A house fire is a nightmare most homeowners won't ever have to experience. But for the unlucky few, living through the frightening occurrence and subsequent repercussions of a house fire can be upsetting and disheartening. Whether a home was completely ravaged or mostly salvageable knowing how to begin the process of recovery is an important step in rebuilding your home and your life.
If a property can be restored after a house fire more than just damage from flames and heat will need to be addressed. There will be smoke damage which occurred due to the blaze and water damage as a direct result of the successful extinguishing process. Also, depending upon the severity of the fire and if the fire department was needed, firefighters may have smashed walls, broken down doors, cut holes in the roof, or shattered windows all in an attempt to save the burning structure.
Picking up the pieces after a house fire can seem like an insurmountable task but much like anything else in life, you must have a plan. There will be phone calls to make, paperwork to complete, and decisions to be made. Let's consider and discuss the following steps which will need to be addressed:
Were there any injuries?
Hopefully you, your family, and any household pets were not harmed as a result of the fire. But injuries may not be due to the flames themselves. In the hurried and frenzied efforts to exit the home broken bones can occur due to a fall, severe cuts or lacerations can happen from falling debris, and smoke inhalation can harm lungs and breathing pathways. Once safely out of the home, determine whether any residents need medical attention and seek immediate assistance if necessary.
Where will you stay?
How severe was the house fire? Will the fire department give clearance for you to re-enter the home once the fire has been extinguished? If not, you will need to address immediate lodging issues and also basic clothing and hygiene necessities. Do you have friends or relatives you can contact or is there a nearby hotel in which you can stay? If those are not options for you, local disaster relief services such as the American Red Cross or theSalvation Army may be able to provide you shelter, clothing, food, and other important items.
Contact your Insurance Company
Don't assume your insurance company is automatically notified of your house fire. Begin the process of recovery immediately by calling and initiating the insurance claim. Depending upon your policy, your insurance provider may also educate you on the availability of funds at your disposal to be used for food and lodging throughout the restoration process. They can also educate you on any fire damage assessments and estimates that will need to be scheduled and completed.
Secure your home
It is not the responsibility of the fire department to ensure your home is completely locked and secure once their job is complete. Are there windows that need to be boarded up? Do you need to replace doors along with locks and handles so that the security of your home can be maintained? There may be many valuable items remaining in your home that were not damaged as a result of the fire. Securing your house and it's contents should be a top priority.
Research Disaster Recovery Contractors
Companies that specialize in disaster recovery are an essential part of the rebuilding process. They know exactly what to do and where to begin from removing and thoroughly cleaning undamaged belongings, to demolition and reconstructing any areas of the property that were destroyed. Your insurance company may already have a list of preferred and recommended companies to contact and will more than likely require multiple quotes from different businesses.
Create a damaged items list
Once you are cleared by the fire Marshall or building inspector to re-enter your residence you will need to generate an extensive and thorough list of all items, big or small, that were ruined or damaged due to the fire. Not only will you need to provide this list to your insurance company as a part of your overall claim, but it will be imperative for you to understand the scope and magnitude of items that will require replacement.
Replace essential personal items
Did you have important and vital personal or financial items damaged in the fire such as drivers licenses, birth certificates, credit cards, titles to deeds, check books, passports, medical records, or social security cards? These all should be included on your damaged items list but will need to be replaced quicker than other possessions as most of these types of personal records are generally an essential part of daily life.
Are you aware that you can also request damaged money to be replaced? Even if more than half of a monetary bill is burned or damaged it's possible to have it replaced by the Federal Reserve Bank. There are two options for you to request replacement of paper money that has been burned in a fire:
- Take the remaining bill(s) to your regional Federal Reserve Bank
- Mail the damaged bill(s) "registered mail, return receipt requested" to the following address to request replacement:
Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Office of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington, DC 20013
Damaged or melted coins may also be taken to your regional Federal Reserve Bank or mailed by "registered mail, return receipt requested" to:
Superintendent of U.S. Mint
P.O. Box 400
Philadelphia, PA 19105
To replace U.S. Savings Bonds that have been destroyed, download form PD F 1048 from the U.S. Treasury Department at www.ustreas.gov and mail to:
Department of Treasury
Bureau of the Public Debt
Savings Bonds Operations
P.O. Box 1328
Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328
Re-establish a Routine
It's unsettling for adults and children alike to be displaced from their home and normal daily routine. Getting back to a familiar life pattern as quickly as possible is absolutely essential. Do you or your family have weekly traditions such as a special movie night, game night or pizza night? Is there a specific television program you or your kids enjoy watching every day? These and other familiar habits can be completely undone when dealing with the ramifications of a house fire. Resuming an orderly and typical routine will go a long way towards relieving some of the stress associated with this ordeal.
