FEMA's new maps bring flood of complaints in Ohio

Amy Higgins

The Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA) currently is revising its flood maps, meaning that some communities that weren't in flood zones will be. This has financial consequences for property owners in these areas because they may be required to supplement their home insurance with flood insurance.

In Ohio, these maps have become particularly contentious, as many property owners across the state are finding themselves suddenly living in flood zones. For those who bought their properties years ago under the assumption they were purchasing homes outside flood zones, these revisions may seem unfair.

But Ohio residents may not be aware that their properties are at risk. It's clear that heavy rain causes floods, but construction and new developments also can put properties at risk by affecting natural drainage and creating new flood risks, according to FloodSmart.gov, the website of the National Flood Insurance Program NFIP). NFIP is a federal program that provides flood insurance.

In the zones

FEMA determines a community's flood risk using factors like elevation, rainfall, topography, flood control measures and any changes in building or development, according to FEMA. Once flood risk is determined, FEMA classifies areas as one of the following flood zone designations on its maps:

  • A zones: High-risk areas that have an estimated 1 percent annual chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage.
  • V zones: High-risk coastal areas that have a 1 percent or greater chance of flooding and an additional hazard associated with storm waves. These areas have a 26 percent chance of flooding over the life of a 30-year mortgage.
  • B and X shaded) zones: Areas of moderate flood hazard that flood every 100 to 500 years.
  • C and X unshaded) zones: Areas of minimal flood hazard, usually above the 500-year flood level.
  • D zones: Areas with possible but undetermined flood hazards. No flood hazard analysis has been conducted.

Financing floods

Mortgage lenders may require policyholders to purchase flood insurance, especially if they're in high-risk areas. According to FloodSmart.gov, those who are required to purchase this protection should expect the following annual premiums to insure a building and its contents through NFIP:

  • B, C and X zones with a preferred risk policy a discounted policy offered only to certain qualifying structures): Homes without a basement or enclosure should pay between $129 and $365, depending on how much coverage the homeowner purchases. Homes with a basement or enclosure should pay between $154 and $405.
  • B, C and X zones with a standard rated policy: Between $478 and $1,636.
  • A zones, with a standard rated policy: Between $472 and $2,734.
  • V zones, with a standard rated policy: Between $580 and $5,903.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, Ohio residents paid an average premium of $565 for home insurance in 2008. According to the Ohio Fairfield County Regional Planning Commission, those living in A zones are required to purchase flood insurance if they have federally backed mortgages. So a homeowner now living in an A zone who was paying $565 for home insurance and will be required to buy a standard-rated flood policy could end up paying anywhere between $1,037 and $3,299 a year for Ohio home insurance.

Flooding is the most common and most expensive type of natural disaster in the United States, according to FEMA. Rebuilding a structure and replacing its contents could be financially devastating to a homeowner who is not properly insured. Homeowners living in high-risk areas aren't the only ones who could suffer the consequences. In 2010, about 25 percent of all claims paid by NFIP were for policies in moderate- to low-risk communities, according to FloodSmart.gov.

Gathering evidence

FEMA works closely with the local community and uses technical and scientific data to determine flood zones. Ohio property owners who think they have evidence proving their properties' risks were miscalculated can submit that information to FEMA for review. FEMA will update the flood hazard information on the flood map if that data that proves to be accurate.

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