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What is an AE Flood Zone?

Determine your home’s flood risk

General map of an AE flood zone by a river. Illustration.

Potential for flood related costs

Flooding is one of the most destructive and costly hazards homeowners need to look out for, yet many people are unsure whether their property is truly at risk. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), just one inch of water can cause as much as $25,000 worth of damage to your home. For homes located in or near flood zones, the potential for loss is greater. But what is an AE flood zone and how can you determine if your home is in a flood-prone area?

A brief overview of flood zone maps

FEMA regularly publishes detailed flood maps for over 20,000 communities across the U.S. to help homeowners, government officials and insurance companies keep track of flood hazards. Using these maps, homeowners can determine if their property is located in a high-risk area and whether they should get flood insurance. Since flood risks change over time due to shifting weather patterns, land development projects and natural erosion, it’s important to pay attention to all updates to FEMA’s flood maps to stay informed.

Flood zones are geographic areas that face heightened risks of flooding, most of which are located near bodies of water. Every zone is classified according to its level of risk and the potential severity of flood events. The most hazardous flood zones begin with the letters A or V, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and homeowners living in these areas are required to purchase flood insurance.

  • Zone A: Low-lying areas that are in close proximity to lakes, ponds and other large bodies of water.
  • Zone V: Coastal regions that experience annual flash flooding, hurricanes and other weather-related hazards.

Reading a flood map can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with how FEMA classifies certain hazards and the terminology used to explain topographic features in your area. For example, many flood zones are designated as “high risk” because of their low elevation. To understand your community's flood map, it’s important to define some key terms:

  • Base flood elevation (BFE): This figure refers to the elevation that floodwaters are expected to rise to during a base flood event (floods with a 1% chance of occurring in any given year). An area’s BFE helps local officials set minimum requirements for the elevation of structures and flood-proofing features. It’s also used to calculate flood insurance premiums, as regions with higher BFEs are more likely to suffer severe flooding.
  • Floodplains: A flat area of land next to a body of water that regularly experiences seasonal flooding. In many cases, building in floodplains is restricted or limited to prevent avoidable damage to private and public structures.
  • Floodways: River channels and adjacent land areas that are used to control the flow of floodwaters to stop the surface elevation from increasing. Without a floodway, some communities would be inundated with floodwaters due to higher upstream flood elevations.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it may be useful to dive a bit deeper into one of the most high-risk flood zone types that FEMA monitors: Zone AE. Unlike other regions, AE flood zones have a lot of available data concerning BFEs, floodways and flood insurance requirements. But what is an AE flood zone and how does it differ from other at-risk districts?

Defining AE flood zones

AE flood zones are areas that present a 1% annual chance of flooding and a 26% chance over the life of a 30-year mortgage, according to FEMA. These regions are clearly defined in Flood Insurance Rate Maps and are paired with detailed information about base flood elevations. Most AE flood zones are located in close proximity to floodplains, rivers and lakes, though low-lying regions without large bodies of water may also be classified under this designation. Since these areas are prone to flooding, homeowners with mortgages from federally regulated lenders are required to purchase flood insurance through the NFIP.

No two AE flood zones are completely identical, as each region has its own anticipated BFE and sources of flooding. For example, AE flood zones located near the Great Lakes are at risk when high water levels are combined with extreme winds that push waves onshore, according to research from FEMA. In contrast, AE flood zones along the eastern coast of the U.S. are most concerned with flash flooding and hurricanes. Regardless of the region-specific conditions, building in one of these high-risk zones comes with numerous regulations laid out by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

1. The elevation of the lowest floor in a structure must be at or above the zone’s base flood elevation.

2. Enclosed areas below the BFE or lowest floor cannot be used as living spaces.

3. All electrical, plumbing and HVAC equipment must be elevated to or above the area’s BFE.

Whether you’re looking to buy a new home, renovate your existing property or enhance your water damage protection, consulting FEMA’s flood maps is essential for warding off potential losses. If you live in an AE flood zone or other high-risk area, purchasing flood insurance may be required.

For more information on floods and flood insurance, check out our homeowners support page or contact a representative today at 800-242-6422.

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