It was an ordinary day. You were at home with your family, getting the kids through their homework, making dinner, watching TV. Nothing indicated that today would be different than any other ordinary day.
Then the fire broke out. And now, instead of having another ordinary day, you’re struggling to start rebuilding your life.
The process of recovering from fire damage is a long one, but fire damage cleanup and repair have the highest chance of success if they happen quickly. Here’s what you need to know to prepare for the process of fire damage restoration.
Timeline of Smoke Damage from Fire
When it comes to smoke damage, timing is everything. And when it comes to cleaning smoke damage, the type of smoke damage helps your restoration company understand how the fire spread and progressed.
Within the first few minutes, soot damage from the fire creates discoloration in porous surfaces and plastic. Within the first few hours, discolorations start to become deeper stains that are harder to remove. These can sink into bathroom tile grout, furniture finish, and countertops.
Within the first few days, discoloration and stains on walls, appliances, and household items start to become permanent. At this point, flooring and furniture finish becomes so badly damaged that it either has to be completely restored or replaced altogether.
After the first few days, damage will continue to get worse (and more permanent) the longer it goes untreated.
In short? Time is of the essence when you’re trying to save your household items and precious memories from permanent damage. And that means that the restoration process after a fire should begin as quickly as possible.
The Impact of Smoke Damage
Most people think of fire damage and ashes when they think about the aftermath of a house fire. The truth is that while fire damage can ravage a home, smoke damage is equally pervasive–and in some ways, smoke damage is actually more insidious.
Take temperature, for example. Remember what your science teacher told you about warm air rising and cool air sinking? That’s also true of a fire, which means that where the smoke rises is generally where the temperature is highest. Assuming there are no strong air currents flowing through the building, the most smoke damage occurs directly above the fire.
Cold air, on the other hand, sinks below warm air and opens a current for smoke to travel to exterior walls and windows. This means that even if a fire was concentrated in the center of a room, you’ll likely find a significant amount of smoke damage on the exterior walls.
This little quirk points to an important point about smoke damage: it seems to appear in the strangest places until you understand how smoke interacts with the whole environment.
Take closed drawers, for example, and other seemingly enclosed spaces like closets and wall cavities. These spaces often see more smoke damage than the area where the fire actually burned, which seems bizarre until you remember that air particles are more excited in warm air.
Because air particles are more excited in high temperatures (like where the fire burned) the air particles do a better job of keeping the smoke aloft near the fire. In cool, enclosed spaces, like dresser drawers or closets, the air isn’t moving enough to keep the particles aloft, so the smoke settles onto surfaces.
The same basic idea applies to curtains and blinds, which is why smoke damage behind drapes is usually an excellent indicator of the true extent of a home’s smoke damage. The temperature gap between the room and the space behind the drapes is surprisingly significant during a fire, and since smoke likes to pool in cooler areas and the particles drop, the damage is worse.
This is also why smoke damage can find its way into your ductwork, even if the ducts aren’t running. The air there is cooler, and this allows smoke to move away from the fire and into other rooms, thus damaging parts of your home that would not have otherwise seen any impact from the fire.
What is Fire Damage Restoration?
As you can see, fire damage in general (and smoke damage in particular) is a highly complex beast. And since the damage is more likely to be permanent with every passing hour after the fire, it’s critical to get the damage assessed and restored as quickly as possible.
Smoke Damage Cleanup
While fire damage gets the most attention, smoke damage can often be more pervasive and critical. This is why smoke damage cleanup goes hand-in-hand with fire restoration.
If fire restoration is the process of repairing and restoring items that were directly burned, smoke restoration and cleanup is the process of cleaning and restoring items that were damaged by smoke. As we explained above, this isn’t necessarily the same as items that were burned during the fire, since smoke can travel and settle in ways homeowners don’t expect.
Fire Water Restoration
If the fire department was called for a major fire or your sprinkler system went off (or both) fire restoration tends to go hand-in-hand with fire water restoration. Or rather, the process of repairing the water damage that resulted from a house fire.
It may seem counterintuitive to be worried about water damage after a fire, but as with smoke damage, it makes more sense once you think about it in context. Fire crews would have had to put out the fire with something. In the case of most ordinary Class A fires (wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and other ordinary combustibles) they would have used water to achieve this.
