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Is It Safe to Live in a House With Smoke and Fire Damage?
Having a fire in your house is a scary, traumatic experience. Understandably you might not want to move out if only one room or a portion of your house was damaged. However, is it safe to live in a house with smoke and fire damage?
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had a fire in your house that was serious enough to make you doubt whether it’s safe for you and your family to stay there. At least until the smoke and fire damage has been taken care of.
The short answer is NO. It’s never worth risking the health and safety of your family.
Statistics show that every year there are 300,000+ residential building fires in the United States, resulting in many deaths and injuries. Don’t become another statistic.
As you’ll see in this article, the real problem in a house with smoke and fire damage is not what’s visible but rather what’s invisible.
Most fires start in the kitchen as cooking is the leading cause of residential fires.
Flames and smoke inhalation can be lethal, but the heat generated by a fire also plays a role. Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level.
Living in a House After a Fire
Many people assume that once a fire has been extinguished and the smoke has cleared that it’s safe to stay in the house. This is a totally incorrect assumption.
The extreme heat generated by a fire might cause structural damage to your home that you’re not aware of. This might be further exacerbated when high-pressure water hoses are used by firefighters to extinguish the fire.
Even if your home has suffered no structural damage, debris such as broken glass, etc. might also pose a safety risk.
In addition to the above, millions of homes contain asbestos and lead-based paint. It’s not a health hazard if it’s left undisturbed and in good condition. However, a fire might release microscopic asbestos and lead particles into the air which might have serious health implications.
Smoke consists of heated particles and gases. It’s impossible to predict the exact composition of smoke as there are too many variables. A typical house fire might produce hundreds of chemicals.
According to WebMD: “The products being burned, the temperature of the fire, and the amount of oxygen available to the fire all make a difference in the type of smoke produced.”
Signs of smoke inhalation might include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, headaches, red eyes, mental confusion, and having difficulty breathing.
Although smoke can dissipate quickly, it’s very invasive. It can creep into HVAC vents, electrical sockets, furnishings, insulation, etc.
Even if you can’t see any smoke in your house there could still be toxic smoke particles present which is a health risk.
People with heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes, as well as babies, children, pregnant women, and the elderly are more at risk when inhaling smoke particles.
Recommendation: Use a certified industrial hygienist to test the air quality in your house after a fire.
Dos and Don’ts After a House Fire
A house fire can leave you feeling disoriented and confused about what to do next. Here are a couple of important dos and don’ts.
Things You Shouldn’t Do After a House Fire
- Don’t enter your home to retrieve any valuables unless you’ve been given permission to do so by Fire Department officials.
- Don’t turn on gas, electricity, and water until a professional has given you the green light to do so.
- Don’t clean up the soot, smoke and fire damage yourself. Leave it to an experienced fire restoration company who has the proper safety equipment to clean up the damage.
Things You Should Do After a House Fire
- Document all smoke and fire damage. Take photographs without disturbing anything in your house.
- Inform utility companies about the fire.
- Call your homeowners insurance company to start the claims process.
Note: We highly recommend you hire a public adjuster to manage your insurance claim on your behalf with your insurance company.
Smoke & Fire Damage and Homeowners Insurance
Homeowners insurance policies typically provide comprehensive cover for fire damage and water damage, e.g. used to extinguish the fire. But what if it’s not safe to stay in your home while your claim is being processed?
Most homeowners insurance policies provide Additional Living Expense (ALE) coverage. It pays for things like a hotel room, restaurant bills, groceries, animal boarding, and other expenses you have to incur, in addition to your regular expenses, because of the damage caused by a covered event.
Make sure to read your homeowners insurance policy, or call your insurance company for more details on what you’re allowed and not allowed to claim for.
Note: ALE coverage works on a reimbursement basis. If you don’t have sufficient funds or credit available, your insurance company might be willing to give you an advance payment.
If you don’t have homeowners insurance and can’t rely on the support of family and friends, contact your local Red Cross or The Salvation Army. It’s better than endangering your health and safety by staying in a house with smoke and fire damage.
So is it safe to live in a house with smoke and fire damage? Unless you’ve skipped to the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of why it’s not safe.
As a rule, never do anything that might risk your and your family’s health and safety.
It’s easy to be under the impression that once a fire has been extinguished and the smoke has subsided that it’s safe to stay in your home. As discussed in this article, the real problem in a house with smoke and fire damage is not what’s visible but rather what’s invisible.
A house fire might cause structural damage to your home and disturb asbestos and lead. Even when there are no visible signs of smoke, there might be toxic smoke particles present in your home. All of these might have serious health and safety implications.
Use a professional fire restoration company to clean and decontaminate your home. A certified industrial hygienist can test the air quality to make sure you’re living in a safe environment, free of toxic smoke particles.
Only move back into your home once the professionals have given you the green light to do so.
Remember to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company as soon as you’re able to. Talk to them about their Additional Living Expense (ALE) coverage that will cover all reasonable expenses you have to incur because of the damage caused by a covered peril.
Managing a large and potentially complicated fire damage claim with an insurance adjuster can be difficult, frustrating, and time-consuming. It’s highly recommended that you hire a public adjuster who will look after YOUR best interests, and not those of your insurance company.
Avner Gat, Inc. has 15+ years of experience as a public adjuster in Southern California. We protect homeowners from the games and fine print that insurance companies are known for.
Call us at (818) 917-5256 to find out how we can help you to get the best possible settlement offer from your insurance company.