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Flood insurance guide

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Flooding often happens after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), 90 percent of all natural disasters in the U.S. lead to flooding. Homes located in a flood zone are susceptible to damages that can be costly to repair.

There are several ways a home can get damaged or destroyed by flooding. Floods can create structural issues, like damaged floors or foundation cracks. Flooding can also ruin the electrical or plumbing systems and wash away the personal items inside your home. 

States most prone to flooding

The following states are at the highest risk for floods:

  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • California
  • New York
  • New Jersey

States least prone to flooding

The following states are least affected by flooding:

  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Illinois
  • Vermont
  • Ohio

Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

No, basic homeowners insurance policies do not cover flooding. Homeowners insurance covers the structure of your home and your personal belongings from a list of perils, which include events like hurricanes and tornadoes.

However, flood damage that results from a covered peril is not covered. For example, if hurricane winds blew the roof off your home, insurance would cover it. But if your basement flooded because of heavy rains, the flood damage wouldn’t be covered.

Who needs flood insurance?

Your main question is likely, “Do I need flood insurance?” Ideally, everyone who owns a home should have flood insurance. People who live in high-risk flood states or floodplains need to purchase flood insurance. However, it’s not uncommon for people who live in low-risk flood states to experience a flood that causes serious damage.

If you have a mortgage on your home, your lender may require you to purchase flood insurance. If your lender doesn’t require it, you should still consider getting flood insurance. If a flood destroys your home before you pay off your mortgage and you’re uninsured, you could be faced with high penalty fees.

How does flood insurance work?

You can purchase flood insurance through most private insurance carriers. You can also get it from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP is available in all 50 states, but it tends to offer lower claim limits than private providers. On the other hand, some private insurers only sell flood insurance to homeowners in flood zones. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.

Like all types of insurance, flood insurance has a deductible. The deductible is the amount of money you’ll be required to pay out-of-pocket toward a covered claim before insurance money kicks in. The higher your deductible, the lower your monthly premium will be.

When you buy flood insurance, there is often a 30-day waiting period between the date of purchase and the start date of your coverage. That rule prevents homeowners from getting flood insurance right before a storm hits. If you’re considering getting flood insurance, don’t wait until you need it.

What does flood insurance cover?

Flood insurance includes two coverage areas—structural damage and personal property. If your home is damaged or destroyed in a flood, insurance will help you pay to repair or rebuild it. It will also reimburse you for items inside your house that were lost, like furniture and clothing.

Here are some of the structural items that are covered by flood insurance: 

  • Building and foundation
  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • HVAC system
  • Carpets and flooring
  • Windows, blinds and shutters
  • Appliances
  • Walls
  • Debris removal

These are some of the personal items that are covered by flood insurance: 

  • Clothing
  • Electronics 
  • Furniture
  • Curtain and window treatments
  • Portable air conditioners
  • Rugs
  • Microwaves
  • Electronics

Additional coverage to protect from flood damage

The personal property portion of your flood insurance will cover the valuables you own, like jewelry, furs, fine art and collectibles. However, these items often have a low coverage limit. If you need coverage beyond the limit, you can purchase an add-on policy for valuables through your flood insurance provider. 

What does flood insurance not cover?

Flood insurance covers most of the damages you might face as a homeowner in a flood zone. However, there are some limitations to flood policies. These are some of the situations that flood insurance does not cover:

  • Flooding within 30-days of buying insurance
  • Damages exceeding the policy’s coverage limit
  • Damage to finished basements
  • Damage to exterior features
  • Additional living expenses

Flooding within 30-days of buying insurance

After purchasing flood insurance, you’ll need to wait 30 days before you can use your coverage. If a flood event occurs within those 30 days, your insurance will not cover you.

Damages exceeding the policy’s coverage limit

The insurance company will only cover flood-related damages up to your policy’s coverage limit. If the damages exceed the coverage limit, you’ll have to pay for the difference yourself.

Damage to finished basements

Flood insurance will not cover repairs to finish basements. For example, if a hurricane caused a flood and it ruined all the furniture in your finished basement, it wouldn’t be covered.

Damage to exterior features

Insurance won’t cover damages to exterior features on your property, like a pool, driveway, walkway, fence or patio. It also won’t cover landscaping, like trees or a garden.

Additional living expenses

If a flood damages your home and you’re unable to live there temporarily, flood insurance won’t provide additional living expenses for hotel and restaurant bills.

Cost of flood insurance

The cost of flood insurance is mostly based on where you live. Homeowners who live in flood zones will pay more for their insurance than people in low-risk areas. Besides flood risk, here are some additional factors that determine your rate:

  • The type of coverage
  • The value of your home and belongings
  • Your deductible
  • The age of your home
  • The location of your home (i.e. proximity to water)

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the average cost of a flood insurance policy was $700 per year in 2016. Homeowners in high-risk flood zones will likely pay more than the average, whereas people in low-risk states may pay less. You’ll need to get a flood insurance quote to find out how much you’ll pay.

How to file a flood insurance claim

Filing a flood insurance claim is similar to filing a homeowners insurance claim. Here are the steps you should take if you have to submit a claim:

  1. Contact your insurance company: Reach out to the insurance company as soon as possible to let them know of the damages. 
  2. Document the damage: Write down descriptions and photograph all the damages to the structure of your home and personal belongings. If you can, keep damaged personal property as proof, rather than cleaning up right away. If you have a home inventory, have that readily available for the insurance adjuster.
  3. Complete a Proof of Loss statement: Once the adjuster has validated the damage, you’ll need to submit a Proof of Loss document with the estimated price of repairing the damages or replacing lost items. After you and the insurance company agree to the amount of damages and payout, you’ll receive your reimbursement.

How to get flood insurance

Flood insurance is sold through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is available for residents nationwide. Some homeowners prefer to purchase flood insurance through a private insurance carrier. Each option has their pros and cons, but both offer the same basic coverages.

Private insurance is ideal for homeowners who want a high coverage limit for their flood insurance. Typically, private insurance includes higher limits than NFIP policies. Additionally, some private flood insurance policies cover things that NFIP policies don’t, like swimming pools and basements.

However, some mortgage lenders don’t accept private flood insurance. If your lender requires insurance backed by the NFIP, that’s your only option. Before you purchase a policy, know your lender’s requirements for flood insurance. 

The takeaway

  • Flood insurance is important for homeowners in high-risk states.
  • Basic homeowners insurance does not cover flooding.
  • Flood insurance is available through the NFIP and private carriers.
  • Flood insurance includes comprehensive coverage, but there are limitations and a waiting period.
  • If you have flood damages, tell your insurance company as soon as possible to start the claim process.

If you live in a high-risk state, having flood insurance is extremely important. Floods can cause extensive and expensive damage. Without insurance, you would have to pay for the damages entirely out-of-pocket. Remember that homeowners insurance never covers any damages caused by flooding.

You can purchase flood insurance through the NFIP or a private carrier. If you have a mortgage on your home, check with your lender to see if they require a certain type of insurance. Before you get a policy, know what is and isn’t covered.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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