By Jennifer Waters, MarketWatch, The Wall Street Journal | April 29, 2014, 8:50 a.m. EDT
What's wrong with us? We've lost thousands of dollars of household goods and priceless remembrances because of torrents of water in our streets, homes and basements — yet we still don't have flood insurance.
Storm surf, kicked up by the high winds from Hurricane Sandy, floods through a home in Southampton, N.Y..
Some 81% of Americans know that the standard homeowners' insurance policy doesn't cover flood damage, but barely one in 10 has a flood-insurance policy, according to Bankrate.com.
What's more, flooding is the No. 1 natural hazard in the U.S., according to the National Flood Insurance Program, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Flash floods alone are the top weather-related killer in the U.S.
"Flooding is very common, and people need to wake up to the fact that they may need flood insurance," says Doug Whiteman, insurance analyst at Bankrate.com, which recently asked people what they knew about flood insurance.
It's something to consider ahead of this year's hurricane season, which is roughly June 1 through Nov. 1 and is forecast to be a tough one.
Meteorologists at the University of Colorado warn that the tropical Atlantic has warmed unusually over the past several months, and there's an "above-average probability" that a major hurricane will make landfall. They're looking for nine hurricanes this year, four of which are expected to be major, and 18 named storms. Remember that it's not always the hurricane's winds that wreak havoc, but the storm surges and flooding that come with them.
As entire neighborhoods throughout the Midwest grapple with heavy spring rains and flooding, just six months after Hurricane Sandy lambasted the East Coast from Florida to the New England states, we find that one in five homeowners still seems clueless about flood insurance. That's true even after insurance agents reported a surge in new flood-insurance policies in New York and New Jersey post-Hurricane Sandy.
You must get a flood-insurance policy on top of your homeowners' insurance. The basic homeowners' policy underwrites your home's structure, your personal belongings like furniture, clothes, electronics, and sports equipment, liability and additional living expenses if you cannot stay in your home because of damage from a fire, storm or any other insured disaster. All, of course, have limits — and one of them is if the home is flooded. In some high-risk areas, you won't be able to get a mortgage without flood insurance.
There's a good tool at Floodsmart.gov that will give you the risk level of your property and direct you to insurance brokers who can help you get coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program. The average flood-insurance policy will set you back about $600 a year, though costs vary widely.
Here's what you should know about flood insurance:
It covers physical damage to your property and possessions.
You may need both building and contents coverage. Building insurance covers the home's foundation and the equipment necessary to keep it running, like a furnace, water heater and circuit breaker. It will even underwrite carpeting, paneling and wallboard. Contents insurance covers items like a washer and dryer, a freezer and the food inside it.
Flood insurance doesn't cover moisture, mildew or mold that could have been avoided. Nor does it cover property outside the house, like the deck, sidewalks and hot tubs. Not all basements are covered either.
The costs vary, depending on the design and age of the property, what the flood risk is and the amount of coverage.
The coverage doesn't start when your check is cleared. There's typically a 30-day waiting period, which means if you're looking to avoid this year's hurricane season, now is the time to jump in.