While this does achieve the immediate goal of preventing the fire from burning your entire house down, it also introduces a lot of water to your home. And we mean a lot of water. And while it is better to have water in your home to prevent any lingering fire or smoldering, it also introduces the real risk of mold and mildew festering alongside smoke damage.
Plus, if your home was so badly damaged in the fire that parts of the roof or external walls are gone, your home is now exposed to the elements, introducing an extra layer of damage to the equation.
What Happens During Fire Restoration?
A fire restoration, then, is less the process of cleaning up ashes and burned remains than a comprehensive assessment, cleaning, and restoration process. Every fire has a unique personality and damage type of its own, which means that every fire restoration is different from the one before.
That said, all fire restorations follow the same four-step process:
- Securing the foundation
- Cleaning and removal
- Repairs, restoration, and renovation
Let’s take a closer look at what those steps involve.
Assessment is the first step of any fire restoration process. As noted above, while the basic anatomy of a fire is always the same, every fire has its own unique personality and damage type thanks to the type of fire and the room the fire starts in.
Because of this, in order to begin restoration, the restoring and cleanup crews have to know what they’re dealing with. This will also help the company give you recommendations about what to expect from the coming days, including whether you can re-enter your home to get your belongings and how long the restoration process will likely take.
During an assessment, trained professionals will carefully check and test the room where the fire started as well as adjoining rooms. They’ll look at how far the fire, soot, and smoke damage traveled, how badly affected your walls and furniture are, and test for any structural damage.
We understand that this is a highly traumatic process for families. This is your home, the place where you’ve made precious memories. However, it is important to understand that fires have the ability to destroy entire rooms within minutes, and structural damage is a realistic danger. While you should be optimistic and we will do our best, it is important to prepare for the worst.
Because of the destruction a fire can cause in a short time period, it is important for homeowners to stay off the premises and out of the house until a fire restoration company can assess the damage. This will reduce the risk of smoke inhalation and ensure that you don’t get hurt because of damage you couldn’t see.
Securing the Foundation
After the assessment has been completed, a fire restoration company will board up, tarp over, and seal your home. They will also take any necessary steps to plug holes, stop any leaks, and temporarily patch damage until they can begin repairs in earnest.
The tarping, boarding, and sealing process often begins at the same time as the assessment, at least on the exterior of the home. The crew will cover any windows and doors damaged by the fire immediately to prevent the risk of break-ins or vandalism while the restoration process is ongoing.
They will also tarp over your roof if necessary. This will help mitigate any current leaks until the repair process can begin in earnest and mitigate the effects of the elements on your home’s interior.
Cleaning and Removal
From there, your restoration company can commence the cleaning and removal process as soon as you sign a work authorization.
This process actually happens before repairs because the restoration crew needs the area clean, safe, and secure in order to perform repairs safely.
This is the stage at which all fire-damaged furniture and appliances are removed so that they can be restored or replaced. With your permission, a restoration company will inventory and remove all damaged items and mark whether or not it can be saved by restoration. This is for the homeowner’s records and for the purposes of insurance claims.
Items that can be saved will either be repaired and restored by the company itself or by expert partners who have more expertise in dealing with a unique or particularly fragile piece.
At this stage, any charred or damaged structural components will also be removed to aid in the cleaning process and make the home safe for cleaning and restoration crews to work.
Once the home is cleared, crews can begin the process of cleaning up smoke and soot damage, returning your property to looking as normal as possible before full restoration begins. Keep in mind that time is of the essence with smoke and soot damage, so the longer the wait between the fire and cleaning, the more likely that damage will be permanent.
If your home was also affected by water damage, steps will also be taken to mitigate those effects at this stage. Crews will use high-powered fans and special heaters to dry and sanitize everything. Anti-mold steps will also be taken, and any charred or waterlogged carpeting or flooring will be removed.
Repairs, Restoration, and Renovation
At this point, crews are ready to begin the repair process in earnest. The idea is to get your home looking as good as new so that you can return to life as normal as soon as you can.
Based on this, the best fire damage restoration companies will go one step further than simple repairs and will renovate your home as needed, ensuring that when you are finally able to come home, your home is whole and as good as new.
