About Amerisurv| Contact    
Magazine | Newsletter    
Flickr Photos | Advertise    
HomeNewsNewsletterAmerisurv DirectoryJobsStoreAuthorsHistoryArchivesBlogVideosEvents

Sponsored By

Software Reviews
Continuing Series
An RTN expert provides everything you need to know about network-corrected real-time GNSS observations.
Click Here to begin the series,
or view the Article PDF's Here
76-PageFlip Compilation
of the entire series
Test Yourself

Got Answers?
Test your knowledge with NCEES-level questions.
  Start HERE
Meet the Authors
Check out our fine lineup of writers. Each an expert in his or her field.
Wow Factor
Sponsored By

Product Reviews
Partner Sites







Spatial Media LLC properties




Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Vantage Point: More Questions than Answers Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM   
Friday, 24 November 2017

A 771Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

Some of the messages that find their way to me by email (and sometimes by phone) pose questions that are far more complicated than the inquirer anticipates. Recently a brief two sentence question (couched in an only slightly longer message) required me to write many paragraphs to describe and explain all the variables involved that precluded me from giving a solid answer. Incidentally, I also asked that I not be given more information since I didn't have time to research and respond to all those specifics, and some of it would be beyond my expertise.

The question was related to a proposed improvement to a house that has its footprint in the 1% annual chance floodplain (Zone AE) and a lowest floor elevation one foot above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). The writer was concerned that the addition would increase annual flood insurance premiums beyond affordability, and wanted to know if an Elevation Certificate could reduce those rates.

This question seems straight forward on its face, but involves a number of intertwined variables that precluded a simple "yes" or "no" response and made my response a lot more complicated than what the writer probably wanted to hear. However, I felt a shorter answer could have been misleading. First of all, I noted that I am not an insurance agent, and closed by saying that a trusted agent who is knowledgeable about National Flood Insurance (not all insurance agents are equally adept in and familiar with National Flood Insurance policies) would be a good person to ask the same questions.

The first variable relating to changes in insurance premiums is whether the existing home is considered "pre-FIRM" (constructed before the first Flood Insurance Rate Map, or FIRM, was issued for the community), or post-FIRM (constructed after that first map). Historically, pre-FIRM structures were assessed a flat premium, no matter the difference between the lowest floor elevation and the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Post-FIRM structures are assessed based on how much the lowest floor is above or below the BFE, so sometimes pre-FIRM structures assessed as post-FIRM could benefit by an Elevation Certificate showing the lowest floor above the BFE. If the writer's building is post-FIRM, somewhere along the line there would have had to have been an Elevation Certificate to rate the flood insurance policy. If the building is post-FIRM and the current owner did not ever hire a surveyor to complete this form, it might be that the writer's premiums have been based upon a prior owner's Elevation Certificate.

Since the passage of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 and the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, differences between pre- and post-FIRM rates are being phased out, with pre-FIRM structures being assessed more in line true actuarial risk rates, as intended for post-FIRM structures. So, if the writer's house is pre-FIRM, then rates might be rising another year or more no matter what the owner does while full actuarial rates are phased in.

I say "could be rising" because there is another variable here, which is how long the writer has owned this building. If the house was purchased after 2013, then the owner might already be paying full actuarial rates due to the loss of "grandfathered" or pre-FIRM rating when ownership of the structure changed hands. My understanding is that all post-FIRM rates are also subject to annual increases to bring them more in line with actual risk. I further qualified my response to say that I also presumed that the house is the writer's primary residence (living there more than 50% each year), since the rate changes and grandfathering are different for non-primary residences.

