A house fire can be one of the most traumatic events that a family ever has to go through. Not only is there the physical loss of possessions that will need to be dealt with but you may also have to deal with the psychological scars of the house fire as well.
It’s natural to feel anxious following a fire – what if it had been worse? What if someone had been injured? What if it happens again and it is worse and someone is injured?
It’s thoughts like this that can make it extra difficult to get over a house fire.
Unfortunately, you don’t really have time to sit around and deal with those psychological scars. Being the victim of a house fire requires you to act quickly.
First, you must contact your insurance company and file a timely claim. You will also have to learn and assert your rights to full and fair payment for the damage sustained in the fire.
To help you move forward after a house fire, here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions that homeowners have during this difficult period.
What Do I Do Next?
As we mentioned, contact your insurance company right away. The sooner you contact the insurance agent and file your claim the sooner the next steps can be taken.
Basically, once everyone is out of the house and safe and the fire department has been called, your next contact should be the insurance company.
Most companies now offer a toll-free number for fast reporting of house fires.
Should I Have the House Inspected?
Yes, you will need to have a qualified professional properly assess the damage that the house fire caused. Many contractors and structural engineers are qualified to evaluate house fire damage, which will include looking at the structural integrity of your roof, beams and more and also estimating the overall cost for the repairs that are identified.
You will also want a certified industrial hygienist to come in and test the quality of the air in the fire-damaged house.
Smoke damage and other unseen damage like soot in the air ducts can be hazardous to human and pet health so you will definitely want to make sure that the air is OK to breath.
Please Keep in Mind:
It is rarely sufficient to have a fire-damaged house inspected only by the adjuster assigned to your case by the insurance agent.
You should hire your own inspector to also assess the damage. If your insurance agent resists paying for this additional inspection you need to ask again in writing and remind them of their legal duty to investigate all damage, including hidden damage.
If they still refuse, you may want to consider paying for your own inspection as it is that important.
What Should be Looked at During an Inspection of a House Fire?
A good, thorough inspection will include all of the following:
Your roof should be looked at for damage from burning embers and extreme heat. Also, the wood under the roofing material may be water damaged.
An expert will need to look at structural steel and iron because these metals can absorb heat which in turn can result in the destabilizing of the foundation or of a retaining wall.
Outside of the home –
The house’s stucco or siding and even outside concrete may be damaged by fire. For example, siding may melt and outside concrete may crack. A structural engineer may have to do X-ray testing to properly assess the issue.
These can suffer a variety of damage from a house fire. For example, window sills may blister, discolor and even melt. Glass can warp and discolor as well.
Plumbing and heating –
All the pipes and ducts in a home should be checked for damage.
Interior Walls and Framing –
During a thorough inspection, the inspector may need to open up walls to check for damage to the framing and to also check for mold.
What if the House Fire Caused Only Partial Damage?
If a fire caused partial damage and did not completely destroy the home there may be special insurance claim issues that arise.
You should be particularly cautious about hidden damage. Keep in mind that damage caused by a fire is not always visible. There can be smoke damage as well as damage from ash, soot and mold. All of these types of damage can be expensive to get rid of.
You should also be aware of additional costs that can result from inadequate and improper cleaning, project delays and disputes over “uniform and consistent appearance.”
You should be sure to address all of these areas with your insurance agent.
One area where a lot of house fire victims run into trouble is with “uniform and consistent appearance.”
“Uniform and Consistent Appearance”
Often an insurance company will just want to repair fire damage without concerning themselves with creating a “uniform and consistent appearance.”
But it is your right to have that uniform and consistent appearance even if it means replacing undamaged items such as roof materials or siding.
In fact, in most states you are entitled to be paid for the cost of restoring your home to a uniform and consistent appearance both inside and outside.
If you have experienced a partial loss in a house fire and your insurer is resisting paying to match colors, roofing material, carpeting or other flooring you will need to check your insurance policy closely to see if there is an exclusion to the uniform and consistent appearance clause.
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