No one wants to be left without a home or possessions due to a fire. It is a devastating event that can take months – or even years from which to recover.
If you’re properly covered by your home insurance policy and prepared in the event that fire claims your home and/or contents, things will go much smoother.
Get to know your insurance policies – before you need to make a claim
Most home insurance policies cover damage to your home caused by fire, even if the fire started next door on your neighbour’s property or if the damage is the result of a forest fire. You should be covered as long as the fire was not started intentionally.
In some cases, if you are unable to return home as a result of insurable damage, you may be entitled to additional living expenses such as accommodations, clothing and other essentials.
Vehicle damage from fire is usually covered if your car insurance policy includes comprehensive or all perils coverage.
Talk to you licensed insurance advisor to ensure you understand exactly what your home and vehicle insurance policies cover and what they don’t before you need to make a claim.
Starting the claim process
If fire has destroyed or damaged your home, it’s important to initiate contact with your claims advisor immediately so you can begin the recovery process for you and your family at once.
- Call your claims advisor regardless of the day or time. Most insurers have a 24-hour claims service. Be as detailed as you can.
- List all damaged or destroyed possessions that you can think of. If you have a home inventory, this job will be much easier.
- Take photos of the damage and keep damaged items – unless they pose a health threat.
- If you need to stay elsewhere, keep all living expenses receipts, and any receipts related to the cleanup.
- Ask your claims advisor what expenses you are entitled to and for how long.
Get an advance
If you were forced to evacuate your home quickly, you will likely need things such as toiletries and clothes for work. Your homeowners’ policy should cover the cost to replace these items, but obviously that will take some time. Ask your claims advisor to provide an advance against an eventual claim. Remember to save the receipts for your purchases.
Do what you can to secure your property
If you’ve been evacuated due to a raging wildfire, it’s difficult to secure your property. But if your home has suffered a fire that has been extinguished, your insurance company expects that you will take reasonable steps to minimize the potential of further damage to it. For example, you may need to cover a leaky roof with a plastic tarp until you can get it repaired.
Other things you can do to prevent further damages include:
- Turn off the water. You want to avoid any possibility of a flood or water damage.
- Board it up. Board up broken windows and doors to prevent vandalism. You may also consider putting up a chain-link fence around the property.
- Check in. It’s probably a good idea to check on your property from time to time to spot new issues, and make sure no one has been there in your absence.
Your insurance policy should cover any costs incurred to secure your property. Again, save your receipts, invoices and/or estimates.
Over the next few months, you will be very busy dealing with your insurance company. There will be phone calls, emails and letters back and forth. Purchase a binder or big notebook with a pocket for receipts, estimates and contracts. Take copious notes during calls, and print out emails. Every piece of paper or exchange should be recorded in your book.
Keep track of living expenses
Your policy should reimburse you for your living expenses while your home is uninhabitable. But there are different levels of reimbursement. Keep all your receipts for accommodation and meals so you can get your maximum level of coverage.
Understand how much you have to rebuild or repair
You will need to rebuild or repair your home. The amount you are entitled to will depend on the type of coverage you have.
If you have “actual cash value” coverage, then you will receive the amount of money it will take to return your home or its contents to its market value before the fire. Depending on the age or the condition of your home before the fire, you could end up with less than what you actually need to rebuild.
If you have “replacement cost” coverage, then you’re entitled to the amount it would take to replace the home or contents, up to a limit that was originally specified in your policy.
A fire can derail your family’s life for a long time. Take steps now to make sure that you have the right insurance coverage should disaster strike so things can get back to normal as quickly as possible.