FEMA has finally issued a replacement to the Elevation Certificate that expired November 30, 2022, and we need to use only the new version right away. Rather than rant about the one-week transition between FEMA’s unannounced posting of the new form on June 29, 2023 and the July 7, 2023 announcement of required usage of it that same day, I’ll focus on changes going forward. The new form is available online here: fema.gov/flood-insurance/find-form/underwriting.
The cover of the new form states “2022 Edition”, but as noted, only became available June 29 this year. The new expiration date is June 30, 2026, translating to three years of validity. On the next page, often ignored by surveyors, the Privacy Act Statement expands the stated list of principal purposes: an optional reporting tool for applications for Letters and Conditional Letters of Map Amendment (LOMAs and CLOMAs) or Revisions Based on Fill (LOMR-Fs and CLOMR-Fs), and “flood insurance rating purposes in any zone.” This last use is newly added due to the advent of Risk Rating 2.0, which ignores mapped zone designations and instead sets premiums based on relative elevations and heights between ground and structures (along with a variety of new factors). The subsequent revised stand-alone section on Purpose of the Elevation Certificate omits all references to flood insurance.
Moving away from similar tweakings on that introductory page to the first official page of the form itself, Section A (Property Information) adds “WGS 84” as a new choice for the basis of the horizontal datum relating to the reported latitude and longitude (for which instructions now clearly identify an appropriate number of decimals). Line A6 now urges attachment of four “clear” photographs (increasing preferred quantity as well as preferred quality of images). The biggest changes in Section A clarify presence or absence of flood openings, and separation of physical open area of non-engineered openings from the rated area of engineered openings. Both A8 and A9 have been expanded to more accurately (and more easily) assess compliance with requirements for specified number and size of flood openings meant to safeguard structural integrity.
Identification of the flood mapping used in Section B (FIRM Information) has changed in format from boxes to lines. NFIP Community Name and NFIP Community Identification Number are now separate entries (B1.a and B1.b), so we no longer have to cram too much information into too small a space. Newly accommodating use of “best available data” or advisory flood hazard data, Instructions for Section B include a note regarding documentation to add to Section D’s Comments.
Surveyors working in areas of Coastal High Hazards (V-type zones along oceans, Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico) should take note that Coastal Barrier Resource System (CBRS) areas and Otherwise Protected Areas (OPAs) are no longer being shown on FEMA’s new maps. Because this information is necessary for completion of Line B12, the Elevation Certificate instructions send us to maps on Fish and Wildlife’s website, unfortunately with a bad hotlink. Two better options: fws.gov/library/collections/official-coastal-barrier-resources-system-maps (then look for your state in the list) and fwsprimary.wim.usgs.gov/cbrs-mapper-v2/ Be sure to document whatever source and method of identification you use in Section D. (That’s a cautionary note from me, not the Elevation Certificate instructions.)
This biggest change to Section B is the request for information relating to the location of the structure being seaward of the Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA) in new Line B13. LiMWA is an important factor in floodplain management, indicating whether a structure is subject to waves between 3 and 1.5 feet in height. However, not all maps of coastal A-type zones report the LiMWA, and the form does not allow for any “don’t know” kind of response, only “yes” or “no”.
Section C for Building Elevation Information (where we enter surveyed measurements) reintroduces requirements for a clarification that had been included through 2012 but then was mysteriously dropped. This is identification of any conversion factor used to align elevations in Sections B and C so that they in the same (mapped) datum. As flood mapping is updated into current datum reference systems, it is less likely such conversion is needed, but when it is, this is and always has been an important piece of information. Aside from some slight language changes in C2.e, the other important change to Section C is the identification of adjacent grade as being “natural” or “finished” in Lines C2.f and C2.g and the specific mention of “finished” grade in Line C2.h. It is hard to imagine that any construction avoids disturbance of soil so that the ground elevation could truly be “natural” next to a building or any attachments or extensions. Hopefully this language modification will keep us all honest.
Section D for Certification and Comments now includes a line for the email address of the form’s certifier. The text box for comments now asks for the source of any conversion factor applied to Lines C2.a through C2.h. It also asks for a description of any attachments to the Elevation Certificate, replacing the little check box next to the question about whether the latitude and longitude in Section A were provided by a licensed surveyor. This makes me very happy. For years I have been advising surveyors to make some kind of note in Section D that the Elevation Certificate isn’t valid or complete without the noted attachments. I have never felt a check box has been enough to prevent oversights or maleficence in separating attachments from the Elevation Certificate. Now that FEMA is making that point, hopefully I can back off all that pleading.
Section E, for buildings in areas without identified Base Flood Elevations, can be completed and certified by anyone, including property owners or their representatives. The only change to Section E is a line mirroring the first line of Section C, asking whether reported measurements are on proposed, in progress, or completed construction. Section F, certified by whoever filled out Section E (since Section D isn’t appropriate), now includes a comments section and provides a box to indicate there are attachments to the completed form.
Section G for Community Information is no longer “Optional” but “Recommended for Community Official Completion”, and adds new lines and language in support of community floodplain management activities. Section 60.3 of Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations lays out community responsibilities to review all proposed new development and substantial improvements to structures through a permitting process. The new additions to Section G, especially new Lines G9.b, G10.b and G11, supplemented by a new certification by the local official and a supporting Comments section, document permit and variance decisions to show community compliance with federal minimum standards.
Section H, Building’s First Floor Height Information for All Zones, is a completely new section. No survey is required, so (like Section E) it can be filled out by anyone. It is labeled “for insurance purposes only” and supports Risk Rating 2.0’s approach to rating flood insurance policies based on relative heights of building floors, machinery, and equipment to the surrounding ground. The Instructions for Section H include diagrams of different foundation types (different in focus from Building Diagrams supporting Line A7 but relating to them). Whoever completes Section H is to complete the new Section I Certification. At this point I’ll remind all readers that while Elevation Certificates reporting elevations observed by surveyors are no longer required for flood insurance policy rating, they can still be submitted for comparison of rates per our field observations versus the Risk Rating 2.0 databases. Agents are to rate policies using both sets of data (field observations versus software), and whichever rate is more beneficial to the property owner is the one the agent is supposed to use. Considering we don’t know the accuracy or age of all the data in the Risk Rating 2.0 programming, it is worth submitting current real-life information.
There is some tweaking to language in the instructions for photographs, now specifying photos of at least one closeup of a representative flood opening or vent, and various other minor changes to language for the various sections of the Elevation Certificate. In general, the Instructions for completing the Elevation Certificate are more specific, and they are definitely easier to read with paragraph breaks between different focal points. The Building Diagrams have not changed.
Some of the comments I had submitted during FEMA’s open request have been incorporated, some have not, and there is a lot of other new material in the new Elevation Certificate outside of what I had commented upon. There is still room for improvement. And with flood mapping zones no longer being used for rating flood insurance (only identifying the need for it), at some point there will be other “must change” details in the wings to reflect more appropriate names for FEMA’s flood maps and flood study reports.
Editor’s Note: See update here: https://amerisurv.com/2023/08/10/fema-relents-on-elevation-certificate-deadline/