Find Out How to Navigate Smoke Damage Insurance Claims

Even a minor fire in your home can cause extensive smoke damage to your personal belongings. Lingering smoke damage can be a health risk to you and your family, and the restoration process is far from guaranteed.

An important part of any fire insurance claim is your Contents coverage. This part of your policy focuses on lost belongings, including:

  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Entertainment media (i.e., books, Blu-Rays, records, etc.)
  • Clothing
  • Dry goods and other food

Navigating smoke damage insurance claims can be tricky when it comes to Contents. The insurance company is generally entitled to attempt to restore or clean personal contents, but that restoration can be an expensive project that doesn’t always work. Then you’re left worrying about who’s responsible for paying for a failed restoration and whether or not you can still afford to replace those lost belongings.

Should You Replace or Restore Contents?

In the aftermath of a fire, it’s common for many families to want to save as many of their belongings as possible. They may have heirlooms, children’s toys, or other belongings with a high sentimental value, or they may worry that their insurance won’t be enough to replace everything.

Even if the insurance company handles the process, the cost of restoration is subtracted from your policy limits. This could leave you with fewer funds to replace the rest of your belongings.

One option you have is to request a quote for the restoration costs and negotiate to cash out a portion of those costs. Skipping the restoration process, you can instead focus on replacing lost belongings.

Health Risks of Failed Restoration

Smoke can leave behind remnants known as soot. Depending on the materials the fire consumed as fuel, soot particles can be made of any number of things, many of them hazardous, especially if the fire burned through plastics, cleaners, and other toxic substances found in your home.

Many different carcinogenic substances can be found in soot. Continuing to live with belongings contaminated by soot can be a major health risk. If items that have gone through a restoration attempt still smell like smoke, they’re likely unsafe to keep in your home. 

Smoke can damage belongings that weren’t even near the source of the flames. Smoke can affect items in separate rooms, and the effects can worsen over time. Smoke is often acidic, depending on the fuel it consumed. This acid can tarnish or corrode metal appliances or fixtures. Smoke will also lead to discoloration on porous materials, which can include marble countertops and textiles. Even non-porous materials can wind up with smoke odors and permanent stains.

Another health risk is mold growth in your furniture, especially upholstered belongings. Fire-extinguishing efforts can leave your belongings damp. Mold growth begins within 24 to 48 hours on damp surfaces and can lead to lasting health problems.

Even if there’s only been a minor fire, do a thorough inspection of your belongings after an incident. In major fire events, you may want to see if you can cash out the restoration costs and go straight to replacing your belongings.

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