What is an Elevation Certificate?
An Elevation Certificate (EC) is a form that is used to establish a base flood elevation (BFE) and to compare the BFE to the elevation of a property and/or to finished floor(s) elevations of buildings on a parcel of land that lies within a special flood hazard area (i.e. zone AE, AO, V etc.). While it is possible for Engineers, Architects, or Professional Land Surveyors to complete an elevation in some states, the state of North Carolina requires that a Professional Land Surveyor fills out section "C".
Elevation certificates are normally used for two purposes, pre-construction and post-construction. Pre-construction elevation certificates are used to determine the base flood elevation of an area on a property and to mark the base flood elevation with a temporary benchmark (BM). Once a benchmark is established, construction can begin and the lowest floor of the building can be elevated to the established freeboard. Free board is a designated height buffer above the base flood elevation (usually established at 1or more foot above the BFE). While the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) does not require freeboard, they recommend that communities in the program have at least a 1 foot of freeboard. In example, Jackson County, North Carolina has a minimum 2 feet freeboard for new construction which means that any new building must be built 2 feet above the established base flood elevation.
Post-construction elevation certificates are used to verify the lowest and the next higher finished floor of existing buildings. In "A" zones, the lowest floor elevation can also be the crawlspace of a building if there is an insufficient amount of flood vent openings. Attached garages may be considered as the lowest floor if they do not have a sufficient amount of flood vent openings, are not rated as single dwellings, used for anything other than building access and parking, has electrical equipment servicing the building (heat pumps, water heaters, etc..) below the BFE, and is unfinished (no more than 20 linear feet of interior finished wall). Post-construction elevation certificates also identify the lowest and highest adjacent elevations of the ground outside of the building. If the lowest adjacent grade is higher than the base flood elevation, then the building might can be taken out of the special flood hazard area (SPHA).
So why is the lowest floor of the building so important to know if you are in a special flood hazard area? The answer to that question is MONEY! The National Flood Insurance Program rates insurance costs at the height of the lowest floor in comparison with the established base flood elevation. The higher the lowest floor is above the base flood elevation, the lower the insurance cost. Here is an example of insurance costs with three different lowest floor elevations. These cost are estimated based on the November 2015 FEMA NFIP rate guidance.
A single one story family dwelling built on slab on grade
Building coverage: $250,000.00
Contents coverage: $75,000.00
Lowest floor is 1 foot below the base flood elevation:
Monthly rate: $270-$405
Annual rate: $3250-$4870
Lowest floor is at the base flood elevation:
Monthly rate: $135-$204
Annual rate: $1630-$2450
Lowest floor is 2 foot above the base flood elevation:
Monthly rate: $58-$87
Annual rate: $700-$1050
As you can see from the data above, having the lowest floor above the base flood elevation significantly decreases the cost of flood insurance from the NFIP. If any part of a building touches a special flood hazard area (even just one corner) then the whole building is considered to be in the special flood hazard area. If a building is located in a special flood hazard area you cannot receive a loan from a financial institution without having flood insurance.
It is very important to have a well trained Professional Land Surveyor complete your elevation certificate. A well trained surveyor will have the ability to know the difference of when to use the crawl space, the garage, or the living space as the lowest floor. In addition, a well trained surveyor can possibly help to lower flood insurance costs by using their knowledge on FEMA regulations and policies. Simply adding adequate venting to an enclosure may change the lowest floor to the next higher floor. As shown in the example above, if you spent $1000.00 in vents and that changed your lowest level floor by 2 feet, you could save up to $1100.00 or more per year. It may even be possible to take a building or part of a property out of the special flood hazard area using a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA) or Letter of Map Revison based on Fill (LOMR-F).
What it all adds up to is that a well trained Professional Land Surveyor can possibly save you money. One poor decision made by a surveyor can cost you money. The North Carolina Society of Surveyors has created a Certified Floodplain Surveyor Program to further advance the knowledge of Professional Land Surveyors. The specific topics covered in the course are: National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FIRM Maps, NFIP Regulations and Elevation Certificates, Letters of Map Correction and Letters of Map Correction Processing.The in depth training that the surveyors receive in this course can be invaluable to the surveyor's clients. Its your money and your flood insurance and its also your choice of which Professional Land Surveyor you choose to complete your Elevation Certificate, LOMA, or LOMR-F. There are over 200 Certified Floodplain Surveyors in the state of North Carolina. A list of the current Certified Floodplain Surveyors can be found at this link: https://www.ncsurveyors.com/cfs_certified_surveyors
David B. Ivey, Professional Land Surveyor L-5210 and Certified Floodplain Surveyor NC-239