3 Steps to Documenting Fire and Storm Damage
If possible, document the internal and external damage ASAP. Talk with recovery officials regarding safety issues you should be aware of – safety first! – as well as key areas/items you should take pictures of.
Keep in mind you may need to be escorted by officials and you may have a short amount of time.
Insured? Don’t do anything until you speak with your agent; it could affect settlements. And ask about the immediate protection you can take to secure your home.
WHN TIP – Climbing a Ladder? First, download the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Ladder Safety App for advice on extension and step ladder safety. The free app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
1. Take Photos
WHN Staff TIP – Use Two Cameras: Use both video and still photography. Borrow a camera or smartphone if yours was destroyed. Consider using a smartphone ONLY if you have a backup phone or you have electricity or external battery charger or power block to charge your phone.
- Start with one area/room and then move to another. If there are two or more people, assign rooms and hallways.
- Take pictures of everything from multiple angles (just like what you see on CSI), even if your house is completely destroyed.
- Take both wide shots and close-up shots of damaged or missing parts of the house, rooms, furnishings, and personal property.
- For each photo and video, include a description of the item, its age, and the cost to buy it now at a current price.
- Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the damage so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. If you have prior pictures that could serve as pre-disaster documentation, find them or ask a relative or friend in another area to download them.
WHN Reader TIP – Lost Photos in the Storm of Fire? Call family and friends and ask them for pictures they have taken at your house (holidays, birthdays, etc.). The house, rooms, outdoor shots, the garage will be in the background and you can use them as a reference. Photos from others not readily available? Use our home inventory lists to help jog your memory.
WHN Staff TIP – Photo Support: Done any building or remodeling in your home? Contact the architects and remodeling companies you used for past pictures and blueprints of your home. Ask for any other documents that might help support your claim.
2. Inspect Your Possessions
- Remove any undamaged items to a safe area of the house or where you are staying. Too big to move? Cover them with a tarp.
- If possible, do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made, and you have filed a claim or spoken with your insurance company.
- All damages are taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.
- Once you and your insurance agent have determined which damaged items you are throwing away, collect them in an area easily accessible for removal by truck or consider renting a portable trash container.
- Make a list of the cleaning you will do or what you’d like professionals to handle.
WHN Reader TIP – Make a Wedding Registry! “My parents had a house fire that was such a complete loss that there was very little remaining from which to compile an inventory of contents. To help jog their memories, they went to Target and created a wedding registry, then they walked through the store and scanned the items they lost in the fire. Granted, the items they lost weren’t exactly the same, but it gave them a printed list of like items to use to create their property claim. We all got a good chuckle about my 45-year-married parents having a ‘new wedding date’.” Jill A., MN
3. Secure Your Property
- Reasonable expenses spent to protect property are part of the loss and generally reimbursed by insurance companies. Check with your agent to learn where your insurance money is coming from and how using the money now affects the money you may need later.
- Arrange to have doors, windows and other areas secured against unauthorized entry. This also helps prevent further damage.
- While examining your home for structural and general damage, take notes. Use sidewalk chalk or wax pencils to mark areas of damage such as dents in aluminum trims, damaged shingles, dented doors, etc.
- Read our articles on hiring a contractor and hiring home restoration company to get tips on what to look for when hiring a professional and questions to ask.