Tips for Homeowners: Understanding the NFIP

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

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A flooded street in an oceanside community shows the power of Hurricane Sandy, a powerful storm which crashed into the Eastern USA. A porch which has been torn off of a house lies in the flooded street.


After a flood, homeowners often struggle to understand the requirements and procedures of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), presenting unexpected challenges in an already dire situation. Homeowners must have a clear understanding of the detailed rules and processes of the NFIP — especially the concept of substantial damage — to accurately assess damage and know what actions will be required as a result.

Understand the Basics 

  • Most homeowners insurance policies do not include flood insurance. Know if you will be covered in a flood, and consider buying flood insurance through the NFIP even if it’s not required — the annual cost of flood coverage is minimal compared to the thousands you might have to spend if your home is damaged in a flood.
  • Report flood damage to your NFIP agent immediately. You will also need to report damage to local emergency management, and should provide as much information as possible about damage to your home and neighborhood.
  • Keep your homeowners and flood insurance policies and information in a safe, well-identified place, such as a waterproof lock box. Store your NFIP agent’s contact information in your cell phone, and keep a written copy with your policy — you will need access to it immediately after a flood.

Understand the Concept of Substantially Damaged

  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of the definition and application of substantial damage; homeowners in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) may need to raise or demolish their properties if substantially damaged.
  • Be careful not to mix elective remodeling construction with flood-related repairs. If remodeling expenditures are mixed with flood damage repairs, the dollar amount will count toward the substantial damage determination of less or more than 50 percent value.
  • Make sure to attend any town hall meetings or public forums held to discuss NFIP requirements and procedures. Write down your questions and take advantage of the opportunity to meet with an NFIP representative if available.

Document, Document, Document. 

You will need to provide documentation of any and all damage and out-of-pocket expenses to your NFIP agent.

  • Keep all receipts of items or services purchased in an organized file — from buying a tarp or wet vacuum to renting a temporary place to stay.
  • Before removing any water, take photographs of the flood water inside your home at its highest level.
  • Photograph all internal and external structural damage before any repairs begin — even if you don’t see damage, take photographs.
    • Take photos from far away — show the entire wall, room or side of the house — and then move closer for specific damage.
    • Don’t forget storage sheds, garages and basements or crawl spaces.
    • Use rulers and tape measures to show the height and depth of damage.
    • Take a photo of any items before they are thrown away.
    • After the contents are removed from your home, photograph all electrical sockets, baseboard, floors and ceilings.
  • Photograph the damaged contents of your home. Photograph the inside of every closet, major appliances and furniture, and don’t forget areas like kitchen and bathroom drawers and cabinets, contents inside of your garage and even DVDs and books.
  • Back the photos up on the Cloud, download them to a computer and print hard copies as soon as possible. You can also take a video of each room while describing the damage as another useful form of documentation.

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