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Chapter 3: How to Document and Evaluate Damage

Even though your insurance company will likely send out an inspector who will document the damage to your home, you should also begin gathering your own information. Take pictures of your home to show the damage that occurred.

Document Damage Done to Your Home and Property

Be sure to make a list of everything that was damaged or destroyed in the fire, and don’t throw anything away. If you’re able to provide it, a video walkthrough of and around your home may be very helpful for your insurance claim. Be sure to not overlook items that were damaged by heat or smoke, even though the damage isn’t as obvious at first. For items that were destroyed, estimate the date of purchase or age of the item, and estimate the item’s replacement cost.

Keep all your receipts for any temporary repairs and inspections you have done as well as any restoration efforts you pay for. These receipts should be turned into your insurance company so you can get some form of reimbursement.

Check for Any Damage Done Due to Fire Remediation Efforts

While you are looking for any signs of damage, include water damage from fire remediation efforts. Look for signs of water damage, and document it well with photos — and video if possible. Water damage isn’t always easy to spot. Visible signs may include bacteria and mold growing on walls, floors and ceilings or brown discoloration on ceilings.

Since there may be water damage present even if it’s not visible, you may want to call a professional water damage assessment service. When you call a restoration contractor for remediation, mention the fire and smoke and water damage so the contractor knows the situation and context. This briefing means they will be sure to check all potential areas of damage.

Consider Bringing in Your Own Professionals

Even if your insurance company sent out an inspector, you might want to hire your own. The inspector provided by the insurance company should be trained to examine all damage areas and qualified to properly inspect your home.

However, getting a secondary opinion is for your ease of mind. An independent inspector can confirm that your primary inspection was thorough and complete, and could potentially catch anything missed by the first inspector.

In addition to your own inspector, you may want to hire a field tester or certified industrial hygienist:

  • Field testers can conduct tests and collect samples to determine if there are dangerous particulates in the air. Carbon, ash and soot are just some of the particulates that could remain after a fire. In addition to those tests, the field tester will check for any chemicals in the air caused by the wildfire or the smoke itself. The field tester can check to make sure the air inside your home is safe to breathe.
  • Certified industrial hygienists also can check for soot, char, smoke and other contaminates that are in the air and on surfaces in the home. The hygienist should have experience dealing with wildfires and ash, so be sure to do your research before hiring one. The certified industrial hygienist can discover any chemical, biological and physical hazards in your home.

Keep in mind that your insurance company may not reimburse or pay for any of the experts you hire. You may notify them in writing of their legal duty to properly investigate all damage in your home, but that doesn’t mean the company will budge and pay for the tests.

You deserve to have your home cleaned and restored to the way it was before the fire, so remind the insurance company of this. Let them know it is their obligation to make sure your home is clean and safe to re-enter and ensure they do what they are legally required to make this happen.


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