As many victims of the East Tennessee wildfires are working through the claim process, this seems to be a good time for a quick word about soot testing. Smoke and soot from the wildfires likely affected hundreds of property owners whose properties were never touched by an actual flame. Even with no actual fire damage, the infiltration of smoke and soot into cavities of a structure clearly constitutes a covered loss under most policies.
In some cases, a good old fashioned thorough cleaning with appropriate materials by trained professionals might do the trick. But in many other cases, smoke and soot deposits appear in wall cavities and other inaccessible places that require a much more invasive restoration protocol, including removal and replacement of sheetrock, etc. Smoke just has a way of getting into those hard to reach places, traveling through electrical outlets, conduit, HVAC systems, etc., and it’s important to get it removed.
Thankfully, there are many trained hygienists who can perform the necessary testing to determine the proper scope of fire, smoke, and soot restoration. The test samples are then shipped off to a qualified laboratory, which produces results that can assist the property owner or contractor discover how far the smoke traveled and how much work needs to be done to remediate it. The hygienist can determine what type of testing is needed, but I typically see both air and surface samples. On the surface samples, it is often necessary to make small test openings in the drywall or other wall covering to access the cavity that lays behind.
Policyholders are entitled under most properties to be put back in pre-loss condition so if there wasn’t smoke and soot in your walls before the fire, and there is now, there should be coverage for the cost of removing it.
Happy New Year everyone!