Recovering After a House Fire: Rebuilding Smarter

Mary Kate Morrow March 17, 2020

There are more than 360,000 house fires in the United States each year. More than 2,500 people die as a result of these fires. Usually people survive, but they often need their homes restored to their original condition. The restoration cost of your home depends on many factors, including: fire extinguishing method, fire temperature, fire duration, material burned and soot amount.

Homeowner insurance coverage greatly reduces the out-of-pocket costs of a fire. By rebuilding smarter after a house fire, you can prevent the amount of damage a fire would cause to your home.

Obtain Proper Homeowners Insurance

Fire damage is included in standard homeowners insurance. It is important to know the details of your homeowners insurance policy to receive proper compensation so you can begin rebuilding your home.

The rebuilding cost estimate provided by your homeowners policy should meet the requirements for a full rebuild of your home. Reconstruction value is based on an insurance appraisal or calculation. Your home should be insured to its reconstruction value, not the real estate value or tax value.

A guaranteed replacement cost fully guarantees that your rebuild cost is covered, even if the cost is higher than the original quoted estimate. An extended replacement cost guarantees replacement cost coverage up to a certain percentage of your home’s value. Inflation protection clauses on your policy increase your benefits in accordance with the current rate of inflation. This clause will help to keep your policy coverage appropriate if you file a claim in the future.

If you disagree with your home appraisal and reconstruction value, contact your insurance company representative. The more you understand about reconstruction costs, the better equipped you will be to negotiate with your insurance company.

Returning to Your Home After a Fire

Do not enter your home after a fire unless the fire department says it is safe to do so. You should ask the fire department to check that your water, electricity and gas are safe to use. To avoid break-ins, you should also alert your local police department if you’re leaving your home vacant.

When returning to your home after a fire, wear a mask to avoid breathing in dust, smoke particles and other harmful chemicals. Wearing eye protection and a hard hat may also prevent injury. Keep children and pets away from your home during the entire rebuilding process, especially your initial home assessment.

Check the outside of your home before entering. Loose power lines, foundation cracks, missing support beams and broken or damaged gas lines can alert you if it is unsafe to enter. If the door is jammed, do not force entry. The door may be providing structural support to the home. Avoid holding onto or leaning against damaged portions of your home structure.

Beware of animals that may have entered your home while it was unoccupied, including snakes and spiders. Tapping loudly and often on the floor with a stick will alert animals of your presence and scare them off as you move through your house. You should immediately check for smoke and embers throughout your home, including the attic. Be especially careful on stairs, as they may be unstable from fire damage.

If you smell gas, or hear a hissing noise, immediately leave your property and alert the fire department. Use a flashlight if your power is out. Do not use any open flames as an alternative light source. Propane tanks should be turned off.

If you see broken or frayed wires, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you see sparks, turn off your home’s electricity. You should inspect the panel box for any tripped breakers and call an electrician if you think your wiring may be damaged. If there is water between your body and the fuse box or circuit breaker, do not step or stand in it. Call a qualified electrician for assistance with turning off your electricity if you have any safety concerns.

If water pipes are damaged, turn off the main water valve. If your sewage lines are damaged, avoid using showers, toilets or sinks. In both situations, you should call a plumber. Disconnect and check all appliances for water damage before use.

Whether it is caused by the water used to extinguish the fire or from damaged pipes, you may have water damage. If the ceiling is sagging from water weight it could collapse. If it is safe to do so, you can poke small holes in the ceiling to let water drain out slowly. Do not strike the center of the damaged area, as the whole ceiling may collapse from the pressure. If the floor is sagging, it may collapse under your weight. You can bridge small sagging sections of floor temporarily with thick plywood panels that are at least 8-12 inches, placed on each side of the sagging area.

Rebuilding and the Insurance Claims Process

“The golden hours” to begin the rebuilding process are 24-48 hours after a fire. It is important to start the restoration period as soon as possible to avoid worsening damage, such as mold or rust. However, you should allow your home to ventilate and let the dust and smoke settle to avoid respiratory problems. If the weather is dry, open doors and windows to dry out and ventilate your home.

Before you move or clean anything, your insurance adjuster will need to photograph the damage to your home. Do not discard damaged materials until a comprehensive inventory is completed by your adjuster. If you have a home inventory that shows the condition of your home and possessions before the fire, provide it to your adjuster for their records. You should also provide any receipts for repair costs you have paid out-of-pocket. The photographs taken by your insurance adjuster will be used to estimate the compensation needed to repair or rebuild your home.

Once your adjuster has evaluated damages and created a plan to rebuild or repair your home, construction can begin. You may end up paying more to repair or rebuild your home because of the urgency. With planned improvements, a company is more willing to negotiate prices on materials. When a home needs to be rebuilt swiftly after a fire, you do not have the time to haggle. You pay the construction company extra to prioritize your home and expedite the reconstruction process.

How Much Does it Cost to Rebuild a Home?

