Optimal house elevation for reducing flood-related losses

Siyuan Xian, Ning Lin, Howard Kunreuther

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


FEMA recommends that houses in coastal flood zones be elevated to at least 1 foot above the base flood elevation (BFE). However, this guideline is not specific and ignores characteristics of houses that affect their vulnerability. An economically optimal elevation level (OEL) is proposed that minimizes the combined cost of elevation and cumulative insurance premiums over the lifespan of the house. As an illustration, analysis is performed for various coastal houses in Ortley Beach, NJ. Compared with the strategy of raising houses to 1 foot above BFE, the strategy of raising houses to their OELs is much more economical for the homeowners. Elevating to the OELs also significantly reduces government spending on subsidizing low-income homeowners through, for example, a voucher program, to mitigate flood risk. These results suggest that policy makers should consider vulnerability factors in developing risk-reduction strategies. FEMA may recommend OELs to homeowners based on their flood hazards as well as house characteristics or at least providing more information and tools to homeowners to assist them in making more economical decisions. The OEL strategy can also be coupled with a voucher program to make the program more cost-effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-74
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - May 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Affordability
  • FEMA
  • NFIP flood insurance
  • Optimal elevation level
  • Voucher program


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