A fire that only partially damages your building may seem like a near miss, but even a contained blaze can have an impact on your business. Extreme heat, smoke, and soot can all cause structural or aesthetic damage, so it is worth scheduling an inspection as part of your commercial fire claim. Attorney Bill Voss explains the kinds of hidden damage to look for after a fire and how your insurance policy language can affect payment for your claim.
Building Inspectors Should Check for All Kinds of Fire Damage
When you file a fire damage claim, the insurer will likely send an inspector to make a detailed report of your losses. However, the insurer’s inspector may not be willing to perform all of the necessary testing to discover all of the damage. If your insurer refuses to conduct or pay for proper inspections, you may wish to consider hiring an independent and qualified professional to perform an inspection on your behalf.
Your inspection may not be thorough if it does not cover:
- Steel or iron structures. The structural integrity of the building is often the first concern of any property owner. Steel and iron may conduct high levels of heat, allowing heat to transfer through several rooms to destabilize retaining walls. You may need a contractor or structural engineer to properly assess the damage and give you an accurate repair estimate.
- Roofing materials. Flames and high heat can damage tiles and insulation, while burning embers can compromise the roof structure. If the fire department soaked the roof with water, wood may become warped or begin to grow mold. If an insurer’s inspector refuses to get on the roof, a roofing expert can examine the damage more closely.
- Siding and windows. Fires can warp or break windows, melt siding, and discolor the exterior walls of the structure. Damaged windows may no longer be weatherproof, exposing owners to further damage in the future. Any discoloration, blistering, or evidence of heat damage on walls should be examined and documented.
- Foundations and concrete. Fire may damage the foundation of a structure by damaging footing and anchors, while high heat can cause concrete slabs to crack. If there are signs of foundation damage, structural engineers may perform concrete core sampling, x-ray testing, and other measurements to determine whether sinking or leaking is likely.
- Plumbing and heating. Pipes may be backed up after water is shut off to the structure, while heat conduction may have weakened solder and connection points. Air and heating ducts may be damaged or contain soot and ash that can circulate back through the building.
- Interior walls and framing. Melted or warped drywall will need to be replaced, but there may also be damage underneath walls with no apparent damage. It may be necessary to open holes in some walls to check for damage to the framing, mold growth, or other hidden damage.
Insurers May Not Cover the Full Cost of a Partial Loss Fire
Policyholders often have trouble collecting fair payment when only a portion of a property has been damaged. If a fire has affected multiple claimants, insurers may see a partial loss as a “minor claim,” forcing the claimant to suffer long delays while priority is given to larger losses.
Depending on the extent of commercial fire damage coverage, owners may also experience:
- Matching disputes. Your insurer should return the property to a pre-loss state, including using building materials to “match” the rest of the property. If the paint, wallpaper, carpeting, or tiles cannot be matched to undamaged elements in the room, insurers should pay to replace undamaged items to give the room a consistent appearance.
- Air quality and health concerns. Breathing in the aftereffects of a fire can place your health at risk, especially for people with allergies and respiratory sensitivities. You may need a professional pollution and airborne carcinogen cleaning service to restore the air quality in your building.
- Landscaping losses. Fire damage to gardens and outbuildings can cause plant and vegetation losses that can take weeks to estimate accurately. You may need to file supplemental claims for trees and plants that die in the months after a fire.
If you are having trouble getting fair payment under your commercial fire policy, we can help. Simply fill out the form on this page today to contact the Voss Law Firm or order a free copy of our book, Commercial Property Owners Must Read This BEFORE Filing an Insurance Claim.