With ever changing regulations and increasing flood insurance premiums, property owners should understand that there are options available to manage their risk exposure and costs. They should also stay abreast of pending regulation changes, which could impact the design of any new construction or building improvement project.
The Communities within Barnstable County adopted the Revised FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps in July of 2014. Thousands of homeowners across Cape Cod were impacted by the flood map changes and received letters from their mortgage lenders informing them that their homes now fell within a Special Flood Hazard Area as designated on the revised Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Because their homes were newly designated as having a 1% annual risk of flooding, they were now required to purchase Flood Insurance.
Currently, the State of Massachusetts is in process of approving the 9th Edition Building Code, which looks to increase regulatory standards for new construction or substantial improvements to those existing structures that fall within the Special Flood Hazard Area. The State Residential Building Code will adopt the higher standards set forth within the International Building Code for buildings designed within floodplains. These regulation changes will significantly increase the design standards and cost of construction for homes that find themselves within Coastal AE Zones.
On the Revised Flood Maps, Special Flood Hazard Areas are now broken into Coastal High-Hazard Areas which include not only Velocity Zones (Zone VE) but also Coastal A Zones (Zone AE with Limits of Moderate Wave Action). Design requirements proposed within the Draft 9th Edition would mandate the design of foundations within these newly created “Coastal A Zones” to match that of Velocity Zones. These houses are often elevated on pile supported foundations well above ground level.
Design requirements have also increased for houses within the lower Hazard Flood Zones (Zone AE with wave heights less than 18 inches and Zone AO, or so called “overwash zones”). The lowest floor in these zones must now be elevated an additional foot above the Base Flood Elevation for that zone. As with the 8th Edition, all utilities must still be located above the Base Flood Elevation and any enclosed space below the Base Flood Elevation must be made flood resistant and may only be used for storage, parking or access. In no case can the enclosed space be constructed below ground on all four sides.
For homeowners looking to reduce flood insurance premiums and construction costs raised by the FIRM and Building Code updates, the first step would be to retain an engineer with a good working knowledge of not only the FEMA flood zone regulations, but also State and Local ordinances. The engineer should be able to guide the property owner through any design limitations and the permitting process, which begins with preparation of a property Elevation Certificate. The Elevation Certificate will provide the insurance company with risk assessment information that they otherwise may not have had, which could potentially significantly reduce your premium.
We survey elevation around the building, location of the utilities, flood vents, and other pertinent items, and issue a stamped certificate. If it’s determined that you are actually outside the flood zone, we can also provide a Letter of Map Amendment. After the Elevation Certificate has been completed and the insurance company has updated the premium, the engineer, insurance agent and a local builder can run through a cost-benefit analysis to determine: a) the cost to make flood risk improvements; b) what the annual savings would be; c) how the improvements would reduce your risk exposure.
Examples of these improvements are: relocating utilities above the base flood elevation, adding flood vents to the existing foundation, filling in crawlspaces and basements or constructing a new foundation to elevate the existing structure above the flood elevation. Each property is different, so it’s a good idea to be proactive and contact a registered professional engineer to learn how the new flood boundaries could impact your ability to implement the planned property improvements and affect your premiums. Below are some examples of potential ways to elevate the building above base flood elevation.
Periodic changes to flood risk maps are inevitable, catalyzed by changes in the environment, weather patterns, and new development. Revised maps are issued to inform property owners of changes in their community's flood zone boundaries and the risk that their property will be flooded. Knowing if your property is in a mapped flood hazard zone and at risk of being flooded are keys to protecting your investment and understanding potential limitations for making property improvements in the future.