Home fires continue to be a major concern for all homeowners. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2019 report, “Home Structure Fires,” 27% of all reported fires occur at home. Between 2013 and 2017, that equated to an estimated average of 354,400 home structure fires per year. If your home is damaged by fire, there are several steps you should take to start the recovery and repair process. Although it may not be quick, these steps will go a long way in helping return your house to the home you love.  

Talk to Your Homeowners Insurance Agent 

As with all damages to your home, the first step is to contact your homeowners insurance agent or company right away to discuss the loss. “Find out if the damage is covered under your policy, how long you have to file a claim and whether you need estimates for repairs,” says Scott Holeman, media relations director for the Insurance Information Institute. “If your damage exceeds the amount of your deductible, it probably makes sense to pay for repairs out of pocket versus filing a claim.” 

In addition, you need to take steps to protect your property from further damage. For instance, if there is damage to the roof, you should cover it with a tarp to prevent damage from rain and wind. If there are broken windows, carefully remove the glass and broken pieces and cover with plywood until repairs can be made. If necessary, block off any rooms that may have floor damage that won’t sustain walking. Likewise, if the ceiling of a room is in danger of collapse, block that room off until it can be repaired. 

Read: Homeowners Insurance Buyer’s Guide

Document the Damage and All Losses

While waiting for a homeowners insurance adjuster to come and evaluate your property, make a list of all areas the adjuster should review. “Identify structural damage to your home and other structures such as a garage, tool shed or in-ground swimming pool,” Holeman says. “Make a list of everything you want to show the adjuster, for example, cracks in the walls and missing roof tiles. You should also get the electrical system checked. Most insurance companies pay for these inspections.”

Look beyond the direct damage from the fire; water to put out the fire coupled with smoke can greatly affect other areas of the home, but may not be readily apparent. Open up closets, look under furniture and check all floors of the house even if the fire didn’t take place there. 

Don’t overlook personal property damaged in the fire. Most homeowners insurance policies include coverage to replace these items, so you need to inform the adjuster of these losses as well. This includes items in the home such as furniture and clothes, but also items outside such as gas grills, bikes and lawn equipment. “To substantiate your loss, prepare an inventory of damaged or destroyed items and give a copy to the adjuster along with copies of any receipts,” Holeman says. “Don’t throw out damaged items until the adjuster has visited.” 

If possible, take photos or video of the damage to pass along to the adjuster. “If your property was destroyed or you no longer have any records, work from memory,” Holeman says. 

Keep Detailed Records of Repair Estimates and Replacements

When you’re ready to price out repairs, get written bids from licensed contractors. “The bids should include details of the materials to be used and prices on a line-by-line basis,” Holeman says. “This makes adjusting the claim faster and simpler.” 

While you obviously want to pay a fair rate for repairs, don’t jump at the lowest offer or pay any cash upfront to secure a bid price. “Beware of contractors who ask for a large amount of money for upfront costs and contractors whose bids are very low, as they could cut corners and do shabby work,” Holeman says. “Don’t make any permanent repairs until a claims adjuster has assessed the damage.” 

While some temporary repairs may be necessary before permanent ones can be made, don’t overspend for quick fixes. “Know what your coverage limits are, and don’t spend excessively for making temporary repairs if that might cut into the amount needed for permanent repairs,” Holeman says. 

When shopping for replacement items lost to the fire, keep all your receipts in a file. “They are part of your insurance settlement and can be reimbursed,” Holeman says. 

Keep a Copy of All Records for Yourself 

While it’s important to keep detailed receipts, bids and other records to submit to your homeowners insurance company with your claim, it’s equally important to keep copies of all these records for yourself in the event something gets lost in the process. “Also keep copies of whatever paperwork your insurance company gives you, and record the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak to,” Holeman says. This goes a long way in making sure everyone is on the same page, and there are no surprises during the claims process. 

In addition, it’s important to hold onto these documents long after the claims process is completed and your home has been repaired. The reason for this is simple: If you encounter a problem later on regarding a specific repair or replaced item, you can go back to the contractor you spoke with or pull the receipts and product warranty information to have that problem addressed. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

If your home is damaged by fire, call your homeowners insurance agent immediately to discuss your policy coverage and next steps to proceed on a claim. Document all the damage and property losses for the insurance adjuster. Keep copies of all paperwork involved with your claim, including contractor bids for repairs, inspection costs and receipts for replacement of personal property items.