At this stage, any damaged carpets, flooring, and walls will be replaced or repaired. If your cabinets were damaged in the fire, your restoration company will replace them with new ones.
This is also the stage at which any damaged furniture that can be saved will be restored. Finished wood has a surprisingly good success rate of full repair and restoration, since the wood can be stripped, sanded, and refinished. However, this is a job for professional cleaners–you don’t want any lingering smoke odors or damage.
At a certain point, the restoration process shifts from short-term restoration to make the home safe and livable into long-term restoration to return the home to its full glory. When you reach this transition, you may need to hire additional contractors, depending on the extent of construction that needs to be completed in your home.
Preparing for Fire Damage Repair
While it is important to prepare for the damage that a fire can wreak on your home, and to understand that fire damage can be catastrophic, know that the best fire restoration companies can work wonders on your home, even if it was badly damaged.
That said, it is important to prepare for the repair and restoration process properly. And while you may not be knocking down walls and refinishing furniture yourself, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure that your restoration goes as smoothly as possible.
Let the Experts Lead
One of the best things you can do in the entire process is simple: let the experts lead the way.
The sad reality of house fires is that they create complex, far-reaching damage. And during this traumatic time, it is difficult for even homeowners who know what they’re doing to process everything that’s happening and what needs to be done.
And for the average homeowner, who doesn’t know anything about fire restoration repair, this process can be almost dizzying in its magnitude.
For the sake of your peace of mind, your successful restoration, and most of all your own safety, it is critical to let the experts take the lead throughout your home restoration process. They know how to turn serious damage into a room that looks as good as new, and they know how to avoid many common dangers that most homeowners wouldn’t know to look for.
So while you may be tempted to try to get a scope of things yourself, we would ask that you please refrain from doing so. Our job is to help you get your life back, and we can do that, but it will be much easier if you trust us to guide you through this process.
Get in Touch with Your Insurance Agent Right Away
What you can do while your restoration company gets to work is to contact your insurance agent. In fact, beyond calling a restoration company, your insurance agent should be your first phone call.
Before you start planning to deal with the damage, you’ll need to go over the details of your insurance coverage. Your insurance agent can help with that, and can help you understand how your insurance will help with next steps.
Your insurance company will send an adjuster, though you should hire your own. Keep in mind that the company adjuster’s job is to minimize your insurance company’s payout, not to help you, which is why you should always hire an independent adjuster to advocate for you.
Get a Copy of the Fire Report
As soon as possible, you should also get a copy of the fire report.
A fire report is a write-up of the incident and contains all the critical details related to a fire, as well as basic information including the date and time of the fire, location, damage, and the source of the fire (if known). This is an essential document for your insurance claim.
There are three types of fire reports:
- National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) report
- Municipal fire report
- Private fire investigation report
The NFIRS report is the easiest report to obtain, as the National Fire Administration (NFA) requires fire departments to complete these reports for every call, whether it’s a house fire or a call for a sick person.
Municipal reports are also available, but they are less common, since they’re only completed by departments with fire investigation units. Most local fire departments don’t have such units, instead choosing to consolidate reporting in the NFIRS.
Start the Mitigation Process
Last but not least, start the mitigation process as soon as you can.
As we noted earlier, fires can wreak havoc on a structure in a matter of minutes. Even if your home is standing, there may be serious structural damage that makes it a danger to you and others in the vicinity of your home. And remember, smoke and soot damage is more likely to be permanent the longer it’s allowed to linger.
The only way to mitigate the damage is to start the mitigation process as early as you can. We know this is a difficult time for families, especially in the aftermath of a serious trauma. You’re shaken and afraid. Loved ones may have been hurt in the fire. It’s hard to know where to turn first.
But if you want to get your life on track, you have to move quickly. We’re here to help you do just that.
Need the Best Fire Damage Restoration Company?
Recovering from a house fire is one of the most difficult experiences a family can undergo. We’re here to make that process easier, restoring your house, the place where you’ve spent years making memories, into a home again.
We know that you’re trusting us to help you through a difficult time, which is why everyone on our staff, from the owner to our receptionist, focuses on compassion, communication, and an outstanding quality of service. Because when you’re trying to rebuild your life, you shouldn’t have to settle for anything less.
If you’re trying to figure out what to do next after a fire, please get in touch with us today and let us know how we can help.