How to Get Back on Your Feet After Residential Fire

Getting Back To Normal After A House Fire

A house fire can have devastating consequences. The damage and disrepair potentially leaving your home unrecognizable. Turning ash and rubble back into what once was will be hard to fathom. Therefore, foresight is key. Understanding and planning for the threats your property faces could put you in a position to handle even the most unfortunate of situations with calm and ease.

Experiencing a house fire of any severity can be a truly a shattering experience.  It can quickly throw a homeowner’s life into chaos and evoke a torrent of emotions.  Hardest of all, in the midst of the turmoil, life-changing decisions that can affect a homeowner’s personal and financial affairs for years to come have to be made.

Nonetheless, with some precautionary steps before disaster strikes and carefully calculated moves after, getting back to normal after a house fire is possible.

Know the Risks

In the United States, most residential fires are started by human error when using everyday home items typically considered to be safe.

Items in the home that commonly start fires:

  • Kitchen appliances
  • Heaters, boilers, and furnaces
  • Cigarettes and other smoking paraphernalia
  • Candles
  • Electrical wiring
  • Lithium batteries
  • Extension cords
  • Natural gas cannisters, chemicals, or accelerant-soaked rags

Be Prepared

While mistakes do happen, most accidental house fires can be avoided with some basic acts of preparation and awareness.  Identifying risks and practicing precautionary behavior go a long way in keeping a home safe and fire-free.

Key things owners can do to prevent home fires:

  • Check smoke alarms and their batteries at least twice a year.
  • Keep easily accessible fire extinguishers available and be sure all members of the household know how to operate them.
  • Establish and practice a fire escape plan for how occupants will exit a home.
  • Keep exit points clear and devise a backup evacuation plan should an exit be blocked.
  • Pay full attention when cooking and ensure all kitchen appliances are properly operated.
  • Only use space heaters, kerosene lamps, and candles under close supervision.
  • Leave any electrical wiring repairs to the professionals.
  • Check that extension cords are sufficient for their intended purpose.
  • Make sure the area around the home is free of flammable debris and clutter.
  • Know how to turn off home utilities at a moment’s notice.

Pre-Planning Inventory & Redundancy

After a loss, when everything is moving fast, it can be nearly impossible to recall every possession in the residence.  That’s why maintaining a record of belongings before catastrophe strikes is crucial.  This can be as simple as periodically taking photographs of items or as detailed as a home inventory log with pertinent make, model, cost, and place-of-purchase information.  There are numerous home inventory software programs that can serve as a depository for these details and are worth the small price for peace of mind.

Duplicate important documents if you have the ability to do so. Some documents worth duplication are…

  • Passports
  • Driver’s Licenses
  • Birth Certificates
  • Insurance Documents
  • Vehicle Registrations
  • Financial Records
  • Property Deeds

Whether the duplicates are stored in the cloud, at a relative’s home, in a safety-deposit box, or if need be, a fireproof safety box on the premises, redundancy will save a lot of stress if the originals are destroyed.

Know the Coverage

In addition to knowing what items are in the home, it’s good to know what the home insurance policy covers.  Intellectual property is rarely covered without some sort of additional policy, nor are expensive jewelry, artwork, collectibles, or other specialty items.

Mould damage can be extremely costly to mitigate, so insurance carriers often take calculated measures to reduce their risk of payout.  While mould that develops as a result of the water used to extinguish a blaze typically is covered, that isn’t always the case, and even when it is, there is usually a limit on the amount an insurance company will reimburse.

Policies can be vague, difficult to understand, and can vary from carrier to carrier, region to region, and home to home.  Reading a policy closely and having a keen understanding of the home’s specific coverage is a crucial measure for avoiding further heartbreak.

After Disaster Strikes

As soon as the fire department has extinguished the blaze, call the broker that holds the home’s insurance policy!  The insurance company makes all decisions regarding coverage and limitations on a claim and will determine if further inspection is needed.  Depending on the circumstances, the fire department may not allow a homeowner to enter the residence or begin any cleanup work until after an official sign-off from the insurance carrier.

While most adjusters will authorize a certified restoration professional to perform emergency remediation before obtaining estimates, the insurance company must provide authorization for any work to begin.  First Onsite works with insurance companies to get the process started quickly and get things back to normal as soon as possible.

How to Recover From Fire Damage

A smooth recovery is possible, but only if the proper steps are followed.  It is important that individuals with the proper experience are brought in to mitigate the loss, as a “do-it-yourself” recovery can lead to further problems.  After the insurance carrier has been consulted, contact a licensed fire damage repair team and provide as much information about the fire and the property as possible.

The restoration company will dispatch a team to assess the building and determine its habitability and any safety issues.  If the property is deemed uninhabitable, occupants will have to pack up key personal belongings and vacate.  The insurance representative will advise whether the homeowners’ policy includes coverage for costs of temporary lodging.

