Repairing your home after a fire

July 28, 2015

After the devastation of a house fire, you need to get your move on and get your home and your life back. Here are tips to get you back on your feet again.

Repairing your home after a fire

Work fast, but only after getting the green light

  • If you have a major fire in your house, stay away until the firefighters tell you it is safe to go back inside. After a severe fire, a house can be a dangerous place. Charred beams may break away and fall. Water used to put the fire out can collect above the ceiling and suddenly break through, bringing ceiling fixtures and drywall down on your head. You may step on a weak spot in the floor and sink, breaking your leg — or worse. There is also the danger of electrical shocks from exposed wires in wet surroundings.
  • Once the house is declared safe enough to enter, however, work fast to prevent further damage. If you don't do all you can, the insurance company may not cover the damage you could have prevented.
  • When drilling into damp drywall, never use an electric drill — its contact with the moist wall may give you a severe electrical shock.
  • If firefighters pumped water into the attic or an upper floor, you may see a sag in the ceiling below. If the sag is severe, stay out of the room and call in a professional contractor. If the sag is slight, however, put on a face mask and use a hand drill to make a small hole at the centre of the sag. As the water flows out, catch it in a bucket, keeping your face out of the way. Drill other holes, one at a time, until all the water has drained.

Repairing your home

  • As soon after a fire as it's safe to do so, you need to get on your way rebuilding your home (and your life). Doing these few things will prevent theft and further damage to your home.
  • Board up damaged windows and doors to keep burglars at bay.
  • Have debris carted away.
  • Have the roof repaired before it rains.
  • Remove damaged items to a safe place until an insurance inspector sees them.
  • Have a licensed electrician check the house and make sure that it is safe.
  • In cold weather, heat the house with a portable stove, or have the water system drained and pour antifreeze into all the drains and toilets.
  • If water has collected in the basement or in any other area, pump it out.
  • Roll up wet rugs (and the padding underneath them) and take them outdoors. Unroll them there and let them dry in the sun.
  • If your electricity is on, dry the floors with fans or blowers and leave the house open as much as you can for ventilation without inviting looters.
  • Take up water-soaked resilient flooring, such as linoleum or soft vinyl tiles, to let the wood underneath dry without warping or causing odours. If the flooring is brittle, use a heat lamp to make it pliable enough to handle and save for reinstalling.

Dealing with damaged contents

  • Send clothing to a dry cleaner that has an ozone chamber, which prevents smoke odours from setting in the fabric.
  • Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry one. Dry them away from sunlight or heat, and then clean them with saddle soap.
  • Stuff wet shoes and handbags with newspaper to keep them from drying stiff and out of shape.
  • Put wet papers, books and paintings into a freezer to stop the moisture from soaking in farther and causing more damage. Later you can have a specialist restore them.
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