Where there's Fire there's Smoke
Fire, Smoke and Insurance Claims
The majority of the insurance claims in
California, or in any other fire, will not be for the "total loss"burned
down houses but for homes damaged by smoke. From the street these homes may
they have no damage at all, especially when sitting next door to a burned
out shell or smoking slab. Many people will count their blessings when they
drive up to see their home intact only to find out later they are still in
for a long and involved claim and repair process.
Numerous homes that look undamaged will have very large insurance claims due to the cost and effort involved with eliminating smoke damage and odors.
Smoke is insidious, it goes everywhere and gets into everything. The smell is very hard to get rid of and even non-porous surfaces cannot be properly cleaned without professional help. When a home is filled with smoke it will cling to all surfaces.
The worst damage will be to "soft" surfaces
such as; carpeting, padding, vinyl, wallpaper, insulation, furniture and
Some of these items may be unusable and will have to be replaced. Many items
in a home that look like solid surfaces are actually very porous and subject
to extensive smoke damage this can include marble, stone, tile, concrete
and countertop surfaces.
Another major problem area is hidden surfaces and cavities including attics, ductwork, vents, wall cavities, electric boxes and cabinets. Appliances, computers and other electronic equipment can also be very hard to clean and thoroughly deodorize.
The longer it takes to get a building and its contents cleaned the worse the damage will get. Smoke and soot will settle on all exposed surfaces requiring cleaning at the very least. Plastic surfaces will start to yellow and discolor almost immediately. Fiberglass fixtures, countertops, appliances, grout and furniture will stain very quickly and can easily become permanently fixed. Smoke creates a residue of acid particles on the surfaces that can etch, pit and corrode almost anything.
There will be a lot of items, building and personal property, that will have to be replaced from just smoke damage. The odor is impossible to remove from some soft or porous items. Certain fabrics and materials can be difficult to deodorize even with professional dry cleaning.
How to look for Smoke damage?
If you have a home in a fire area it may be difficult to tell if the smoke smell is in your home or just the whole neighborhood in general. You can look for signs that your home has damage. The first place to look is around your HVAC (heat, vent and air conditioning) registers and returns. Look for dark residues or build up on and around the registers. Check for dark areas on the walls and ceilings in the upper corners of rooms. Next, check your mechanical area where the air handler, furnace and/or water heater may be located. These areas are built to ventilate themselves so air flow should make smoke patterns obvious. Also you can remove electric outlet and switch plate covers, look for discoloration from the fresh area under the plate to the adjacent exposed surface. If you have an attic access door check around it for signs of discoloration and look up into the attic with a good flashlight. Look at the clothes in your closets, check the exposed outer shoulder area of light colored items compare it to the bottom middle of the same item.
If you find signs of discoloration or smoke in any of these areas you may well
need professional cleaning, or much more, throughout your home. You will
need to start calling cleaning contractors for a professional evaluation
and your insurance company. The sooner smoke damage is taken care of the
better it will be for you, your home and your insurance company.