Smoke Damage Insurance Claims

Although it’s not necessarily visible, smoke is a highly pervasive and toxic after-effect of fire that can destroy virtually anything in its path…and in ways that are undetectable even to the nose. The smoke that accompany fires of any size can cause irreparable damage not just to textiles such couches, mattresses, and clothing, but to personal belongings such as electronics, mechanical items, and even structural parts of a home or property.

While most insured are initially devastated by the visual damage resulting from the fire’s flames, it’s the smoke damage that often accounts for a significant—if not largest—portion of the insurance claim. Like fire, smoke has the power to ruin practically everything it comes in contact with, including the most unexpected of items. Because fire victims are often still grappling with the emotional impact of their loss, the extent of the smoke damage to their property is often the furthest thing from their minds. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness can lead them to make a series of costly mistakes throughout their insurance claims process that negatively affect the outcome of both their insurance settlement and beyond. Before we review these common pitfalls, let’s briefly examine the science of smoke and the damage it can cause.

What Exactly Is Smoke and How Does Its Damage Affect Your Insurance Claim?

smoke damage insurance claimsSmoke is far more than the menacing dark air that billows from a fire’s flames; it’s comprised of a complicated structure of chemical compounds that can infiltrate and corrode practically anything within reach—even seemingly impenetrable surfaces that you wouldn’t normally suspect. Because smoke is further propelled by the heat of the fire, it tends to spread everywhere, including the smallest crevices of the most unsuspecting places. If smoke were just a harmless vapor that eventually dissipated, it wouldn’t have such damaging effects to your personal property and home/building’s structure. However, because of the toxic chemicals contained within it and the resulting soot that coats the surface of everything it reaches, smoke can destroy or shorten the life of practically everything it touches, causing destruction that persists long after an insurance claim has been filed and settled. But without proper precautions, this smoke damage can easily be overlooked or mishandled during your insurance claims process and continue to haunt you long after your claim has been closed.

Do You Have Smoke Damage? How to Tell

It’s this simple: run your finger along a hard surface within your property, such as a countertop or piece of furniture. When you inspect it, is it coated in an oily film? This is a strong indicator your property has suffered significant smoke damage—all the more reason to avoid the mistakes we see policyholders make with their insurance claims.

The 4 Biggest Mistakes Policyholders Make With Their Smoke Damage Insurance Claims

When it comes to smoke damage and insurance claims, policyholders tend to make four simple mistakes that can produce disastrous consequences:

  1. Bothered by the smell or soot, they dispose of their smoke-damaged items prior to fully completing their insurance claim.
  2. They make snappy, ill-advised decisions regarding their personal property.
  3. They assume their insurance adjuster will thoroughly search for hidden smoke damage.
  4. They avoid getting a second opinion, assuming it’s too late or too costly to reach out to a third party, such as a public adjuster.

1.Untimely Disposal of Smoke-Damaged Items

We understand. There is no smell like that of the residual smoke from a fire. Because it can be such a strong and haunting reminder of their traumatizing loss, some fire victims throw their smoke-damaged items away before either filing or fully completing their insurance claims. Remember that a large part of proper compensation following the insurance claims process is listing every potential loss—even items affected by smoke damage that weren’t necessarily burned but require total replacement or restoration.

Even after meeting with your adjuster, we strongly advise holding onto all smoke-damaged items should you decide to pursue a second and independent appraisal. For all of the above reasons, consider storing your smoke damaged items in a container such as a pod, where they can still be surveyed.

2. Following Inadequate Recommendations For Smoke Damage Repair

This is often one of the biggest stressors fire victims will experience during their smoke damage claim and for several key reasons. It’s perfectly natural to feel completely overwhelmed following the loss that accompanies a fire, so when you contact your insurance company to initiate the claims process, it only seems to make sense to follow the advice of the adjuster they send to appraise your property and personal items. One of these suggestions you’re almost sure to hear is a recommended disaster recovery company that specializes in fire and smoke damage restoration. When you reach out to them, these companies seem friendly and reassuring. All you have to do, they explain, is turn over your smoke-damaged items, pay your deductible, and let them take care of the rest—they’ll just bill your insurance company and your worries are over. But here’s what you’re likely not being told:

  1. The costs accumulate quickly, with a bill that can total tens of thousands of dollars. A bill which is ultimately deducted from your final settlement.
  2. The items being cleaned and/or restored may be returned to you with residual smoke damage that you can still see or smell because the item(s) were beyond restoring——yet the bill has been paid by your insurance company and still comes out of your settlement.
  3. Some of your items could be lost during the process, never to be relocated. In fact, at Insurance Claims Consultants we’ve never seen a case where the insured who’ve elected this route have received all of their personal items back.

