With all of the wildfires that have occurred over the last few weeks, we would like to offer the following tips for those that have been affected not only by the fires, but the resulting smoke and soot residue that became airborne.
After all the flames have been extinguished and the smoke has dissipated, it’s important to act quickly. Having a plan is essential in fire damage recovery. Here are 10 steps you can take to avoid a long and drawn out rehabilitation.
1. Don’t touch anything.
Never enter your premises without the express consent of firefighters. Fire damage can result in an array of hidden, unsafe conditions. In addition, touching or removing items may hamper their or your insurance company’s investigation on the cause of the fire. In some cases, evidence can be discovered and collected using forensic research to be used in file a claim against those entities responsible for cause of the fire such a manufacturer of an appliance or lighting fixture. When in doubt, make sure that you ask the fire department and your insurance adjuster.
2. Turn all utilities off.
Turn off water at the valve, and gas and electricity at the respective meters (the fire department may do this for safety). If you are unable to do so, make sure that you ask for assistance from your insurance adjuster. In most cases, they work with restoration contractors in providing the initial board-up and roof-cover services and will also make sure that the proper utilities are temporarily suspended.
3. Immediately contact your insurance company.
In most cases, they will fast-track the claims process including dispatching an adjuster to assess the damages, review your policy with you, including discussion of any applicable limits of coverage. If the need exists, they can assist you and your family into temporary housing. If you rent or lease your home, contact the property owner immediately. In most cases, your property owner’s insurance policy will not cover your personal property damages or any additional living expenses. Make sure that you ask the adjuster how long your policy covers reimbursement of incurred costs for temporary housing and additional meal costs.
4. After the “all-clear,” remove necessary items.
These include keepsakes, expensive jewelry, money, and other valuables. Your insurance adjuster typically has a few different contents restoration companies they work with that can be brought in to assist in restoring your personal property. Items that you bring out of your home may not have a noticeable smoke odor until you get them to an unaffected location. They will likely need to cleaned and restored professionally, rather than trying to do it yourself, since a restoration company uses advanced cleaning and deodorization processes.
5. Notify local law enforcement – and everyone else.
Alerting local law enforcement can help prevent further vandalism, theft, and liability issues. Your home service providers should be notified of the situation, as well as the post office and your utility and credit card companies. Be sure to provide updated contact information.
6. Call a pro.
Find a full service contractor. Not all contractors are full-service fire restoration contractors, you need one who can schedule emergency board-up, roof-covering, and temporary utility disconnection services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This will protect your home against additional further damage done by intruders and foul weather. In addition, they can coordinate a full environmental assessment of your damaged structure addressing important hazards such as asbestos, lead paint, and mold. Based upon the lab reports, they will also coordinate all remediation/abatement scope and cost estimates to assist your insurance adjuster and save additional down time in the following days. .
7. Keep extensive records.
Carefully collect and document receipts and expenses, and keep extensive records of all phone calls and rebuilding related discussions. Get written estimates before work is begun. Take care to read all items thoroughly before signature or approval. Make especially sure that your insurance company is authorizing the overall scope and costs prior to the work commencing. Keep receipts of all meals eaten off site and for any temporary housing that you’ve had to stay at if you were not able to get immediate direction from your insurance company
8. Need help?
In the event that you do not have insurance, or if you have suffered a severe loss and cannot get direction from your insurance company, the Red Cross may be able to offer assistance.
9. Be patient and seek a support group.
You and have gone through severe trauma. You’re going to experience emotional pain that you’ll have to work through. There are no shortcuts. Give yourself permission to reach out to your extended family & friends, your co-workers, your church/synagogue, etc. The pain and sadness of your loss should dissipate over a period of time. For some people, that only takes a few weeks. For others, it last for months. With the right restoration contractor, as soon as the demolition is finished, the damaged home’s appearance will take on the look of a construction project. So, the emotions associated with a destroyed home take on a different direction. There will be multiple decisions that will need to be made. There may be add’l electrical outlets that you want added, maybe recessed lighting. There are different molding and door options that never existed before. Perhaps you want a different overall kitchen design. Find design assistance if you want to consider changing something as complex as the overall theme of your building décor down to molding, flooring, and color options.
10. Don’t expect a quick fix.
Though fire damage happens in a flash, understand it will take time for your insurance adjuster and building contractor to determine the repair costs. Additional time will be needed if your local city requires full building plans along with structural engineering. Time will be needed for the initial demolition, securing necessary permits along the way, changes in décor, the actual rebuilding work, and the eventual return to your home. Be driven, but realistic, about the time and effort involved in rebuilding.