The way that the fire was extinguished greatly affects your rebuilding costs. If water was used to extinguish the fire, you could find yourself with a dangerous and costly mold problem. The high pressure of a fire hose soaks your structure and can destroy walls and roofs.

Sprinklers are the best water-based fire extinguishing solution, reducing water damage by up to 90%. A chemical fire extinguisher deposits toxic residues, which may need to be specially cleaned. Fire extinguishers that use carbon dioxide cause the least damage, are less toxic and do not leave chemical residue.

The cost to have a restoration company rebuild, clean up and deodorize a single family home that is 1,500 square feet ranges from $2,000-$5,000. Kitchen fires often cause more extensive damages, averaging $10,000-$30,000. For a custom kitchen these costs soar to $50,000-$70,000.

Specialists may be required to rebuild your home, including reconstruction specialists, post-disaster contractors, engineers and architects. Debris removal specialists may be necessary if your home is severely damaged and there is an extensive amount of debris to collect and dispose. If there is water damage, a mold specialist may need to be hired to make sure your home is safe.

There are additional costs that may be incurred as a result of a house fire, including hotel stays while your home is being fixed and replacement costs for damaged possessions. Make sure your home insurance coverage will sufficiently provide for these costs.

Rebuild Smarter

Consider rebuilding smarter and remember to evaluate your plans with your local zoning boards before beginning any rebuilding projects. Investing in fire prevention improvements saves homeowners money in the long-run. By rebuilding smarter you can lower your home’s fire damage risk and lower your homeowners insurance premiums.


The average cost of fire damage without fire sprinklers is $45,110. However, with fire sprinklers, the average fire damage cost drops down significantly to $2,170. The cost of installing a home fire sprinkler system is $1.61 per square foot. Sprinklers also use 8.5 times less water than conventional fire hoses.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors may save your life and your home. Some smoke detectors will not only alert you of a fire, but also contact emergency responders on your behalf. There are also specific smoke detectors for people who are hard of hearing or deaf.

Almost three out of every five home fire deaths were from homes without a working smoke alarm. Remember, fires can occur anytime, including while you are sleeping or away from your home.

A smoke alarm generally costs between $10-60. The average cost for an electrician to professionally install an individual smoke alarm is $65. Each alarm takes around an hour to install.

Keep in mind that homes generally require multiple smoke alarms. An average home with three bedrooms and two stories needs at least 5 smoke detectors. You’re looking at $600-$1500 a year for monitoring services. The average household spends between $650 and $950 for a full fire alarm system.

Test your smoke alarms every month and replace them every 10 years. Remember to change your smoke alarm’s batteries, because dead batteries cause 25% of smoke alarm failures.

Don't forget to install a carbon monoxide detector. Remember that carbon monoxide is completely odorless and can be deadly

Windows and Skylights

Install insulated, tempered double-pane glass to increase fire resistance or else your windows may shatter.

Keep in mind that smaller windows are less likely to shatter than larger windows.

Add non-flammable shutters to windows as an extra precaution.

Acrylic skylights should be avoided when reconstructing your home because they melt quickly and can leave a hole in your roof.


Steeper roof pitches are more fire resistant than flatter roofs.

Burning embers are more likely to roll off your home if your roof is angled.

Use standing seam, slate, tile, or cementitious composite roofing materials to construct your roof.

If you must use wood for your roof, make sure it is coated with fire treatment. However, be aware that the treatment is only good for about five years.


Avoid untreated wood for your walls.

Use non-flammable materials such as fiber-cement, brick, stucco, or cultured stone for siding.

To protect the base of the siding, consider using lining made of crushed stones to deter fire from spreading.


Fire-resistant landscaping can protect your home from fire damage, increase your property value and conserve water. Consult with your local nursery or landscaping contractor for advice on fire-resistant plants available in your area.

There are no “fire-proof” plants, but high-moisture plants that grow close to the ground are less susceptible to catching fire. Some fire retardant plants that resist ignition include: rockrose, ice plant and aloe. Fire resistant shrubs include: hedging roses, currant and shrub apples. Hardwood, maple and cherry trees are less flammable than pine and fir trees.

Arranging landscape features with both horizontal and vertical space may disrupt a fire from spreading. Make sure to maintain your landscape by keeping your plants alive and pruned. Dead plants may act as a source of fuel for a fire. Avoid having combustible landscaping material including plants within 30 feet of your home. Fencing, gazebos and other decorative features should be as fire resistant and strategically placed as possible.

Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher can help you fight the fire before the fire department arrives. Single use fire extinguishers are usually $10-$20. Rechargeable home fire extinguishers range from $35-$75. You can contact your local fire station for directions about refilling or recharging a fire extinguisher.


Make sure you’re getting the right coverage and not paying too much for it. Let one of SmartFinancial’s trusted agents go over your home insurance needs by filling out a brief form. Start by entering your zip code below.

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