The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducts flood hazard analysis throughout the United States and maps the results on flood insurance rate maps, which illustrate the flood zones in a community. Properties fall within one of four flood zone designations: high, coastal high, low-to-moderate, or undetermined risk. Although floods can happen anywhere, the federal government does require flood insurance in the zones of highest risk. Actions taken during the building or re-modeling of a home can mitigate potential flood damage.
Depending on local regulations, you may be able to obtain a permit allowing you to fill an area of the property with additional soil to raise an area to or above the base flood elevation. You can apply for a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMA-F) from FEMA. If approved, FEMA revises the community's flood map to reflect the change in elevation and waives the federal requirement of flood insurance in high- and coastal high-risk flood zones. Your mortgage lender retains the right to require flood insurance on the property.
In areas where fill isn't an option, elevating the home itself provides flood protection. For example, elevating beachfront homes on the east coast using stilts or pilings provides one method of bringing the living spaces of the structure above the base flood elevation or flood protection elevation.
Incorporate simple flood-proofing techniques when building your home. Outside the structure, build up the ground surrounding the home's foundation so it slopes downward about 1 inch per foot, for a minimum of 6 feet. This berm technique causes the water to drain away from your home, rather than build up around it. Inside, protect the contents by getting them away from entering water. For example, raise appliances and other electrical items at least 12 inches from ground level; install a float plug in the basement drain so a backed up drain pipe can't let in water; and/or install a sump pump in the basement.
Federal law requires owners of homes located in high- and coastal high-risk flood zones to purchase flood insurance if the structure lies in a NFIP-participating community and the owner has a federally backed mortgage. Owners of homes in moderate to low- and undetermined-risk flood zones have the option of purchasing flood insurance. NFIP policies cost two to three times less than those offered by private insurance companies. Flood insurance policies can cover only the building or its contents or both.