A few years back, we had a house fire. I’ve somewhat facetiously come to call it the “Great Fire of Ought-Six“. The fire began in the attic, electrical in nature, and burned for quite a while (5 or more hours they told us) before we were abruptly woken up by our neighbor who smelled/saw smoke around his house. From a deep sleep I woke to Tiffany telling me someone was banging on the door. We had no idea there was a fire burning mere feet from our bed. I went to the bedroom door, which was closed, and when opened my breath was literally taken from me, replaced by smoke and heat. Quickly, I recovered my breathing and said something like…”TIFFANY, SMOKE!!!” and from there it took no more than a few seconds to exit the house with dog closely following. Once the dust and smoke settled the next morning and the firemen the go-ahead to go into the house, we started the long, arduous process of assessing the damage and rebuilding our home. Nothing is left untouched, Couches, beds, and carpets are soaked through…books, tables, picture frames, computers are covered in soot.
Even if untouched by direct fire…nothing escapes the triple threat of Soot, Insulation, and Water. The smell of a house fire isn’t the same as a campfire…campfires smell good…no, this smell combines the wood framing with all the plastic, rubber and metal in your house with a little sewage, dirty laundry, and burnt insulation on the side. It was not a complete devastation, but you quickly learn that what doesn’t burn either has smoke or water damage.
Through those six months of rebuilding, we learned a lot about house fires, construction, destruction, and what really means a lot to you. Much of your stuff, you could probably do without. Closets full of clothes, books, magazines, furniture are all things easily replaced, and a good insurance policy helps ensure you’ll get the money to do it. Photo albums, important documents both electronic and paper and antique or important items passed down in your family are just some of the things you find you really worry about until you can get back into your house. Here are some tips we learned, some of which we already did, that will save many of the things you hold dear in the unfortunate event of a fire.
- Plastic Bins – You might not think of a plastic storage bin as being that effective in a fire, but think of this…a plastic bin with a lid can protect against smoke and water damage. If you ever have a basement flood, the bins might even float for a while too. Many of our photos and other important things were already in bins and the folks who came to help clean up the stuff in our house told us that it was those bins that saved much of our stuff.
- Video – Walk your house with camera and document your things. It is a simple and easy way to have record of all your stuff. We were lucky enough to have a company send someone to help us inventory our contents. He asked a lot of questions and helped us determine everything that was there. A video would have made that process even easier and more accurate, and you cannot count on the insurance company sending a professional to help with that.
- Electronic Backups – Create backups of important photos/electronic documents. You can store this with a friend or family member or lock box at the bank.
- Firebox – important documents like passports, marriage license, property paperwork, etc go in here. Also store a copy of the electronic files you backed up in here as well for additional security.
- Understand Your Insurance Policy – There are a couple of things we learned through the process about our insurance policy that we feel everybody should know about. Luckily we had a good policy that covered most things very well. (The items below are just what we learned and found handy…you should read and know your own policy and don’t be afraid to ask questions of your insurance company)
- Main Structure Coverage – You need to know how much coverage in $$ you have on your house and if it appreciates with time to keep up with the value of your home.
- Contents Coverage (normally a % of the insurance on the home itself) – This will be described separately from your coverage on the structure of your home. You should know whether you have full replacement coverage, an adjusted % of replacement, or any other type of contents coverage.
- Insurance Riders – If you have things that have extra value or are especially expensive or difficult to replace, consider adding a rider for that item. Engagement rings are a perfect example of something many of us have that should be covered separately under your homeowners policy. There are other things too, so ask your insurance company to help determine those items.
- Other expenses coverage…Like housing reiumbusement while you are out of your home. This is important for obvious reasons because you still have to pay your mortgage while you aren’t able to live in your house.
If you need any other motivation to start checking these things off your to-do lists…take a look at some of the other photos from our house fire and resulting damage.