Flood Insurance – What FEMA Says, but Not Too Loudly

Lately, I have asked myself one question. What’s the point of having a basement, and why finish it? Sure, it’s energy efficient. You can have the same number of rooms you would in a two-story house with no basement, only it’s cooler in the summer since it’s underground. And, it increases the value of your home.

A lot of houses I saw in New England have basements, but few were finished. They were used much the way people with attics use theirs, for storage. They store old stuff, antiques passed down through the family. Things that are potentially priceless or at the very minimum worth a lot of money.

I received my acknowledgement forms from FEMA along with my Flood Insurance Claims Handbook. I perused it and found something very disturbing. On Page 2 of the Flood Insurance Claims Handbook under “Tips” it reads “[m]ove any valuable items out of your basement. Flood insurance only covers items normally found in a basement, such as a furnace or washer and dryer. Personal items are not covered.” It’s not even at the top of the list. It’s the third item listed.

I have a basement, which “[t]he NFIP defines…as any area of a building with a floor that is below the natural ground level on all sides; otherwise, it is considered the first floor.” What’s the difference? I would think it would be easier to flood a walk-out basement than one surround by solid ground.

I asked questions when I bought the insurance, as well as questions about homeowner’s insurance. Did I read the policies word for word? No. But, when I bought the policies I asked a very clear question: With flood insurance, if my house floods, everything will be covered, right? The unequivocal answer was YES, EVERYTHING WILL BE COVERED. I was lied to. I was lied to by omission.

How many people really know that? If the answer is everyone (except me), why are basements (not walk-out basements, which would make them first floors) so popular and increase the value of a home when it is finished? Why furnish it and put personal belongings down there? Why put anything down there, even if it’s not finished. At this moment, if I were to move the little bit of furniture I have in the basement upstairs…well, it wouldn’t fit. So, what about people with furniture, kids’ clothes, toys, pool tables, and all the other stuff people put in a basement?

This is yet another way for someone (read our Government) to make money. Homeowner’s insurance does not cover damage from rising water! Buy Flood Insurance! If your house floods, you will be covered!

They don’t come right out and say that only items that belong in a basement are covered. Oh, they say it in a round about way. In my policy, it says what is covered. Furniture and personal belongings are not listed. The Flood Insurance Claims Handbook mentions it in a tip…in an oh, by the way manner.

There is a reason why it is called a FLASH FLOOD. So, what? If there is a Flash Food Watch, which means conditions are ripe for a flash flood for six hours after the rain stops, do you bring everything up from the basement? You could be doing that several times during a season, especially during a season like we are in now. Or should you wait until there is a Flash Flood Warning, which means a flash flood is occurring? There may not be enough time.

So, I ask again, why bother finishing a basement? Better yet, why bother having a basement at all?


National Flood Insurance Program. November 13, 2006. Flood Insurance Claims Handbook.

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