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« Filing Claims | Main | Flood Insurance »

Check flood hazards before you buy 

Why should I as a potential buyer check for flood hazards?

Flooding and other surface drainage problems can occur well away from a river, lake, or ocean. If you’re looking at a property, it’s a good idea to check out the possible flood hazard before you buy. Here’s why:


  • The force of moving water or waves can destroy a building.
  • Slow-moving floodwaters can knock people off their feet or float a car.
  • Even standing water can float a building, collapse basement walls, or buckle a concrete floor.
  • Water-soaked contents—such as carpeting, clothing, upholstered furniture, and mattresses—may have to be thrown away after a flood.
  • Some items, such as photographs and heirlooms, may never be restored to their original condition.
  • Floodwaters are not clean: floods carry mud, farm chemicals, road oil, and other noxious substances that cause health hazards.
  • The impact of a flood—cleaning up, making repairs, and the personal losses—can cause great stress to you, your family, and your finances.

 Are there regulations for building in designated flood areas?

Hawai‘i County regulates construction and develop¬ment in the floodplain according to Hawai‘i County Code Chapter 27 to ensure that buildings will be protected from flood damage. Filling and similar projects are prohibited in certain areas. Houses substantially damaged by fire, flood, or any other cause must be elevated to or above the flood level when they are repaired.


How do I check for the flood hazard?

Before you commit yourself to buying property:

  • Check the property’s flood risk electronically using the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Hawai‘i Flood Hazard Assessment Tool or the FEMA Map Service Center
  • Rate your flood risk and estimate flood insurance premiums on the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) “One-step Flood Risk Profile” at For more information, contact NFIP, 1-888-379-9531.
  • Ask the County’s Department of Public Works if the property is in a floodplain; if it has ever been flooded; what the flood depth, velocity, and warning time are; if it is subject to any other hazards; and what building or zoning regulations are in effect.
  • Ask the real estate agent if the property is in a floodplain, if it has ever been flooded, and if it is subject to any other hazards, such as sewer backup or subsidence.
  • Ask the seller and the neighbors if the property is in a floodplain, how long they have lived there, if the property has ever been flooded, and if it is subject to any other hazards.

What about flood protection?

A building can be protected from most flood hazards, sometimes at a relatively low cost. New buildings and additions can be elevated above flood levels. Existing buildings can be protected from shallow floodwaters by regrading, berms, or floodwalls. Other retrofitting techniques can protect a building from surface or subsurface water.

Why is flood insurance important?

Homeowners insurance usually does not include coverage for a flood. One of the best protection measures for a building with a flood problem is National Flood Insurance, which is purchased through any property insurance agent. If the building is located in a floodplain, flood insurance will be required by most mortgage lenders. Ask an insurance agent how much a flood insurance policy would cost. If you do not have an agent, contact the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), 888-379-9531, to request an agent referral or click on “Agent Locator” at

Hawai‘i County participates in the NFIP. The NFIP makes federally backed flood insurance available for all buildings, whether they are in a floodplain or not. Flood insurance covers direct losses caused by surface flooding, including a river or stream flowing over its banks, an ocean storm, and local drainage problems.

The NFIP insures buildings with two types of coverage: structural and contents. Structural coverage is for the walls, floors, insulation, furnace, and other items permanently attached to the structure. Contents coverage may be purchased separately provided the contents are located in an insurable building. For more information about the NFIP, visit


What is the mandatory purchase requirement?

The mandatory purchase requirement applies to all forms of federal or federally related financial assistance for buildings located in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). This requirement affects loans and grants for the purchase, construction, repair, or improvement of any publicly or privately owned building in the SFHA, including machinery, equipment, fixtures, and furnishings contained in such buildings.

Financial assistance programs affected include loans and grants from agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Farmers Home Administration, Federal Housing Administration, Small Business Administration, and Federal Emergency Management Agency. The requirement also applies to secured mortgage loans from financial institutions, such as commercial lenders, savings and loan associa¬tions, savings banks, and credit unions that are regulated, supervised or insured by Federal agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision. It also applies to all mortgage loans purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac in the secondary mortgage market.

 How does it work?

Before a person can receive a loan or other financial assistance from various agencies or lenders, it must be determined if the building is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). The SFHA is the base (100-year, 1% annual chance) floodplain mapped on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). It is shown as one or more zones that begin with the letter “A” or “V.”

Copies of the FIRM are available for review at Hawai‘i County’s Department of Public Works or online at the Hawai‘i State Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Hawai‘i Flood Hazard Assessment Tool at

Many lenders and insurance agents also have copies of the maps. It is the lender’s responsibility to check the FIRM to determine if the building is in an SFHA. If the building is in a SFHA, the lender is required by law to require the borrower to purchase a flood insurance policy on the building. The requirement is for structural coverage equal to the amount of the loan (or other financial assistance) or the maximum amount available, whichever is less.

The maximum amount available for a single-family house is $250,000. The mandatory purchase requirement does not affect loans or financial assistance for items that are not covered by a flood insurance policy, such as vehicles, business expenses, landscaping, and vacant lots. It does not affect loans for buildings that are not in the SFHA, even though a portion of the lot may be flood-prone. While not mandated by law, a lender may require a flood insurance policy as a condition of a loan for a property in any zone on a Flood Insurance Rate Map.

For more information about flood hazards, visit FEMA’s Flood Web site at

To check the property’s flood risk electronically, use the Hawai‘i Flood Hazard Assessment Tool 

For specific floodplain information and building or zoning regulations, call Hawai‘i County Department of Public Works, 808-961-8042.

For more information about the National Flood Insurance Program and flood insurance, visit or call 1-888-379-9531.

Download the Check Flood Hazards Before You Buy brochure as a handy way of printing and passing out the helpful information found on this page.