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Is your home in a flood zone?

Learn about your area's flooding risks to decide whether you should purchase flood zone insurance to protect your home. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Learn about your area's flooding risks to decide whether you should purchase flood zone insurance to protect your home. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Water may be a crucial component of life on this planet, but too much water can also cause a tremendous amount of trouble. This fact is especially true inside your own home, and without the proper protection, you could end up in some pretty hot water yourself.

Related: 8 ways to prepare your insureds for a disaster

Learn how to avoid a potentially devastating experience by identifying the flood risks where you live. Find out whether your home is in a flood zone and if you're required or encouraged to carry flood zone insurance.

What are the dangers of flooding?

Water in your residence can damage or destroy more than your belongings — it can also lead to dangerous mold outbreaks and even cause structural damage that renders your home unsafe or uninhabitable. If you've ever experienced the damage just a few inches of standing water from a burst pipe can produce, it's easy to imagine the extensive harm that a full-on flood can deliver.

Related: 5 factors to minimize home-related risks

Outside, erosion from fast-moving floodwaters can wipe out your landscaping, undermine your foundation and even take out roads, bridges and other pieces of your local infrastructure. Unless they're on higher ground, cars can also flood and even be swept away in just a foot of water, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

What causes flooding, and am I at risk?

Flooding can have many causes and poses a risk to different areas around the country year-round. Heavy rains are a frequent culprit when a storm dumps more water than the ground can absorb or streams can carry away. Along the coast, the storm surge from a hurricane can inundate entire towns with corrosive seawater. Other geographical risk factors include living near rivers or lakes or downstream of dammed ponds.

Flooding can happen at unexpected times, too. Accumulating snowmelt can quickly turn into a deluge, as can runoff from higher ground that's well out of sight. In other words, there doesn't need to be an active storm taking place for flooding to occur where you live. It's best to be prepared.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Is my home in a flood zone?

The best way to determine if your home is in an area at high risk for flooding is to consult flood maps maintained by FEMA. Simply enter your address to search the FEMA flood zone maps and see not only the presence of flood hazards in your area, but also the extent of your risk as indicated by the specific zone designation where you live.

Do I need flood zone insurance?

First, understand that a standard homeowner's insurance policy typically does not cover damage from flooding. Flood insurance is a separate type of coverage specifically geared to protect you against these disasters.

Related: When flood insurance procurement is not a federal issue

Note: Flood zone insurance is mandatory if you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), and coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Use the interactive FEMA flood maps and FAQs to find out if you live in a SFHA.

If you're unsure of what your insurance policy covers, consult with your agent before a flood hits. The last thing you want is to find out after a disaster that your home isn't protected. Even if you don't live in a designated flood zone, you may consider purchasing private flood insurance to protect yourself from the many different ways that flooding can occur. Your unique property may be subject to unique risk factors that aren't captured by the national FEMA flood zone maps. Consult with your neighbors and community associations to understand the real flood risks in your area.

Should you experience a flood your home, contact your insurance provider right away to begin the claims process. Document your damage thoroughly and accurately, but not before consulting with the appropriate authorities to confirm that your home is safe to enter. Only enter a flooded home once it's deemed safe to do so by emergency personnel.

Flooding can cause tremendous devastation to homes and communities, so it's crucial to understand the risks you face. FEMA flood zone maps can help you understand the hazard levels where you live, as well as whether flood zone insurance is required there. Make sure your home is protected with the right level of coverage so the cleanup and recovery process can be as smooth as possible.

Pete Duncanson is director of business process and branch operations for ServiceMaster Restore, and chairman of the board for the IICRC. He can be reached at pduncanson@smclean.com.

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