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Understanding what an elevation certificate is and how to read one will help you better navigate the issues a home may have in regards to flood insurance, a critical component of the home buying process. An elevation certificate (EC) is a document prepared by a land surveyor (or other licensed professional) that details the elevation of a home in reference to the Base Flood Elevation, commonly referred to as the “BFE.” The BFE is the elevation that floodwaters are estimated to have a 1 percent chance of reaching or exceeding in any given year. Remember, no type of flood damage, no matter the source of the water, is covered by standard homeowners policies.

FEMA Fact Sheet: Elevation Certificates

FEMA Elevation Certificates Instruction Guide

How an EC Is Used
If the property is in a high-risk area—a zone indicated with the letters A or V on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM)—the EC includes important information that is needed for determining a risk-based premium rate for a flood insurance policy. For example, the EC shows the location of the building, lowest floor elevation, building characteristics, and flood zone. The EC consists of six pages. Pages one through four are informational regarding the property, the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), and data pertaining to the structure. Pages five and six are photos of the property and structure. Your insurance agent will use the EC to compare your building’s elevation to the BFE shown on the map being used for rating, and determine the cost to cover your flood risk.

Section A (Page 1)
This section provides pertinent data including: the address of the property, the property description (otherwise known as the legal description), the latitude/longitude of the property, and information regarding the type of structure that is on the property such as: basement, crawl space, on slab, etc., and information regarding buildings with attached garages.

Section B (Page 1)
This section provides pertinent data regarding the FIRM. It identifies which community, county, and state in which the property is located. It provides the FIRM number (as assigned by FEMA) along with the original map date, the revised map date, flood zone, and the BFE. The BFE (item B9) is the MOST IMPORTANT number in this section. This is the number that determines where the “above” or “below” happens. If the structure is above the BFE, then the property is above the flood plain and may not be required to carry flood insurance.

Section C (Page 2)
This section provides space for the Professional Land Surveyor to report their results. The numbers listed in this section are compared to the BFE to see if they are above or below. FEMA is mainly concerned about the elevation of the lowest portion of the structure (item C2a), the elevation of the ground around the structure (C2f), and the elevation of any attached objects, such as a deck (C2h). The final number from this section, along with your flood zone, will be used for rating your property and determine the premium for your assessed risk.

Section D (Page 2)
This section is where a Professional Land Surveyor provides his/her information. It is also where their seal is affixed to the document. You must have the seal and signature to represent a complete document.

Section E (Page 3)
In the event that the property is located in Zone AO or in Zone A (without a BFE), Section E will be filled out by the Surveyor and submitted to FEMA for further investigation and consideration.

Section F (Page 3)
In the event that the homeowner fills out any of the information in Section A, B, or E, they must sign and provide their contact information in this section.

Section G (Page 4)
This section is for use by the Flood Plain Administrator and can contain permit information, information from elevation certificates previously completed by licensed surveyors or engineers, and their contact information.

Building Photographs per item A6 (Page 5-6)
The remaining pages provide space for photos of both the front and rear views of the property. A minimum of one photo of each is required.

While an EC can seem overwhelming, knowing which data is most important will help you better understand the final results. Once an EC is completed, it is provided to an insurance agent, who will then be able to advise as to whether or not flood insurance is required on the structure. Visit www.FEMA.gov for more information regarding Elevation Certificates and the data they provide.