Thing to pack before vacating a home:

  • Clothing that smells like smoke has the possibility of being hazardous. Bag it up and give it to the smoke damage restoration team for washing. Smoke-filled clothing typically cannot be deodorized effectively by commercial dry-cleaning alone.
  • Medications and prescriptions: If prescriptions were contaminated in any way during the loss, call the pharmacy for advice.
  • Personal hygiene and cosmetic items: If these items were in any way exposed to water, smoke, or soot, it is recommended they be replaced. Keep receipts for the insurance adjuster.
  • Personal items: The fire damage restoration team will take a careful inventory of all contents removed from the home. Highly valuable items or items with sentimental value should be identified so that special attention can be paid to them during the cleaning process.

Things to do before vacating a home:

  • Make arrangements for pets.
  • Complete paperwork as soon as possible and return it without delay.
  • Keep the restoration team, insurance carrier, utility companies, post office, and family and friends apprised of any temporary addresses and/or contact information.
  • Give the restoration company access to the home. Keys to get in and out of the property enable the team to get the work done far more efficiently.

As the home restoration process proceeds, there are numerous decisions to be made.  Open and clear lines of communication are essential to getting the job done quickly and correctly.  Homeowners play a key role in decision-making, along with the insurance adjuster and restoration provider.  First Onsite will take the time to discuss the scope of the work and will ensure that everyone is fully aware of the project’s timeline and desired outcomes.

What to Expect

Depending on the severity of the loss, fire restoration can be a very complicated and prolonged process.  It often involves areas of the home that on the surface appear untouched by the accident but structurally have been penetrated by water, smoke, and/or soot.  If left untreated, this secondary damage can be detrimental to an occupant’s health and can impede a future sale of the home.

In these types of scenarios, there are complex deodorization and sealing procedures, building codes and best practices to consider, permits to be acquired, and subcontractors to hire.  Most important, it all must be done in a careful, step-by-step process to avoid any oversights.  This complex job requires a lot of coordination, experience, and special equipment to do accurately.  From assessing structural concerns and extracting water to cleaning clothing and saving precious belongings, First Onsite has the experienced professionals to handle any situation.

The restoration team will make a determination on the priority areas and will partition those off for immediate remediation.  If water is present, extracting it will be the team’s main objective, followed by anything damaged by smoke toxicity.  From there, renovation will begin in any areas that can be restored, and demolition in any areas that cannot.

As structural renovation gets underway, the renovation team will begin to catalogue affected contents, first by itemizing belongings and then by taking pictures of anything deemed non-restorable.  Having a pre-loss inventory helps to greatly expedite this process.  Contents that appear to be salvageable are catalogued, boxed, and removed from the site to be carefully cleaned and stored in a secure facility.  Items that are successfully restored will then be safely packaged and stowed until the home repairs are complete and they can be returned.

Selling a Fire-Damaged Home

While a home insurance policy can lessen the financial burden of a catastrophe, there are some heartbreaks that no amount of money can alleviate.  To minimize further loss, homeowners sometimes decide to let go of the home and sell it to someone else.

United States copy: When owners decide to sell a property that has been fire-damaged, often they are required by state statutes to disclose the details of the incident, any known damage and what steps were taken to remediate that damage.

Exactly what and how much information must be provided varies from state to state, but disclosure obligations exist in some form in most of the United States.  This applies to all homeowners, whether the property is a single-family home, a multi-family residence, or a mobile home.  Property owners have not only a legal responsibility to make such disclosures but an ethical one, as these disclosures give potential buyers an objective view of the property and can help inform their purchase offers.

Keeping costs down in the restoration process while still making the home attractive enough for potential buyers can be a tricky proposition.  Still, owners should resist the urge to cut corners or attempt any “do-it-yourself” repairs, as this can be detrimental for the future of the home and its occupants.  Before beginning any repairs, formulate a plan with the restoration company, which will take the planned property sale into account.

Buying a Fire-Damaged Home

Potential buyers looking to purchase a renovated fire-damaged home that has sustained fire or smoke damage should be on the lookout for any signs of hidden secondary damage within the structure.  It can be very easy for a seller to cover up fire damage with quick fixes such as new carpeting, new drywall, or a fresh coat of paint.  Smoke, soot, and water damage are much harder to conceal.  If anything smells like smoke, looks to be stained in soot, or has signs of mould, the restoration probably hasn’t been conducted with best practices in mind, and there are problems with the home.  Regardless of the state of the property, making sure it has been thoroughly inspected by a professional before an offer is made is imperative.

Choose the Right Restoration Company

Restoration contractors are specially trained and certified technicians/tradespersons who specialize in remediating and repairing damaged homes and property.  There are many good building contractors and cleaning companies, but very few combine both of these trades.  First Onsite’s advanced techniques and personal yet professional response is often able to save even the most affected homes.

First Onsite’s professionals have the comprehensive training, cutting-edge products and equipment, and proven know-how to make the trauma of a home fire feel a little less catastrophic.

Our local teams know the threats your region faces and are backed by national resources so we can be there for you when you need us most. With a 24/7 emergency response in the event of a fire, our teams will work to arrive at your site quickly and begin putting your home back together.

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