Storing household items
It may take several months before you are able to re-inhabit your home after a fire and with any luck there will be a great deal of personal belongings that made it through unscathed. This property will most likely need to be moved and stored until the damaged residence is repaired or rebuilt. Is a friend or family member willing to clear extra garage or basement space for you to keep you possessions safe? Are there any nearby paid storage facilities? Again, this may be a cost covered by your insurance company as a part of your claim.
Assess future housing decisions
Eventually you'll find yourself sitting down to determine just what to do about your fire damaged home. Can it be restored? Does it need to be torn down and rebuilt? Your insurance company, it's adjusters, and estimators will inform you of the claim amount they will pay towards the reconstruction of your property. Choices and decisions will need to be made. Many individuals would be too psychologically traumatized to live in a home which was destroyed by a fire especially if they were present at the time of the tragedy. Putting your house up for sale after the repairs have been made could be a necessity. Meanwhile, others would be excited and completely comfortable returning to their beloved property after it was restored. These long-term housing options will have to be carefully considered.
Seek needed professional counseling
There's nothing wrong with admitting the catastrophe of a house fire is too much for you to mentally process. More than just physical damage may need to be repaired in order for you to move on from such a disaster. Also consider the psychological well-being of your children. Are they showing signs of being ill-equipped to handle this adversity? If you're willing to call in the professionals to restore your damaged home, you may also need to seek experienced advice on how to restore your mental sanity.
Follow these tips before a fire occurs
Invest in a Safe Deposit Box or Fire Proof Safe
Important personal documents, identifications, firearms, and other serious items should be stored at the Post Office in a safe deposit box or at home in a fire proof safe. Spending a little money before tragedy strikes will save you time, hassle, and headaches afterward.
Ensure your insurance policy is current
It's always a good idea to assess your homeowners insurance policy once a year to determine whether you have the appropriate amount of coverage. This coverage should not only include the home structure but personal property inside the residence. Did you just recently acquire new high-end furniture, a pool table, or expensive home theater equipment? The cost of replacing these items may not be included in your insurance claim if you didn't advise your insurance company beforehand of their purchase. Did you have any major home improvements done on your home before the fire occurred which increased your property value? Make sure to keep accurate receipts and records to prove to your insurance company that these renovations were performed so that your home is properly assessed and valued.
Have an exit plan
When is the last time, if ever, you developed or reviewed a disaster exit strategy? Hearkening back to elementary school fire drills, having a mapped out plan in place in which everyone is familiar will pay off immeasurably if a house fire does occur. Who will be responsible for gathering up the family pets? Which person will be in charge of ensuring all members of the family have vacated the home? Delegating responsibilities beforehand should also be a part of your overall evacuation blueprint.
Regularly test your household fire prevention systems
This should go without saying yet so many households have out-of-date fire alarms or fire extinguishers that haven't been tested or checked in years. Don't be caught off guard. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, back-up batteries should be replaced in smoke alarms twice a year and each smoke alarm device should be completely replaced every 10 years. This may seem excessive to some but wouldn't you rather spend a few extra dollars twice a year on batteries to ensure you are properly notified of a life-threatening situation?
Fire extinguishers should be checked by a homeowner once a month to ensure they are in proper operating form. Experts also recommend having your fire extinguishers examined and certified once a year by a professional fire protection equipment company.
Moving back in After a House Fire
How to re-acclimate to your home
Much like having your property broken in to by a thief, living in a home that has been rebuilt or repaired due to a house fire can leave you feeling nervous, apprehensive, and emotionally scarred regardless of whether you're an adult or a child. The first weeks and months back in your home can keep you on edge. Every pop, crack, creek, or unfamiliar noise can send your heart and mind racing again.
Communicating these fears and reminding all household residents of the safety precautions in place to protect against another disaster is a vital part of the recovery process. Try to keep in mind and discuss the positive aspect of moving back in such as sleeping in your own beds again, re-gaining permanent access to all of your personal belongings that have long since been in storage, playing at all of your beloved neighborhood parks that you've missed while you were away, and catching back up with all of your favorite neighbors.
Immediately begin to create fun, and pleasant memories which will also go a long way in helping you settle back in to your home after a house fire. Try throwing a house warming party within the first few weeks of you moving back in. This would also be a great time to establish some fresh and entertaining new family traditions and functions that you do each day, week, or month.
It's a scenario that no homeowner ever wants to face but statistics show that some of us will experience and live through a house fire in our lifetimes. If you haven't properly prepared your family and home for this disastrous situation then take the time to formulate and implement a plan. If you are currently enduring this difficult ordeal, following these steps can at least help alleviate or lessen some of the struggles involved.
At Zion Realty, we're here to assist you with all of your Arizona real estate and home ownership questions. We can help you determine what's best for your family after a house fire or simply be there to assist you with your next home sale or purchase. Contact us Today!