8 Things to Know about Living in the Flood Plain in Winnetka

Considering that there are over 600 Winnetka homes that are located in the flood plain, I think it's an issue of great importance to both buyers and sellers. Home buyers have told me unequivocally that they will not purchase in the flood plain. And then I explain that I have lived in three different homes in the North Shore - none of which were in the flood plain. All three flooded.

What is a flood plain anyway? A definition of flood plain from the Winnetka Public Works Engineering Department:

"A flood plain is land that is typically adjacent to a body of water that has its ground elevation at or below the 100-year base flood elevation . . . In Winnetka, there are two sources of flood plain - the Skokie River and Lake Michigan."

Here are the things to consider regarding the Winnetka flood plain areas:

  1. If you are selling a home in Illinois you will complete the Illinois Real Property Disclosure. The second question is:
    Illinois DisclosureThis is the question that buyers look at first - and as mentioned above - it doesn't  mean the house is in the flood plain. But buyers are concerned about leaky and moldy basements.
  2. The base flood elevation is 625.3 feet. This indicates the computed elevation that floodwater is anticipated to rise during a base flood. This number is shown on flood insurance rate maps.
  3. Local flood maps show two types of flood zones: 100-year and 500-year. The 100-year flood plain is the area of land that is likely to flood during a 100-year storm which has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. Areas in the 500-year flood plain are not considered to be in the flood plain and are not subject to rigorous regulations. However, it is suggested that these regulations are followed for the safety of the homeowner.
  4. Flood ordinances have been changing and are regulated by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD,) which is also the Cook County storm water management agency. The ordinances are becoming more stringent.
  5. Building a new home in a flood zone area has some restrictions. At its most basic, new homes in Winnetka must have a clay pad extend 20' beyond the structure of the home on all sides. Homes used to be routinely built on 50' wide lots - clearly this is not possible now. For homes on larger lots, it is possible to accomplish, but there still other ordinances regarding water runoff, compensatory storage, and other specific criteria. New home builders must comply with the more restrictive rules of either the Village of Winnetka or the Village Flood Hazard Protection Regulations.
  6. Some new construction homes are being built with a "floodable crawlspace."  The first floor would be built up to the flood protection elevation and the crawl space is open and flood waters flow right through. Approximately 10 Winnetka homes have been built like this. This type of home has no basement.
  7. Remodeling a Winnetka home will be restricted financially. If you plan to remodel a home in the flood zone, the total cost of improvements must be less than 50% of the current value of the structure excluding the land. Improvements are also cumulative since 2014 up the 50% value number. As an example, if your flood plain home (the structure only) is assessed at $80,000, you would take that number and multiply it by 10 - $800,000 value of the house.  Now divide that by 2 and you have $400,000, or the amount you are limited to regarding improvements. That may seem like a lot, but if the home is old and needs a gut renovation, the money will be gone quickly. And in some cases, the allotted amount is not enough to be doable.
    A recent home sale was canceled after the buyers discovered that their allowable spend on the house was too low to complete the desired upgrades. Unfortunately, the buyers walked and the seller was distraught because anyone wanting to rehab would be limited in the same way.
  8. You will be required to obtain flood insurance - if you are getting a loan. Lenders require that homes purchased in the flood plain are insured and the costs have gone up. Check with your insurer to get an estimate.


There are many factors to consider when buying a home in a flood zone area. When working with a local real estate agent, make sure you do your homework, know the rules, and don't assume anything. New construction homes are continuing to be built in these areas - the rules are not insurmountable - but they are necessary for the protection of the homeowner.


Village of Winnetka Flood Plain Information

Interactive Flood Map (Click "Layers" in upper right hand corner and choose your town)

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