When it comes to buying a home, one of the most important things you need to know is the likelihood of flooding and other bad things happening on the property.
A free online tool — RiskFactor.com — shows whether water, wind and other potential disasters could hit your home in the near and distant future.
In this article, we’re going to tell you how Risk Factor works and how to use it.
When the site launched a few years ago, it focused only on floods and was called Flood Factor. Now it uses more climate data to gauge whether the property you own or are considering buying could be susceptible to wildfire, wind or extreme heat.
Is Your Home Susceptible To Flooding, Fire and More? Read This
Risk Factor is a website created by the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research firm that aims to make up-to-date climate risk information available to private citizens — homebuyers — rather than commercial interests.
The First Street Foundation says its flood models and other data come from years of peer-reviewed research that gauges the likelihood of storm surges, high tides, wildfires and other extreme events in a given area.
For years, the insurance industry has relied mainly on flood maps created by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to assess risk, but Risk Factor uses more recent data.
“The reality is that the FEMA flood maps are not up to date, and a lot of us live in areas where we have a greater and greater danger of facing floods,” money expert Clark Howard says.
Clark says in many cases, your mortgage company may not require you to have flood insurance if FEMA maps don’t show you to be in a flood zone.
At the same time, if you’re thinking of buying a property and want to know the probability of a disaster happening there based on projections and historical data, Risk Factor may help inform your decision.
How Does Risk Factor Work?
Risk Factor works like this: Once you type in an address, the website produces a score on a 10-point scale (the greater the number, the greater the risk) to analyze the likelihood of the following disasters hitting the property:
The tool shows you several disaster-related data points about each house including:
- Whether the residence is in a risk zone.
- The proportion of homes in the area at risk.
- Projected risk this year, in 15 years and 30 years.
How To Use Risk Factor
On the homepage of riskfactor.com, I entered an address of a property I own and it showed me potential risks. Again, I was most interested in flood risk, so I went there first.
Screenshot via riskfactor.com
To see other potential risks, I clicked on the appropriate link — Flood Factor, Fire Factor, Wind Factor and Heat Factor — and saw potential risks.
Because I have family in Louisiana (where it floods a lot), I also put in their address to see how their property would fare. For Heat Factor, it forecast the number of days that the heat index would surpass 108 degrees over the next 30 years. This year, indicated seven days above 108 degrees!
Screenshot via riskfactor.com
While I mainly only checked out the site’s free functions, Risk Factor offers two subscription plans for those who want comprehensive and interactive maps. I assume this is more for the real estate industry, but if you want to take a deep dive into a property, you might want to consider it.
If you’re interested in seeing any U.S. property’s potential exposure to natural hazards, using Risk Factor as a free tool can be very helpful, Clark says, but you should read its methodology to make sure you agree with it.
If you do, Clark says the site can be a great way to educate yourself about your property or one you’re considering buying. After you know your risk, it may be worth buying flood insurance.