At this point you may wondering how any of this could possibly happen at the recommendation of your insurance company. Remember that your insurance company’s obligation is to repair, restore, or replace at their discretion. Because cleaning damaged items versus replacing them is often (not always) the most affordable route from the insurance company’s perspective, policyholders are often steered in this direction, even though there is no guarantee their items will be fully restored. Regardless of who receives the bill, don’t be fooled. The insured is ultimately stuck paying costly cleaning and restoration costs for services that don’t necessarily refurbish personal items such as textiles and electronics to their original condition—items that should have been replaced, not restored, in the first place. Moreover, the chemicals used to clean these items can be just as toxic as the smoke itself, particularly to those with allergies or asthma. So was it really worth saving a few dollars to clean rather than replace the smoke-damaged items? Unfortunately, these are questions that don’t tend to surface until it’s too late. Remember to perform the fingertip test: if you see a greasy film on your finger, the item is beyond restoration and most likely requires total replacement, even if it was in a room that the fire didn’t reach.

3. Overlooking Hidden Smoke Damage

Smoke damage doesn’t cease to exist just because you or your insurance company’s adjuster doesn’t detect it. In fact, much of smoke’s damage is hidden, and even worse, doesn’t pose a threat or problem until long after your fire claim has been closed. Although you can’t see or even necessarily smell it, smoke damage can pervade the most unsuspecting areas of your home or building and personal property including:

  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • Appliances
  • Electronics such as televisions and computers

Smoke can destroy or shorten the lifespan of mechanics and electronics in several ways. First, because the resulting soot tends to settle even in places you cannot see, the added insulation from the soot can lead to overheating. Furthermore, corrosive chemicals produced by smoke can eat away at internal wiring, impairing the mechanism’s ability to function properly, if at all. One of our recent clients—a large hotel in Sarasota, Florida—recently filed a fire claim after a natural gas pipe within the structure caught fire, resulting in heavy toxins and soot coating much of the hotel, including the main server room where a large majority of their electronics and operating systems are stored. Fortunately, our clients contacted us prior to signing a contract with the restoration company their insurance company recommended. Our CEO Ron Delo immediately noticed that the electronics had absorbed enough smoke and soot that could very well cause them to malfunction at any time. Because this client had a hunch to ask for an independent appraisal, $100,000 in electronics will now be completely replaced rather than just cleaned as their insurance company had recommended. As a result, the hotel will now have a whole new and properly functioning electronics system rather than discovering later than an expensive cleaning didn’t fully address the damage.

Mistake #4:  Avoiding a Second (and Independent) Opinion

Just as your insurance company has the right to assess your damage and make suggestions for addressing it, you have the right hire a public adjuster, who will perform an independent appraisal and offer guidance throughout your claims process or even after your claim has been closed.

Ideally, you want to hire an expert public adjuster early enough in the process where he/she can walk your property alongside the adjuster hired by your insurance company and discuss the scope of the damage, addressing what they agree and disagree on, which is typically restoring versus replacing items. Remember: your insurance company is legally required to pay what they owe, and in some cases, this amount can exceed the limitations listed in your policy. At Insurance Claims Consultants, we get involved from the moment you call to make sure you get the advice and settlement amount you deserve rather than what your insurance company deems appropriate.

Even if you’ve already agreed to work with a restoration company, a public adjuster can still get involved immediately, stop the restoration process, and perform an independent valuation to determine whether these items are actually restorable or should instead be replaced. And because a public adjuster is compensated through a small percentage of your settlement, you pay nothing until your claim has been properly settled. In fact, you only compensate us if we win you above and beyond what your insurance company offered.


While it may seem counterintuitive, you don’t have to make immediate decisions following a fire. Instead, take a deep breath and gather your thoughts. We know this is no easy feat considering all you’ve been through, but that’s all the more reason to take a few days. We strongly advise hitting the pause button and sifting through the advice you’ve received from your insurance company and/or the restoration company they’ve recommended. Don’t hesitate to consult with a friend, loved one, or minister who can offer a different perspective. When you’re ready, give us a call at (800) 572-7914 for a free, no obligation review of your claim. We’re here 24/7 to give you the guidance you need to navigate through your claims process and shield you from further stress, bad advice, and loss.

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