Next to examine is the proposed addition. Because the house is in Zone AE, if the planned changes qualify as "substantial improvement" (50% or more of the structure's pre-improvement fair market value), then the entire structure--not just the addition--has to meet or be brought up to the community's current building codes. I am not familiar with codes in the writer's community's codes to know if they only require the lowest floor to be at BFE or if additional height above the BFE is required. Currently with the lowest floor a foot above BFE, the unimproved structure may meet current code. But some communities require even greater elevation as a safety factor, particularly in view of changing flooding patterns over time as our watersheds are developed (creating more runoff) and we experience changes in precipitation patterns. The owner needs to verify local standards relating to elevation above BFE, but there may also be county and state requirements that affect the planned construction. Whoever the owner works with to plan the addition hopefully will be able to help with this research. Hello, surveyors, here's your cue. Become familiar with regulations, elevation, and flood openings (venting being irrelevant this time) to be the best resource possible.

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

A 771Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

< Prev   Next >

 American Surveyor Recent Articles
Marc Cheves, PS 
Editorial: A Great Year to be a Surveyor
Some magazines have what are called "theme" issues. That is, most of the content is focused on one particular subject. In my 22+ years of survey magazine publishing, my philosophy has always been to have a little bit of everything in each issue, thereby eliminating the possibility that ....
Read the Article
Jason E. Foose, PS 
Decided Guidance: Case Examinations: Halverson v. Deerwood Village
Whew! We really beat the snot out of Bryant v. Blevins and practical locations. Well this month we're back on new case that hit the Minnesota Supreme Court's docket in 1982. We've got the familiar gymnastics of jurisprudence featuring an extraordinary array of flying rope stretchers ...
Read the Article
Michel Philips 
Extreme Environment Surveying
A Franco-Chilean team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 rugged handheld for marine cave surveying, gathering data to classify the inaccessible northern half of Madre de Dios for UNESCO World Heritage. The team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 ....
Read the Article
Erik Dahlberg 
The Original Green Engineers
Sometimes, it's best just to leave things as you found them. That's the lesson shared by Dr. Richard Miksad and his students at the University of Virginia. As a result of studies covering nearly a decade, Miksad's teams have developed detailed ....
Read the Article
Dave Lindell, PS 
Test Yourself 49: No Dimensions
In square A-C-D-B with side S, C-E is tangent to the semicircle Q1 with diameter B-D. Q2 is the inscribed circle of A-C-E. The tangent to Q1 and Q2 meets the sides of the square at F and H and intersects C-E at t G. Q3 is the inscribed circle of C-G-H. What is the ratio of the radii of circles ....
Read the Article
Jerry Penry, PS 
Discovery on Grizzly Peak
When First Lieutenant Montgomery M. Macomb arrived in Carson City, Nevada, from Washington D.C., on July 28, 1878, his assigned survey crew from the 4th Artillery was waiting and ready for the new field season. At age 25, Macomb was the leader ....
Read the Article
Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM 
Vantage Point: Fighting City Hall Over Land
Once upon a time (1989 to be exact) in a place not so far away from where I live, a man (Francis Galdo) bought a home across the street from a vacant parcel owned by the City of Philadelphia. That parcel, along with others, had been acquired by condemnation back in 1974 subsequent to a 1956 ....
Read the Article
Patrick C. Garner, PS 
Book Review: Boundary Retracement: Processes and Procedures
When I was in my mid-twenties and learning the honorable profession of land surveying, I was lucky to be guided by a mentor who would grab a book off his office shelf and say, "Every surveyor should have a copy of this!" The first example he waved at me was Davis, Foote and Kelly's Surveying ....
Read the Article


Amerisurv Exclusive Online-only Article ticker
Featured Amerisurv Events
List Your Event Here
contact Amerisurv


Javad Intros
Total Solution

press [at] amerisurv.com
Online Internet Content


News Feeds

Subscribe to Amerisurv news & updates via RSS or get our Feedburn
xml feed

Need Help? See this RSS Tutorial

Historic Maps

post a job
Reach our audience of Professional land surveyors and Geo-Technology professionals with your GeoJobs career ad. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.


Social Bookmarks

Amerisurv on Facebook 

Amerisurv LinkedIn Group 

Amerisurv Flickr Photos 

Amerisurv videos on YouTube 



The American Surveyor © All rights reserved / Privacy Statement
Spatial Media LLC
7820B Wormans Mill Road, #236
Frederick MD 21701
301-695-1538 - fax