Homeowners Fire Restoration Basics

Almost daily, you hear sirens screaming in the air as fire trucks speed down the street.  They may be heading to commercial and residential properties affected by fire, water, and smoke damage.  The aftermath always leaves property owners with many more questions than answers and a mounting list of tasks soon to be added to their already busy lives.

You may have heard the restoration horror stories from friends, neighbors, and relatives regarding hassles with their insurance company, lingering odors, shoddy work by their contractors, and battles with unpleasant adjusters.

Your first step in avoiding the pitfalls and problems that inherently arise during the fire restoration process will be to understand what help is available through your insurance policy’s coverage.  Next, you will need to identify who the stakeholders are as the insurance process begins.  What are their individual goals as they do their job?  Then distinguish your potential allies from your potential foes.  Possessing this knowledge will be your best defense in navigating the challenges that lay ahead.

Experiencing a Fire

Experiencing a fire can have a vast array of meanings.  Some homeowners may have the misfortune of their household electrical wiring arcing and smoldering, without ever sustaining much of a flame, but causing light smoke damage and leaving noticeable smoke odor throughout their residence.  Another homeowner may have their house hit by a lightning strike and lose 40% of their home due to uncontrolled flames and fire damage.  These are two entirely different scenarios, each with a different degree of sustained damage to their homes yet both homeowners will say “we had a fire”.

When you have even a small fire, the resulting damage will be smoke (soot) damage and odor.  The odor is a product of the soot residue being present.  Soot particles are microscopic and can be seen only in mass once there are enough to fill the air.  Once airborne, pressure causes the soot to rise and move toward cooler oxygen.  Smoke damage within a structure is tough to contain to a single room or a single floor.

Each fire situation is unique, with many variables that will affect and determine the outcome of the overall damage.  At Chavez Inc., we develop a customized recovery plan for each fire restoration project we are involved with, which is based on the specific needs of that job.  Fire restoration should not be addressed with a “one size fits all” approach.

How Chavez Inc. Handles Fire Damage

We will begin with a walkthrough and evaluation of the damage to determine the scope of the project.  Our inspection process includes both visual and physical verification of the vertical and horizontal surfaces of each affected area.  We will look to see if there is water damage caused by extinguishing the fire.  We will also determine if cleaning personal property can be done on-site, or if we need to pack out the personal items and clean them in our plant.

Fire damage restoration is completed in several phases, some of which will not apply to every job.

  • The first thing that will need to be addressed is emergency water extraction and drying if there is water damage involved.
  • If the best course of action to clean the personal property is to pack it and bring it back to our plant for cleaning, this will typically happen next. Our staff will take inventory of everything that needs to come back for cleaning, will pack the items or label large items and then will load and transport the items.
  • With structural cleaning, we will clean all surfaces and fixtures within the affected areas of the home. This will include all walls, ceilings, doors, windows, countertops, etc.  If there are contents that we are cleaning on-site, this cleaning can be done during the structural cleaning process.  There are also times where structural cleaning is done in phases to accommodate repair schedules.  Air duct cleaning and carpet cleaning are usually the final step of the structural cleaning and would typically be completed after all repairs to the home have been completed.
  • Deodorizing can be done at any point in the restoration process and may happen multiple times if needed. A frequently used approach to deodorizing is by using an ozone treatment, though other methods may be used if they are more appropriate for a job.  Ozone treatments require that the home or business be vacant during the time that it is running, which will be coordinated in advance.
  • In-plant content cleaning will frequently overlap with the other phases of the project. This is commonly the most labor-intensive phase of fire damage restoration projects.  Our staff will unpack each box that we brought back, clean and deodorize all the items in the box and then re-pack into a clean box.  Any furniture, rugs, laundry, etc. will be cleaned in our plant as well.  After cleaning, the personal property will be moved to our climate-controlled secure storage rooms until the restored contents are delivered back to the customer or picked up.

All of this will be discussed with you and your adjuster to determine the most appropriate course of action and the order in which these items need to be completed.

