Flood Elevation Certificates

In a previous article on this site the role of Flood Maps as they relate to the US National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was briefly examined. This article is intended to promote awareness about one of the requirements of the NFIP, namely the Elevation Certificate.

What is an Elevation Certificate?

An Elevation Certificate is a written certification stating the surveyed height of the First Floor Level of a building above a datum or reference point such as the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88), and must be completed on the FEMA-prescribed form. The form also requires additional information such as the building name, address, use, square footage, NFIP community name and number, county name, map/panel number and flood zone.

An Elevation Certificate should not be confused with a Flood Zone Determination (sometimes incorrectly called a Flood Certificate or Flood Determination Certificate), which is simply a statement, according to available information, of whether a property lies within a flood-prone area, and what categorization that area is given.

Who can prepare an Elevation Certificate?

Elevation Certificates must be prepared and certified by a Licensed Land Surveyor, Registered Professional Engineer, or architect who is authorized by Commonwealth, State, or local law to certify elevation information for NFIP purposes.

Community officials who are authorized by local law or ordinance to provide floodplain management information may also sign the certificate.

Elevations must be certified by a Registered Professional Engineer or Licensed Land Surveyor if the Elevation Certificate is intended to support an application for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F).

eleavation certificate survey
Eleavation survey, Wisconsin 2009 Photo: sunburned surveyor @ flickr

Visit our flood business directory to find if there is an authorized professional in your area.

Why would I need an Elevation Certificate?

An Elevation Certificate is required in order to ensure compliance with floodplain management ordinances in some communities and to determine the proper insurance premium rate for the property.

It is a mandatory requirement for obtaining a federally backed real estate loan for a building located in an area designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), that is, located in a flood area category containing the letters ‘A’ or ‘V’ (in coastal areas) on a Flood Insurance Rate Map.

fema flood map

An Elevation Certificate will ensure that the property will be properly rated for flood insurance purposes in terms of the NFIP. If an Elevation Certificate proves that the first floor level of a building is above or at the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) for the property, insurance may be waived or else the insurance rate will be less than if it shows the building floor level to be below the BFE. The BFE is the height that floodwaters may be expected to reach in a one-in-one-hundred-year flood event (i.e. a 1% annual chance flood level) and is found on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) compiled and issued by FEMA.

The lower the elevation below the BFE, the higher the risk of the building being affect more frequently by flood events, and the higher will be the premium, unless acceptable mitigating measures are implemented. For example, a new house to be built in area categorized as flood-prone areas can be built on elevated earth-filled platforms (‘fill’) to raise the floor level above the Base Flood Elevation. In this case, an application can be made for a Letter of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-F).

An Elevation Certificate will be required to support an application for Letter of Map Revision based on Fill (LOMR-F), or for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) – where the flood category designation of a property or building is challenged – to change the SFHA status of a property or building to that of a lower risk or non-SFHA category, reducing the insurance rate or setting aside the mandatory requirement for flood insurance.

How do I find out if I need an Elevation Certificate?

An Elevation Certificate is a mandatory requirement for obtaining a federally backed real estate loan for a building located in an area designated as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), that is, located in an area categorized on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) as containing the letters ‘A’ or ‘V’ (in coastal areas).

The local community floodplain administrator or an official at the planning and zoning office should be in a position to provide access to the effective FIRM map for their area of responsibility.
The available inventory of FIRMs, FIS reports and other National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) products may be viewed at no charge, or purchased, through FEMA’s Map Service Center.

FEMA has been driving a process since 2003 to update the nation’s FIRM flood maps in order to provide a more accurate designation of flood hazard areas. As new maps have been issued, flood risk profiles have changed and for some the changes have meant new flood insurance requirements.

It will be necessary to obtain an Elevation Certificate in order to verify or challenge the designation of a property or building should there be any dispute regarding a change of designation of the property in a new FIRM map through a LOMA or LOMR-F process.

When are LOMA and LOMR-F processes applicable?

If an Elevation Certificate shows that a structure is located on natural ground that is higher than the BFE shown on the applicable FIRM map then a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) should be requested. In support of the request, the elevation of the lowest ground next to the structure must also be determined by a land surveyor. If the ground is higher than the BFE, then FEMA will issue a LOMA to remove the structure from the Special Flood Hazard Area classification.

If the structure was built on fill that was placed after the FIRM was prepared, a Letter of Map Revision Based on Fill (LOMR-F) should be requested. If the filled ground is higher than the BFE, then FEMA may issue a LOMR-F to remove the structure from the SFHA.

Footnote: The above article should not be viewed as an exhaustive handling of the topic, for more details the relevant FEMA websites should be viewed.

For any further information on obtaining a Flood Elevation Certificate you should contact a Registered Professional Engineer or Licensed Land Surveyor.

Surveying at the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by  NOAA
Surveying at the Lincoln Memorial. Photo by NOAA