November marks the last month of the Atlantic hurricane season, but not of flood season. In fact, flooding can happen at any time of the year, and in places that don’t get hit by hurricanes.
Even if you don’t live near a river or waterway, you could get caught “flood-footed.” The proof: More than 20 percent of claims filed with the National Flood Insurance Program are from areas deemed low and moderate risk. A third of the NFIP claim payouts go to those areas.
Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding unless it’s the result of a pipe or other part of your water system that breaks within your house. Water entering your home from the outside, from any number of sources, is typically covered only by flood insurance.
Here are some surprising situations in which you might need that coverage.
You Live in an Area Affected by Wildfires
Large-scale burned areas, like those affected by recent California wildfires, can become floodplains.
“Sometimes the fire burns so hot that the land is baked like a brick,” says Heather Williams, a spokesperson for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, based in Sacramento. What is more, the fire burns the cellulose from the vegetation into a gas that then solidifies into a water-resistant layer on top of the soil.
The risk of flooding can remain high until new vegetation has a chance to grow—a period of up to five years, according to the NFIP [PDF].
Dry areas with little vegetation can quickly become inundated after monsoons. That happened this past summer when sudden, powerful rainstorms caused flash flooding in and around Phoenix. Mudflows, which can move down slopes quickly after a rainfall, also are a risk. Only flood insurance covers those perils.
The good news for people who live in areas that aren’t at high risk for floods is that the coverage is relatively inexpensive. While the average annual premium is about $700, the average premium for a moderate- to low-risk property is $420, says the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the NFIP. To get coverage, your municipality must participate in the NFIP. Check on this and other requirements with a homeowners insurance agent, or call the NFIP at (800) 427-4661.
You Live in a New Development
Basement flooding is more likely in newly developed areas, where new roads and parking lots cover soil that otherwise would absorb rainfall. With no place to go, water from, say, a heavy rain can seep through porous foundation walls.
Flood insurance supplied by the NFIP covers major systems in your basement like your boiler, water heater, electrical wiring and controls, central air conditioners, heat pumps, and sump pumps. It will also cover cisterns and the water in them, fuel tanks and the fuel in them, solar energy equipment, water tanks, and pumps. The NFIP also provides a list of what is covered [PDF]. Keep in mind that it won’t cover furniture, carpets, or personal property located in your basement, and has numerous other exclusions.
Your Neighbor Has an Aboveground Pool
If your neighbor’s aboveground swimming pool collapses and the water flows into your home, flood insurance covers it. If a water main break damages your home and at least one other home in the neighborhood, you can make a flood insurance claim. Don’t count on your homeowners insurance to cover it.
Federal flood insurance coverage is capped at $250,000 per dwelling and $100,000 for contents, though you can purchase policies with lower limits.
You Live Where the Ground Freezes
When spring rain that falls on frozen ground has nowhere to go, it can seep into basements and cause havoc. Heavy snowpack that melts quickly can cause floods as well. That happened in California this summer after a record snowpack began to melt.
Flood insurance covers those perils, even if the President doesn’t make a disaster declaration for your area.
Keep in mind, though, that flood insurance must be in effect for at least 30 days before you can use it. So don’t wait until spring to buy it. You can buy flood coverage for both residential and business properties.
You can also buy renters flood insurance. Unlike flood policies for homeowners, which cover both the structures and personal property you own, renters flood coverage just covers personal property—up to $100,000 worth. (Buying less, or taking a high deductible, will save you money.)
To get an assessment of the risk that you will be a victim of a flood, as well as an estimate of your annual premium and a link to area agents who sell federal flood insurance, visit the FEMA Flood Map Service Center, plug in your property address, and click on “Interactive Map.” This will take you to the official flood insurance rate map for your area.
The Private Flood Insurance Option
Depending on your situation, you may find private flood insurance, sold through an agent, has lower premiums than the NFIP version. Private coverage also may cover your living expenses if you have to relocate during cleanup, something federal flood insurance won’t do. In some cases, private flood coverage is sold as a supplement to federal flood coverage; in other cases it becomes your primary flood coverage. Compare the costs of federal and private coverage with an agent.