over time. An area might currently have a low risk of flooding, but that could slowly (or quickly) change.
Assessing your risk based on the hurricane zone
Different methods determine flood zones and evacuation zones, and they have different purposes. A home may be located in a non-evacuation zone but still be located in a flood zone because of a nearby stream or pond. You must check both zones.
“Insurance companies are concerned with flood zone rating, not evacuation zones,” says Chuck Vosburgh, licensed realtor at NextHome Gulf to Bay in St. Petersburg, Florida. “High-risk zones start with a letter A or V, moderate risk zones start with an X and are usually followed by a number. For example, X500 means that statistically, the area floods every 500 years. Low risk zones have a letter X only.”
To learn which hurricane evacuation zone your house is in, download the FEMA app to check. You can also use the app to figure out if you’ll need flood insurance, too. In addition, the app informs you about your community’s warning system.
By law, all homes in high-risk zones that carry a mortgage must be covered by flood insurance because flood damage caused by a hurricane is not covered by your homeowners insurance policy. You’ll need a separate flood insurance policy that will cover rising water from natural disasters.
In contrast, the National Hurricane Center determines evacuation zones, which are based on hurricane storm surge zones using ground elevation and the area’s vulnerability to storm surge from a hurricane. The evacuation zones are marked from A through E, plus non-evacuation zones.
Choosing to buy a couple of miles inland can save you a lot of money, though if your home is located in a high flood-risk area, it can put your home at a higher risk during hurricanes. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be near the water to be in a flood hazard. Consider the following checkpoints if you’re interested in buying a home in a hurricane zone or flood zone:
Know the flood zone the home is in
Know the year the home was built
Determine how much flood insurance will cost you
Determine whether you can take measures to prevent flood damage to your home
Understand how much damages could cost (you can find this on FEMA’s website)
Tips for buying a house in a hurricane zone
Each time you tour a potential home, ask questions about past flood and storm damage and ask if the home you’re considering requires an elevation certificate (EC). An EC indicates that the home complies with the floodplain management ordinance, and it helps determine a home’s flood risk. Your insurance agent will likely need an EC to determine your flood insurance premium. High premiums could make certain homes out of your budget.
Keep in mind that some states don’t require property owners to warn potential buyers about past flooding. You can check out a flood disclosure map from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Check out potential home addresses to find out what zone the homes you’re shopping for are located. Depending on the zone, you may need specific flood insurance.
Find out when the home was built
The age of your home may inform how prepared it is for hurricane season. Older homes often need more repairs or updates to withstand hurricanes and floods. You will also want to make sure your home is up to date with current building codes for hurricane preparedness.
Consider safety upgrades
Once you understand the age and state of your property, consider upgrading the parts of your home that are likely to be most affected by a hurricane. This includes checking the drains to make sure they work properly, getting the garage door and roof inspected, and making sure your home has hurricane-proof windows that can withstand flying debris and severe winds. You should also be aware of any outdoor items, such as patio furniture, that could fly away or into a window if they aren’t fastened down.
An important note: Don’t rely on the previous owner or a real estate agent’s report to gather information. If you’re buying a home in a hurricane zone, you should get an independent inspection to determine what upgrades you’ll need to make.
Ensure you have proper insurance coverage
Typical homeowners insurance won’t cover all the types of damage that tend to occur during a hurricane. For this reason, you need to contact an insurance agent and find out what is required or recommended in your area. This is likely to include separate hurricane, flood and/or wind insurance on top of your standard policy.
What insurance will I need when buying a home in a hurricane zone?
When buying a home in a hurricane zone, you’ll have to consider what types of insurance you’ll need to purchase. Don’t forget that flood insurance policies impose a 30-day waiting period before coverage takes effect. Unfortunately, insurers won’t adjust your coverage once a storm begins to brew.
Homeowners insurance can help repair or replace your home and belongings if they are damaged by fire or theft, if you accidentally damage another person’s property or if a visitor is injured while at your home. You might consider choosing more protections to cover your home and belongings. Homeowners insurance does not cover earthquake and flood insurance, though hurricane insurance is typically included with homeowners insurance, depending on where you live.
Homeowners insurance typically does not cover flood damage. You might be able to buy a separate flood policy through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or through a private insurer. Flood insurance will have building property coverage and personal contents coverage. However, it won’t cover moisture damage that you could have prevented, as well as outdoor property and cars.
Check with an insurance agent to determine how much it’ll cost and what type of coverage you can get.
“There are a number of wind-mitigating features like hurricane clips that secure the roof better than older methods and reinforced gables,” says Vosburgh. “Before you purchase, get a wind mitigation inspection to find out if the property has any features that can save you on your insurance and reduce your risk of damage.”
Standard homeowners insurance policies typically cover wind, but some policies partially or completely exclude wind-related damage. Read your home insurance policy or contact your agent to learn how you’ll be affected. Cost of coverage will vary depending on your state, the types of damage, the limitations your policy may have in place and how much coverage you purchase.
How to reduce your insurance premiums
It’s a good rule of thumb to be insured for at least 80 percent of the cost of rebuilding. But you can make a few upgrades to your home to help reduce your homeowners or flood insurance premium.
First, raise the first floor or lowest interior floor of your home above the base flood elevation (BFE) to save hundreds on insurance premiums per year, according to FloodSmart.
Basement infill can effectively reduce damage to building elements and contents located below the BFE. Plus, abandoning the lowest floor of a building, if possible, can reduce damage to building elements and contents located below the BFE.
You can also install openings in the foundation and enclosure walls located below the BFE, which can more easily allow floodwaters to enter and leave. Doing this can increase the elevation of the lowest floor and lower insurance premiums. Finally, you can also elevate all building utility systems and equipment (furnaces, septic tanks, electric and gas meters).
If you’re considering buying a home in a hurricane zone, contact an insurance agent and purchase hurricane insurance. Rates can vary depending on the state where you plan to buy insurance and your home’s risk level. Remember to check out hurricane, flood and evacuation zones for each area you’re considering and factor premiums into your house-hunting budget. Making updates to hurricane proof your house and getting inspections can protect your property.