WHAT IS IT?
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 6,500 one- and two-family residential building basement fires took place per year between 2010 to 2012. Each year these fires cause 65 deaths, 400 injuries, and a total of $278 million in damages.
Due to the unique nature of basements, sitting at the base of a home with the limited amount of exits and the often flammable and hazardous materials kept in them, basement fires can become extremely dangerous very quickly.
Additionally, the structural damage that can result from basement fires can be sizable and require significant cleanup.
The biggest issue faced after a basement fire is the smoke. Because smoke rises, it can enter the house’s HVAC system and therefore permeate throughout the entirety of the house, which is of course extremely dangerous to occupants. In the fire damage home restoration process, it can require cleaning in every room.
It is often necessary to hire professionals to help with the specific cleanup needs required by basement fires. There is a specialist and niche service called basement fire damage restoration that can provide expertise and experience for your home fire cleanup.
In some states, specific licenses are required in order to undertake this type of work – be sure to ask to see the license and reference of any professional as a matter of course.
The main actions of a basement fire damage restoration team will be to first assess the scope of the damage.
As mentioned, there may be extensive smoke damage, as well as any water damage from the firefighting effort or from your home fire sprinkler system. They will also assess any structural damage. They will then lead the cleanup process, ensuring that your home is as safe and gets back to normal as quickly as possible.
They may also be able to provide advice on how to avoid fires in the future that are specific to your home.
HOW MUCH DOES FIRE DAMAGE RESTORATION COST?
The cost of basement restoration naturally depends on the amount and the type of damage done. The most common (and expensive) type of restoration usually centers on smoke damage.
The average cost of repairing and restoring smoke damage in a home is around $3,000 (again, this depends on the extent of the damage, the number of rooms in your home, and so on).
If the fire has caused the basement to flood – perhaps because the pipes have been damaged – this can significantly increase the cost of restoration. If there is light flooding, the average cost of pumping out the water and thoroughly drying it us usually $500-1,500.
If the flooding is more extensive, or the basement is larger, the costs can rise $2,000-10,000. This does not factor in the cost of replacing any objects that have been damaged by water.
IN GENERAL, THE COST OF REPAIRING AND RESTORING FIRE AND SMOKE DAMAGE IS AROUND $5 PER SQUARE FOOT. THE FINAL TOTAL WILL BE A COMBINATION OF THREE FACTORS:
- Water Damage
- Soot Removal & Cleanup
- Burnt Materials Cleanup
Depending on the method of smoke removal, (thermal fogging or ozone treatment) costs vary.
A key factor in the final cost of restoring fire damage is the amount covered by insurance. Your homeowners’ insurance will, depending on your coverage and the details of the fire, cover some part of the cleanup. It varies from policy to policy and from provider to provider, so speak directly to your insurance company before undertaking any work.
They will have preferred contractors for the work and may even liaise directly with them to organize the work.
Either way, your first call after the immediate danger of the fire has abated should be to your insurance company. Take as many photos as possible to provide evidence of the damage.
This can be the difference between a large out of pocket cost and a minor one.
A RESTORATION COMPANY DO?
Generally, a restoration company is the first responder after the firefighters have removed the immediate danger of fire. Their job is twofold.
Firstly, they will clean up the mess of a fire; secondly, they will prevent any further damage and ensure that your home will not continue to deteriorate. Depending on their licensing, and the laws in your state, they may also undertake home repairs.
Your insurance company has provided you with a list of preferred restoration companies. After this, a representative of your insurance company will arrive at your home and do a full walk-through to assess the damage.
You should show the agent all of the damage, and allow them to walk through all the rooms of your home.
Note: You are not compelled to work with any of these companies, although you may encounter problems with your insurance company if you do not use one of their preferred providers.
After this, a representative of your insurance company will arrive at your home and do a full walk-through to assess the damage.
You should show the agent all of the damage, and allow them to walk through all the rooms of your home.
At this stage, it is often helpful to take photos and share these via email with your insurance company and the contractor. That will ensure all parties have the same information regarding the scope of the damage and work.
AFTER THE RESTORATION SERVICE AGENT HAS COMPLETED THE WALK-THROUGH, THEY WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH AN ESTIMATE FOR THE WORK. THIS WILL HAVE THREE ELEMENTS:
- What needs to be done
- The cost of the work
- The timeframe for the work
Once you have signed this contract you will be responsible for paying the restoration company. In most cases, your insurance company will reimburse you for the costs, although the insurance company will not pay directly.
