What to Expect from Fire Damage Restoration

By Sandy John

On average, a home catches fire somewhere in the United States every 90 seconds. Although not all are blazes that will burn the house to the ground, even a small fire can create a lot of damage to your home due to the heat, smoke, soot, and water that result from the fire and trying to put it out.

If your home catches on fire, you may face the task of fire damage restoration. Read on to find out what’s involved in restoring your property from fire damage, including costs, and steps you can take to prevent future fires.

Family home severely damaged by fire.

What to do right after a fire

Watching your home burn is an emotionally wrenching experience. Despite the trauma, you have to act quickly after the fire is out to prevent further damage to your house. Delays can lead to further damage—such as rainwater entering your home or mold growing—that could drive up the repair costs.

As soon as possible, contact your insurance company to report the fire and to see what steps they want you to take next. These could include protecting the property, making an inventory of the damage, and contacting a company that specializes in fire damage restoration.

When the insurance adjusters inspect your home for fire damage, make sure they perform a thorough inspection. You want all the damage to be discovered and covered by your initial claim for fire damage. Areas to be inspected should include the:

  • Roof. Burning embers could have caused damage, or the wood underlying the shingles could have gotten moldy.
  • Siding and stucco. The heat from the fire could cause the siding to melt or the stucco to crack.
  • Windows. Heat can cause window frames to melt or blister. It can also cause glass to warp or discolor.
  • Plumbing and heating. Fire can damage pipes, ducts, and soldering or connectors.
  • Interior walls and framing. The inspector may need to remove some wallboard to check the framing or look for mold.

Professional fire damage restoration services

A fire damage restoration company specializes in helping people recover from fire damage. These companies offer a range of services, including:

  • Securing the house. A restoration company can board up the house and place tarps on the roof immediately after the fire to prevent weather damage.
  • Assessing the damage. They’ll inspect all the rooms to assess the damage done by fire, smoke, soot, and water.
  • Water removal and drying. It’s important to dry out the house as quickly as possible to prevent mold and mildew from growing. The company will use air movers (giant fans) and dehumidifiers.
  • Removing smoke and soot from surfaces. Restoration companies have specialized equipment for these tasks.
  • Cleaning. They’ll use a variety of techniques to clean salvageable items.
  • Restoration. If the company also has a license to do home improvements, they can make small repairs such as replacing wallboard and installing carpeting. They may also be able to perform larger jobs, such as rebuilding rooms.

How to find a fire damage restoration service

While your insurance company may recommend restoration companies, select one you feel comfortable working with. Before signing a contract with a restoration company:

  • Check reviews of the company.
  • See if the firm is certified by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification. IICRC certification shows the firm has insurance, a written customer complaint policy, and provides education and training for its technicians.
  • Read the contract carefully.
  • Understand which services are covered by insurance. If you sign the contract, you are responsible for paying for contracted services not covered by insurance.
  • Make sure the restoration company can begin work immediately, at least taking care of placing tarps and covering openings.
Kitchen Fire Damage

Fire damage cleanup

Soot, smoke, and water damage caused by fire can be pervasive, even if the fire was contained and quickly extinguished. It’s likely that every item in the affected rooms will need to be cleaned at a minimum. That includes walls, ceilings, flooring, furniture, and personal items.

  • Soot removal. Soot is an oily substance and can easily stain items it lands on. Don’t touch any items covered with soot, such as upholstered furniture, curtains, or carpeting, because you could rub stains in. A restoration service will use a heavy-duty vacuum to remove soot. If you try to do it yourself, hold the vacuum nozzle above the surface of the items to suck up soot, but don’t use the brush attachment because you might rub the soot in.
  • Ozone treatment for odors. The odor of smoke will permeate all textile items in the room, and they must be deodorized. The restoration service will use an ozone generator to produce an oxidizing agent to remove the odor. Often, the service will place the items under a tent while the ozone generator is operating. Don’t clean clothing and other fabric items before they’ve been deodorized because you might set the odor into the fabric.
  • Thermal fogging for odors. The structural elements in your home can also soak up the odor of smoke during a fire. That’s because the heat of the fire causes pores in wallboard to open and fill with smoke. As the house cools, the smoke gets trapped in the wallboard. Restoration companies use a process called thermal fogging to reopen the pores and neutralize odors. However, smoke odor can also get into the insulation in your attic, and there is no way to neutralize that odor. The insulation will have to be replaced if it smells smoky.

