How to Assess Your Home’s Risk From Climate Change
Seems we can’t go more than a few days without an alarming headline about the climate crisis—from an impending “megastorm” in California, to an “environmental nuclear bomb” brewing in Utah, to data suggesting that extreme temperatures (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) are likely to occur more frequently, for longer periods of time, across more of the country in the coming decades.
While these environmental concerns affect everyone, they are expected to have a significant impact in areas that are also hotspots for population growth. For example, dangerous heat waves are expected to hit Arizona, Texas, and Florida especially hard. (Texas added the most residents over the last decade.)
Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s probably better to know the risk of fires, floods, and other environmental disasters where you live—or especially before you buy a home. If you’re dead-set on living in a certain geographic location, there’s probably some amount of risk you’ll have to accept that’s not specific to your property. But if you are just thinking about relocating in the future, calculating risk may influence your decision about where and when. Environmental hazards can affect home prices as well as factor into ongoing costs, such as flood insurance.
How to assess your home’s environmental risk
You can certainly look up fire and flood plane maps and try to interpret historical data and trend predictions on your own, but the nonprofit First Street Foundation created a tool called Risk Factor that does all this for you. Simply type the address of your home or prospective purchase into the search bar to view the fire, flood, and heat risk. You can also search by zip code, city, or county.
The tool will assess each risk factor on a scale of 1–10 and break down the risk further using historical data and current and future predictions. If searching a specific address, the tool will incorporate information such as distance to water, building materials used, and relative elevation.
Several real estate search platforms, including Realtor.com and Redfin, also incorporate Risk Factor data directly into listings. Of course, a reminder that this is just a predictive tool for approximate risk rather than a guarantee—it also is not comprehensive of all environmental concerns or natural disasters.
Why does knowing your climate risk matter?
Again, if you’re investing in a home, you’ll want to know whether there’s a possibility or near-certainty of environmental disaster in the future. Sellers may not be required to disclose specifics about risk or previous climate events affecting the property. You may be required to purchase insurance specific to risk—and even if not required, it may be a good idea anyway. Factors like extreme heat can affect energy usage over time, adding to costs, and major climate events can impact the community more broadly.
Bottom line: Be an informed buyer and homeowner. High risk doesn’t necessarily need to deter you from living where you want, but you can take it into consideration and mitigate where possible.