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Fire & Water - Cleanup & Restoration

Tips for Filing Home Insurance Claims After Wildfires

Damage from fire, smoke and ash is typically covered under standard home insurance. However, in some cases, depending on your location, there may be some exclusions for wildfires.

In California, for example, if you live within 2,500 feet of a canyon or area deemed high-risk by insurers, you may have to pay extra for coverage or you may even be denied a policy.

What property is protected with home insurance?

Homeowners insurance covers a wide range of items, from your home to the belongings inside it.

Examples of dwelling coverage:

  • Home
  • Garage
  • Tool shed
  • Deck

Examples of personal property coverage:

  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Jewelry
  • Electronics

Handling smoke and ash damage

If your home gets exposed to smoke and ash, be sure to have the house and your personal items inspected and then cleaned or treated and restored to its original state.

Your dwelling coverage, up to your policy limits, will pay to repair smoke and ash damage to your house. Meanwhile, contents coverage pays to repair and replace damaged furniture, clothing and other personal property. 

Here is a checklist for how to document smoke damage that will help support your wildfire claim, according to the non-profit consumer advocacy group United Policyholders:

  • After documenting your damage, let your insurance company inspect your home, and be sure to take notes on the inspection and document your conversations.
  • Be sure to have a thorough inspection done by a qualified person. For instance, it's ideal to have the inspector be an independent contractor who does not get the majority of his or her business from your insurance company. Also, ask for credentials. That way you're sure you have trained professionals who are certified or trained in air quality and particulate assessment.
  • Consider paying for a qualified inspector to assess your home if your insurer is not willing to pay for an investigation into all damage, including what may be hidden behind drywall and so on. You will want to use a company that has experience testing homes exposed to wildfires that works with Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH), who test for smoke, soot and char and other contaminants in the air and on surfaces. Field testers conduct swab testing of surfaces inside your home to determine if there are particulates, such as carbon, ash or soot. The air is also captured in a container that can detect off-gassing specific to wildfires. These results are what you would submit to your insurance company. They also determine the type of cleaning and repair methods needed to make your home clean and safe again. The cost is typically between $2,000 to $4,000 for testing, lab work and a written report.

Tips for filing home insurance claims after wildfires

Here's what to do if you have to file a home insurance claim after a wildfire. 

Keep an updated inventory

Have a list of your belongings prepared beforehand. That way you have a good place to start when you have to go over what property was possibly destroyed in the wildfire. This will quicken the completion of required proof of loss forms that ask for information related to the date of purchase for destroyed items and the cost to repair or replace them. Update this inventory as you accumulate or get rid of belongings. 

Record damage to all property

Have a record of the destruction to your property ready by taking pictures showing obvious signs of damage. Keep all damaged belongings in case an insurance adjuster needs to visit to inspect your property and verify claims.  

Get a second opinion

Even professionals with an eye for home damage can have different assessments.

File your claim as soon as possible. To expedite the approval of your claims, begin the process quickly after you discover destruction to your property by contacting your insurance provider. There is a time limit for filing claims so confirm the deadline to file claims with your insurance company before it is too late.

Check the condition of items after they are cleaned

If you believe an item is too far gone to be cleaned up, United Policyholders recommends insisting on a fair replacement value settlement for that item.  Additionally, you can claim the replacement value in addition to the cleaning cost of your belongings that are not in satisfactory condition after they've been cleaned.