After the soot has been removed and odors have been neutralized, items need to be cleaned. Draperies and upholstered furniture should be dry-cleaned, and some restoration companies can do that in your house. The carpets also need to be cleaned professionally.

What you can do

If possible, it makes sense to hire a professional restoration company that has the expertise and tools needed to do the cleanup correctly. There are a few steps you can take to help:

  • Leave items that are covered in soot for the professionals to clean.
  • Use dehumidifiers and fans to dry wet textiles as soon as possible. Place easy-to-move items, like clothing or cushions, outdoors in the sun to dry.
  • Keep windows open to air the house out until the restoration company can work.
  • Run the fan on the HVAC system constantly to move the air around. Replace the filter daily until soot is no longer visible on the filter.
  • Cover clean items with plastic to prevent them from getting dirty while repairs are being made.
House with burned out roof

Cost of fire damage restoration

The cost of fire damage restoration depends upon the size of the damaged area and the severity of the damage. Damage that requires you to replace expensive items such as kitchen cabinets and appliances can drive the price up quickly.

A 1,500 square-foot home that sustained a minor fire costs an average of about $16,000 for fire and smoke damage recovery and restoration, with cost estimates ranging from $7,166 to $25,000.

For a major fire in a 1,500 square-foot house, the average cost for fire or smoke damage recovery and restoration is $46,166, with quoted prices ranging from $21,666 to $70,666.

Before signing a contract with a restoration company, get an itemized list of everything that’s included and have a clear understanding of the scope of the work you’re committing to.

Does my insurance cover fire damage?

Standard homeowner’s policies include coverage for fire damage. Your policy should cover both structural damage and the cost of replacing personal property damaged in the fire. The terms of your policy will dictate whether you are reimbursed at replacement value—where the insurance company pays what it costs to replace the lost item with a comparable piece—or at actual cash value, which is the value the used item is worth now, or its depreciated value.

Some people buy fire damage insurance, which is an extra policy that covers the costs to replace or repair property above the amount you’ll get from your homeowner’s insurance. Your homeowner’s policy may place limits on what the insurer will reimburse for certain items. For example, there might be a $1,000 limit for reimbursement of electronics. If you had a lot of electronics that were destroyed in the fire, the fire damage insurance might cover the true costs of replacing them.

Be sure to keep receipts for all the money you spend on fire restoration or replacing items lost in the fire. The insurance company might ask to see these receipts to validate your claim.

Fire prevention tips

While fires can be started by lightning, wildfire, and other natural causes, you can take many steps to prevent fires from starting in your home.

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking on the stovetop or using the broiler.
  • Keep grills at least 10 feet away from the siding or deck of your house.
  • Replace any frayed or worn appliance cords.
  • Use portable space heaters cautiously. Keep combustible items at least 3 feet away from a space heater, and purchase heaters that have a thermostat control mechanism that will switch the heater off automatically if it falls over.
  • Store matches and lighters too high for children to reach or in a locked cabinet.
  • Remain in the room while you’re burning a candle, and don’t leave children unattended in a room with a burning candle.
  • Clean and inspect wood stove pipes and chimneys each year.
  • Make sure a fire in the fireplace is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house.

Use smoke alarms

Smoke alarms are your best early-warning system should a fire break out. The alarm gives you time to get your family out of the house or to use a fire extinguisher on a small, contained fire.

Be sure to check the alarms monthly and replace the batteries at least once a year unless your alarm is equipped with a non-replaceable 10-year battery.

  • Install smoke alarms in each bedroom and outside the sleeping area.
  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.
  • The smoke alarm in your kitchen should be at least 10 feet away from the stove to avoid false alarms.

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