Is there any way I can get a rough idea of the BASE FLOOD ELEVATION and the ELEVATION OF THE FIRST FLOOR of my home without hiring a surveying company to provide me with an elevation certificate?
March 9, 2007 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Is there any way I can get a rough idea of the BASE FLOOD ELEVATION and the ELEVATION OF THE FIRST FLOOR of my home without hiring a surveying company to provide me with an elevation certificate?

Here's my dilemma: My mortgage company requires me to hold a flood insurance policy on my home due the flood zone my property is in. My insurance agent told me that if I get an elevation certificate for my home it could reduce the premium of my flood insurance policy. My neighbor, for example, DOES have an elevation certificate and their policy is a little over $200 cheaper than mine on a yearly basis. His property, however, is probably visibly 1-2 feet higher than mine. I've called a local surveying company and they charge $200-$250 to provide me with an elevation certificate. I'd rather not spend the money if it's not going to help me at all or if the chances are very slim that it will. So what I am wondering is if there is any way for me to get an idea of the BASE FLOOD ELEVATION for my property as well as the ELEVATION OF THE FIRST FLOOR. If I can provide my insurance agent with these numbers and if they were *close* I could get an idea of what I'd be saving on premium and then determine whether I should go ahead and get the elevation certificate. How do the surveyors determine this information? Is there a tool or reference material I can use myself?

Of course, if you have any other ideas on how I can make this work I'd be glad to hear those as well.

Thanks for your time and replies!
posted by ITistic to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Your county may have an elevation certificate on file from a previous homeowner. Check with your local clerk of court. Otherwise, you could rent a transit and shoot the elevations yourself, or contact your local university's civil engineering department and ask if they'd like a little project for their surveying class. Good luck.
posted by orangemiles at 11:26 AM on March 9, 2007

Find out from your neighbor what the difference was from the base flood elevation and his first floor. The base flood elevation will be the same for your house. If his difference was 10 feet then unless he was on a hill then you should be in the clear. If his difference was very close then you could spend a few bucks on a cheap laser level or even a string line level and set it up at his first floor level aiming towards your house. Measure down to your level and do the math. If you are above the flood elevation then hire the surveyor.
posted by JJ86 at 11:29 AM on March 9, 2007

Where are you? The answer is likely to vary by state, and to some degree by city/county.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:46 AM on March 9, 2007

I'd start with FEMA's Flood Maps, and would definitely get a survey done if they put me on dry land.

If they don't, you have a judgement call.
posted by PEAK OIL at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2007

Won't your neighbor know the non-house-specific numbers you need? Then just measure the difference at your house. (To get it pretty exact, I'd use a long garden hose filled with water. The water at each end will be at the same level and you should be able to figure it out from there.)
posted by DU at 11:59 AM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: orangemiles: Good idea. I'll definitely look into that.

JJ86: His flood certificate shows the BASE ELEVATION equal to 13.8 and the TOP OF BOTTOM FLOOR equal to 13.8 as well. I guess this means his home is right AT the base elevation. I was not sure if the base elevation for his home would be the same for mine. Since my home is visibly lower I now have some serious doubts as to whether it would be worth the money to pay for a certificate.

croutonsupafreak: I'm in New Port Richey, FL.

PEAK OIL: Thanks for the helpful link!

DU: This reiterates what JJ86 had to say. I was unaware the base flood elevation would be the same. I wasn't 100% certain of the definition of that term.

Thanks, everyone. I'm still open to other suggestions, however!
posted by ITistic at 12:10 PM on March 9, 2007

It's more likely that your property is in the flood zone shown on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). Here's what you do:

1. Get a copy of the FIRM for your area (available here.)

2. Try to locate your property. If it's not or in zones B, C, or X, then you don't need insurance. If it's in the flood zone , you have to file a letter of map amendment (LOMA) to get it changed, see here. To file a LOMA you'll need the elevation certificate. Keep in mind that you have to prove that you're not in the flood zone.

Chances are that based on the property description in your deed, you are located in the flood zone. This site gives you a rough assessment of whether you are or not.
posted by electroboy at 12:10 PM on March 9, 2007

You can get the information on your home yourself, but I don't think you're really going to be able to do anything with it. Note that the document you're ultimately trying to get is called a certificate, and don't take that lightly. You need to be certified to be able to produce one that anyone will accept. You're dealing with an insurance company here; why would they accept information from Joe Blow on your house's elevation if it's going to mean less money for them? The fact that the surveyors are able to provide you a certified elevation is really what you're paying for; not so much the work of finding the elevation of your house.

In certain areas around me where neighbors are extremely contentious about preserving views and things, if you build a new house, you have to get it certified by a surveyor before you're allowed to occupy it, just to make sure that the actual building is the same height as the plans the building department approved. What you're looking for is a fairly common requirement.

Others are correct in saying that the base flood elevation for you and your neighbor are likely the same. Whether the insurance company will accept that or not....
posted by LionIndex at 12:18 PM on March 9, 2007

If you'd like some information on your options, you can email me. It was the worst job I ever had, but I used to work for a FEMA contractor doing flood map revisions.
posted by electroboy at 12:22 PM on March 9, 2007

ITistic, "visibly lower" is difficult to determine even for a seasoned veteran. Unless the houses are within 5 feet of each other, an experienced surveyor would be hard pressed to make an accurate observation by eye. Using some sort of instrument even if it is a string line will give a better approximation and will help you better gauge whether it is worth hiring the surveyor.

If it turns out that your house is indeed lower than the flood elevation, the insurance company can even deny you coverage entirely or refuse to payout when there is damage due to a technicality. Either way may not be acceptable for your mortgage company.

Check out FEMA's program.
posted by JJ86 at 12:39 PM on March 9, 2007

FWIW, Google Earth provides altitude information. As far as rough estimates go, though, I'd probably consider that among the roughest.
posted by J-Train at 2:07 PM on March 9, 2007

A hand-held GPS will often display altitude information, and can be accurate +/- a few feet if they get a solid lock on more than 3 satellites. Modern GPS units (even the handheld ones from WallyWorld) should be sensitive enough to show you this.

Find a friend (or a local geek) with one of these, and buy him/her a pizza in exchange for 10 minutes' work.

But yeah, if you need a certificate... then call in the pros and be done with it.
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:26 PM on March 9, 2007

What year was your home built? Depending when your community joined the National Flood Program, if your house was built earlier, you may qualify for the grandfather clause.

I was purchasing my home in 2001. The flood elevation shot at that time showed the house to be 6 ft below base flood elevation (BFE) zone A13. The quote for my flood insurance was $6,000 a year! A deal breaker for sure.

Fema advised me to show when the house was built and what the elevation requirements were then. My parish (county) joined the NFIP in 1983, my home was built in 1978. In 1978 there was no BFE established, my home was located in flood zone C. When the NFIP came along, my home was built, so they grandfathered my home in at a BFE of 0ft in flood zone C. My flood insurance was now $675 a year, even though I was now 6 ft too low and located in flood zone A13.

My home flooded with about 7 ft of water in Katrinia. Because the damage from flood was more than 50% the value of the house, I was required to raise the house to current BFE A13. That translates into the house needed to be raised 6 feet. For a 2400 sf slab on grade, the estimates were around $100,000. I chose to tear down the home and rebuild it to todays elevation. My home is now on pilings about 10 ft off of the ground.
posted by JujuB at 7:55 PM on March 9, 2007

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