Intro: What I Should Have Done Before My House Fire and Now Cleaning Up Afterwards.
So, I've had a really bad month. As I am typing this, my home was badly damaged in a house fire 17 days ago. Everyone got out safely, nobody got hurt. Which are the first, second and third priorities. Everything else is just stuff, stuff that can mostly be replaced. But the delays are amazingly frustrating.
First, have insurance against fire. It was my parents house, so they had the insurance, and on the face, a pretty good policy. Unfortunately the insurance company is incredibly slow to actually get us anything resembling assistance. But they do have lots and lots of runaround and delays to give you. We have been living in hotels, and putting everything on the credit card. Hotels cost thousands of dollars per week, plus I am spending a couple hundred dollars every day buying things like clothes, toothbrushes, soap and so on. My diet is now largely drive through.
So have a couple of credit cards with a lot of available credit on them, because the insurance has been appallingly slow with actually getting us the "immediate assistance" payment. For us, we got it this weekend, and will deposit it on monday, 18 days after the fire. Also, they will write the check out to all the names on the insurance policy. For us, it was jointly to my parents, and the bank would not accept it because they didn't have a joint checking account, so had to get it rewritten to just my mom's name. Further delay there.
Keep an emergency kit in your car or with a friend who is willing to let you sleep on their couch after the fire for a couple of weeks. Your home is unusable, and you may not be able to retrieve anything after the fire. One complete change of clothing, seasonally appropriate. Extra socks and underwear. Make photocopies of any important documents, such as insurance policies, DD214 for vets and so on. Credit card numbers, account numbers for all the utilities and emergency shutoff contact numbers. Also contact information for friends and relatives, your cell phone may have also burned up. Some form of picture ID, like an old drivers license. You will need to have all the utilities turned off ASAP to prevent further damage, and also to stop the bills from continuing to pile up.
Store all your fuels outside the house, ideally in a detached structure like a shed or something. Gasoline, propane tanks,oil based paints, and so on. They should be either in plain sight or a hazmat placard on the outside of the shed warning the firefighters of their presence. Smoke detectors really do work, and save lives. In our case, my dad with alzhiemers had forgotten that he wasn't supposed to be burning stuff in the basement fireplace anymore. We assume that the fire somehow got into the woodpile nearby the fireplace, and spread from there.
Hurray for the fire department who got there and saved the building. But the smoke and then the steam got everywhere in the entire house, leaving an evil black goo that soaks into anything remotely porous. You hear the phrase "smoke damage" and wonder whats the big deal. It is a toxic smelly goo that is really hard to clean off. The only stuff we have found to be effective is Simple Green brand spray cleaner, the concentrated stuff, and it still doesn't come fully clean and it still smells of smoke. Clothes, ran them three times through a wash and dry cycle, and they still smell smoky. The basement had a couple inches of an incredibly nasty mixture of water, soot and ash that got everywhere.
Firearms. The police insisted that we remove all firearms and ammunition from the house after the fire. So know exactly where they are, and have spare keys to the safe so the firefighters can go in and retrieve them for you after the fire. Know someone with the appropriate state licenses who will be willing and able to store them for you for months or longer while you are out of your home.
Other valuables. remove them after the fire. these would be things like the silver utensils and flatware. If you have photographs you really want to save, take them now to a service and make highest qualtiy scans of them and put the hard disk with the scans in offsite storage. Find a friend who is willing and be each others offsite data storage. You can also backup your computer data to each other's place also. If you have paintings or other artwork, locate a local art conservator and keep their info in your emergency kit.
Immediate cleanup things. If the fire was small enough, you mostly have smoke and water damage, and your home can be cleaned up and repaired fairly quickly. Shop around now and setup an account with one of the fire damage cleanup companies in your area. We found that evil salesmen from these companies will be on the scene while the fire is still burning, and try to contract you for the cleanup, at the very highest rate they think they can get away with. have an account setup in advance with a good one. They need to get in ASAP and suck all the water out before it ruins more of your stuff, and promotes mold growth in your walls. Get them to agree to a net 90 day payment if you can, because the insurance company will slow walk the payment for them as much as possible.
I am early in the process still. This instructable will be a work in progress that I expect to periodically add onto as things proceed.
Step 1: Stuck in Insurance Limbo.
So, here it is. Eight weeks since the fire. Insurance claim process is even slower than I imagined possible. We are still in a hotel, waiting for the insurance company to finally get their shineola together. Construction season is slipping away, all the good contractors have settled into their jobs for the season, so I doubt that we will be able to get our house repaired in this construction season, so they are going to end up paying for another six months of temporary housing for us due to their own slowness.
Rigged in some temporary lights in the house powered by my generator. Major win buying the propane fueled generator. No problems with stale fuel or corrosion caused by residual fuel in the carborator which is what killed my previous gasoline generators.
The lights are rolls of LED tape lights in a PVC jacket. Just nailed up hangers to the walls inside and strung them around the house. Now that I can clearly see the damage, it's pretty discouraging. You hear the phrase smoke damage, which sounds so minor. It's not. Everything is covered by a later of toxic black gunk that requires hot water, strong detergent and scrubbing to remove.