You know that your insurance protects your home’s value in case of particularly unfortunate events, like a break-in, a flood or an earthquake. But what about smoke damage?
Sure, your insurance will definitely cover it if your whole house burns down because of a kitchen fire. In fact, home fires are an all-too-common occurrence, and one of the most frequent scenarios in which people call in home insurance claims. According to the Red Cross, home fires cause almost $7 billion of property damage every year. But smoke damage is a little less obvious, and potentially just as troubling.
The short answer is, your home insurance policy most likely covers smoke damage — but the extent to which it’s covered could be complicated.
Let’s get into why the answer is so complicated and how to find out what you’re covered for.
First — Exactly what does your home insurance policy cover?
Generally speaking, a typical homeowner’s insurance policy will cover whatever damage results from a fire. Of course, that means damage from the flames themselves, but it should also include any damage from soot, ash, or smoke. Essentially, damage caused by the byproducts of a fire should be as good as damage caused by the fire itself, but each plan is different.
Check Your Home Insurance Plan
The first thing you should do is take a look at your contract to see exactly what’s covered — we can’t emphasize this enough. In rare cases, a contract may explicitly state that smoke damage isn’t covered. In other cases, a contract could be very ambiguously worded when it comes to smoke damage, giving the company a loophole to say they cover damage from house fires, even though they won’t pay up on smoke damage.
A contract could also cover certain parts of the repair process but not others. Maybe your company will insure any repair costs associated with smoke damage, but won’t pay for professionals to examine your house and determine the extent of the damage. Either way, the most important part of the claim process is making sure you’re very, very familiar with your contract’s specific intricacies and limitations.
What are the different smoke-related damages your insurance company might cover?
What exactly is covered will vary contract-to-contract, but there are a couple of different parts of identifying and repairing smoke damage that your insurance company might cover.
Some common costs associated with the process are:
- Hiring a professional to examine your home for any underlying damage
- Living costs while your home is being repaired
- Repair for any structural or cosmetic damage to your home
- Cleaning or replacement for damaged furniture or appliances
- Replacement for any damaged ventilation filters, drywall, or insulation throughout the house.
What should you do to ensure you get the most coverage for any smoke damage?
There are two crucial steps you should take when you’re trying to get the most out of a claim on smoke damage: documentation and professional examination.
First, you’ll need to make sure you thoroughly document each and every instance of damage. Any cosmetic harm to walls, ceilings, floors or upholstery might seem obvious to you because you live there, but it’ll pay off to take clear, well-lit photos of all the damage you can see. An insurance adjuster who steps foot into your home for the first time might not necessarily be able to see the difference between your smoke-stained drapes and their formerly pristine condition. You don’t have to do this alone. If you have extensive damage you can hire a public adjuster to help locate and document it to make sure you don’t miss anything.
The second step is to have a professional thoroughly examine your home. Your insurance company will send someone out to do this, but you’ll want to have your own second opinion. You can hire a contractor, a structural engineer, or an industrial hygienist to come in and take a look.
This step is so important because, in the wake of a fire, many types of damage aren’t apparent on the surface. Sure, it’s easy to spot any large stains on your ceiling or walls. But your home’s internal systems and furniture could also have been equally compromised.
The smoke could have damaged your home’s ventilation system or any insulation in the walls. Or it could have settled into your carpets and any upholstered furniture, in which case they might need to be professionally cleaned. In any case, invisible smoke damage could be both a health concern and a huge portion of repair costs that you won’t be able to file a claim for without proof.
If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is. Filing a claim for partial smoke damage is, in some ways, harder than filing one for something like a flood or an earthquake. It isn’t always easy to tell whether or not your house is damaged from smoke, and getting your insurance company to pay out could be harder than for more obvious types of damage. But as long as you take a close look at your contract, hire a professional to check your house, and document the damage as clearly as possible, you should be able to file a claim without issue.