Fire Restoration Basics

Below is a short list of fire restoration basics to help you understand a logical approach to fire restoration.  These will help you understand concepts and problem-solving solutions that most adjusters and contractors may not mention and can help you identify and avoid potential problems that you may encounter during your restoration project.

  1. Smoke rises and moves toward cool oxygen as it enters a room.
  2. Lingering odors are likely to be a result of remaining soot residues.
  3. Higher temperatures and humidity will cause odors to be more noticeable.
  4. Cleaning away smoke residue (soot) is the first step in deodorizing. Soot-filled attic spaces, walls, and ceiling cavities can be a source of lingering “phantom” smoke odors if they are not addressed during restoration.
  5. Porous materials will absorb and hold odor and can be stained by smoke residues.
  6. Fires that burn at higher temperatures will increase the aggressiveness of the smoke odor and make deodorizing tougher.
  7. Sooty or dirty surfaces should not be sealed or painted without cleaning, as paints and sealers will recommend “clean, dry surfaces” in their directions for use. Sealing or covering up offensive odors without cleaning may allow odors to resurface later.
Handling Fire Damage Insurance Claims

Working with your insurance company and dealing with adjusters can bring more questions and can be confusing at times.  These survival basics are at the core of some of the issues that we see repeated during the restoration process.

  • Be your own advocate. Realize that you have the most to lose if the repairs are not completed correctly.
    1. Understand the entire scope of damage and the recommended remedies. Do they make sense to you?
    2. It is important to know the parameters of your policy coverage and your options for repair or replacement.
    3. Your insurance company’s costs should be secondary to your time and your hassles.
    4. From the first day to the last day, ask questions and consider the answers. Don’t be afraid to ask “why?”.
    5. Never let a contractor begin work until they have answered two simple questions “how soon can you start?” and “how long will it take you to finish the repairs?”
  • Many insurance companies have a “preferred vendor” system for their repairs. Regardless of the way the concept is sold to you, the bottom line is the vendor programs are designed to save the insurance company money.  They will promote it as easier for the policyholder, they take care of everything with the “one call does it all”.  What they do not tell you is that once you sign on you have very little control, including who comes into your house to do the repairs.  Many times, the policyholder will be left out of the fine details of the repairs, time frames, and the final cost of repairs.
    1. Will their preferred vendor have your best interest in mind or theirs?
    2. From a vendor’s perspective, will you be the client, or will the insurance company be their client?
    3. Whether it was explained to you or not, it is your choice who does the repairs in your home.
  • Understand your homeowner’s policy. Like all legal contracts, they are designed to leave little wiggle room.
    1. Insurance companies are not doing you a favor when they cover your loss. If it is written into their policy, they are obligated to provide coverage.  They will follow their policy to the letter.
    2. Whether storing or borrowing property of others, they will not typically cover damaged items that are not your own personal property.
    3. You have two individual policies within a typical homeowner’s policy heading. One extends coverage for your structure and the other covers your personal property, each with separate limits.
    4. An adjuster’s job is to get the file closed and make sure you are satisfied with the work being done. They will sometimes negotiate between you, the policyholder, and their boss to find a final settlement.
  • If your home suffered significant damage and is unlivable, ask about policy provisions for additional living expenses. This part of your policy pays for extra costs related to you being out of your home.  If you are going to be out of your home for an extended period, pay close attention to what is available, and ask what you are entitled to as part of your policy coverage.
    1. Ask about additional payments to cover hotel, apartment, or house rental.
    2. Ask about coverage to reimburse you for the extra food expenses.
    3. Ask about mileage or gasoline costs above and beyond typical usage.
Final Observation

We see fire damage in several ways; paper/wood, plastic, metal, and protein.  Each of these types of fires will leave you with their own thumbprint of damage and will require a different restoration plan.

If you have had a fire, it can be a troubling and traumatic experience, even on a small scale.  Be your own advocate and make sure you are well informed of the scope of the damage, the process to fix the damage, and the progress.