Despite this, you should work closely with your insurance company to make sure that you fulfill all the requirements and that you’re not met with any nasty surprises when it comes time for your payout.
HOW CAN YOU CLEAN UP AFTER?
Although the job of the restoration company is to clear the damage, you can get the process started (and potentially cut costs) by beginning the cleaning yourself. Although you will not be able to achieve a professional-level clean, you can often remove a significant amount of the damage.
The best area of focus for cleaning is smoke damage from the walls and from fabrics. Objects with removable covers can be washed along with a small amount of bleach or tri-sodium phosphate.
This will help to remove the smoke smell, although you should be sure to check washing instructions, so you are sure you don’t do more damage to the fabric.
To remove the damage from soot or smoke from walls, you can use household soap or detergent and mix with warm water. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands, wash the areas using a cloth or a sponge. Once you’ve washed the walls or surfaces, repeat the process with clear warm water (i.e. with no chemicals added).
Then dry the surface thoroughly to ensure that you do not damage the walls with water. You should wash the walls from the bottom up so as to prevent streaks from forming. Wash the ceilings last. In all cases, test the surface with a small patch first make sure that you will not discolor it.
When it comes to areas that have been wet with fire hoses, you should consult a professional. In particular, drywall and insulation will be unlikely to dry out properly and will, therefore, be susceptible to damage from mildew and mold. As a general rule of thumb, if in doubt, leave it for the restoration company.
CAUSES OF HOUSE FIRES
Although each house fire is unique in terms of causes and outcomes, there are several common causes.
Being aware of the dangers is the first step in making sure your home is safer.
ACCORDING TO STATISTICS FROM THE UNITED STATES FIRE ADMINISTRATION, THE FOUR MOST COMMON CAUSES OF HOUSE FIRES ARE AS FOLLOWS:
ELECTRICAL MALFUNCTION (A CAUSE IN 19% OF HOUSE FIRES)
This is a fire caused by faulty wiring or damaged circuitry within a home. Although these types of fires can happen anywhere in a house and need not be the result of human action, regular home inspections and professional repairs will ensure that you can diminish the risk of electrical malfunction.
The best tool for preventing electrical malfunction fires is to make sure that all electrical equipment is up to date and being used safely (i.e. sockets are not overloaded or damaged).
Fires caused by heating systems usually involve open fires or other flammable materials. In homes with a basement furnace, there is always the capacity for the heat to cause a fire even without the furnace itself causing a spark.
As mentioned above, the presence in a basement of flammable materials means that even a small spark can cause major damage.
As with electrical malfunctions, damaged or outdated appliances can be extremely dangerous as many of their safety features no longer work. Updating your appliances, particularly if they are damaged, is a major way you can minimize fire risk. If you are in any doubt, you should also move your appliances away from flammable materials.
If your appliances are stored in a basement, check their location for moisture, as this may cause electrical shorts, which can be a cause of fires.
‘OTHER UNINTENTIONAL, CARELESS ACTIONS’ (12%)
Although this catch-all term covers a wide range of causes of house fires, proper preparation and maintenance will help to diminish the chances of starting a fire at home. In addition to things like care around open flames and flammable material, conducting a regular home inspection for potential fire risks is also key.
This will ensure that – if a fire does break out – it is not because you have been unintentional or careless.
The dangers of a fire in a basement are many; basement fires can be more dangerous than fires elsewhere in the home – even to experienced firefighters.
One of the deadliest aspects of basement fires is the fact that there are limited entrances to a basement, meaning that, if you are trapped by a fire, it is often not possible to escape.
In addition, because of the confined space (and the fact that you are surrounded by earth), the temperature within a basement can often soar very quickly. This helps the fire to spread more rapidly, meaning that a basement fire can very rapidly engulf the remainder of the space.
On top of this, because of the HVAC system and flammable materials stored in a basement, a fire often has ready availability of fuel. These factors mean that basement fires can become deadly very quickly.
Basement fires can become dangerous even if you are not trapped in the basement. They damage the structure of the flooring on the ground floor of the house, which can make escaping the home more difficult.
All of these factors demonstrate why it is important to install smoke and fire detectors in a basement. Early detection can help you to escape a home before it is too structurally damaged to do so; it can also give firefighters the opportunity to salvage as much as possible of the fundamental structures of your home.
Although not a priority in a life-or-death situation, the earlier a basement fire is caught, the less damage smoke and soot will cause to the remainder of your home.
A basement fire can be extremely dangerous. Through safe management and early detection, you can reduce the impact of what could be an extremely devastating event for your home and your family.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING