Every year, millions of acres of forest and grassland are consumed by wildfires. According to the Insurance Information Institute, nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by people in some way. From California to Texas and Georgia to North Carolina, around 4.5 million homes in the U.S. are at an elevated risk of wildfire.
Whether a house is consumed or damaged by the flames or not, nearby wildfires can cause damage from smoke and ash. Is that damage covered by your homeowners insurance policy? Learn about what’s covered and how you should proceed with a claim.
Are You Covered for Smoke and Ash Damage?
Smoke can seep through fresh air intakes to permeate your home. The stucco, siding, and shingles can be covered in ash and embers that permanently impair their ability to protect your home—and they may never shed the smoky odor.
Smoke and ash from a wildfire may not look that harmful, but they certainly cause plenty of damage. Generally, any standard home insurance policy that covers you against fire damage, including from wildfires, also includes coverage for smoke and ash damage. Common coverage components include fire damage, damage from smoke and ash to your home and outbuildings, your belongings, additional living expenses during remediation, and home-based business property if applicable.
How much are you covered for? When it comes to smoke damage remediation or damage from ash and soot from a wildfire, you should check your homeowners insurance policy for coverage limits.
Will Damage be Repaired or Replaced?
When it’s safe to return home, you’ll need to file an insurance claim and an adjuster will inspect your property. They’ll determine what’s been damaged from smoke and ash, and they’ll likely ask you to provide an inventory list of your belongings that have been affected.
Will it be cleaned and repaired or replaced? With wildfire smoke and ash, damage may not be visible. Porous or soft items like clothes, furniture, and flooring may be able to be laundered, and the adjuster will often have a remediation team attempt to clean items.
If cleaning simply isn’t possible, isn’t successful, or something is physically damaged (ash burns on vinyl siding, for example) your insurer will replace the damage to restore it to a condition similar to before the wildfire happened.
Don’t throw anything away until it’s been assessed by the adjuster and you’ve been given the all-clear to toss it.
How to Clean Up Smoke and Ash Damage
If your don’t have home insurance, have limited coverage, or you otherwise find yourself in a position to clean up the damage, here are some tips.
Cleaning Up Ash
- Wear an N95 mask or better, fitted for proper filtration against harmful ash particles.
- Wipe surfaces with a damp cloth, trying to prevent particles from going airborne.
- Wash floors with a wet mop.
- Do not use a vacuum unless it’s equipped with a true HEPA filter.
- Protect your skin and eyes from contact with ash as it can be an irritant.
** Cleaning Smoke Damage**
- Lightly vacuum affected surfaces with a soft-bristled brush attachment.
- Wash hard surfaces with warm soapy water to remove visible smoke residue.
- Wash surfaces a second time using a remediation cleaner like trisodium phosphate (TSP).
- Launder soft items with an odor eliminator.