Even if your home or business did not burn in a wildfire, it may still have extensive smoke and ash damage. For example, if ash reaches the duct system in your home, it can cause substantial widespread damage. Smoke damage from a wildfire can be in the form of smoke stains as well as deeply permeating odors that can seep into every nook and cranny of your home.
The biggest problem with smoke and ash damage is that it can be invisible. You will need to hire qualified experts to inspect, test, clean, and restore your home. Your insurance company will most likely pay for cleaning/restoring visible smoke damage, but disputes often arise over whether there are invisible particulates.
Taking the following steps will help you document and support your homeowner’s insurance claim:
- Take pictures of all the visible damages to your home and personal property. Pictures of damage are the best way to substantiate your insurance claim.
- Contact your own independent experts. Your insurer may bring outside vendors to do testing and prepare reports on your behalf but remember YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO HIRE YOUR OWN EXPERTS. You do not have to use their “preferred vendors”. You will need to hire a Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH) to test for evidence of smoke, soot, charring, and contaminates left behind in the air and on surfaces. The CIH testing report must be submitted to insurance company. The results will determine what type of “remediation” your home will require to be returned to a pre-loss condition.
- Create a list of your damaged personal property. You will need to take an inventory of your damaged personal property. Insurance companies are reluctant to pay the replacement cost for your damaged property if they can get away with paying less to simply have your items cleaned. The issue then becomes whether the cleaning was sufficient. If you are not satisfied with the condition of an item after cleaning, you have the right to claim the replacement value of the item.
- Consider hiring a public insurance adjuster to represent you. Navigating the claims process can be overwhelming. You should consider hiring an advocate to represent your interests. Public adjusters are licensed professionals who work solely for you, the insured. Their job is to use their expertise to assist you in the preparation, presentation, and settlement of your claim. As your representative, they handle all aspects of communicating with the insurance company so you don’t have to. Insurance companies are counting on the fact that the average homeowner does not have the training, expertise, or time to properly submit their claim.