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How to Estimate Smoke Damage To a Building

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke!

This bathtub and its fixtures cannot be cleaned. Photo by mjtmail (tiggy) / CC BY

Smoke damage can range from light to heavy depending on the type of fire, how long it burned, and where the smoke was vented out of the building.

If a fire is discovered and extinguished relatively quickly, the resulting fire damage can be minor, but the actual smoke damage can be anywhere from light to severe. Smoke damage will usually lessen in areas farther away from the fire’s origin, but the damage can be very consistent along the path the smoke traveled before venting to the exterior. For example, if a fire occurs in one corner of a structure and the smoke is vented through a door in the opposite corner, damage can occur along the entire path the smoke traveled before it vented. Smoke damage can also occur to exterior walls around the door through which it vented.

If a fire goes undiscovered for an extended period of time, heavy smoke can quickly fill the structure and cause permanent damage. Smoke will quickly permeate drywall and plaster, enter behind walls and above ceilings, permeate attic and wall framing, insulation, flooring and more. Smoke can leave a permanent residue on synthetic materials like countertops, bathtubs, outlets, switches, mini-blinds and window frames, quickly rendering them uncleanable and unsalvageable.

The tell tale signs of smoke damage are odor, residue (especially on horizontal surfaces/ledges), and/or discoloration on any material. If you don’t see a residue, you should still test for one by wiping down a horizontal surface such as the top of a door casing or a window sill. If a residue and/or discoloration appears on your wiping material, that surface should be wiped down and cleaned at the very least. So how do you estimate smoke damage?

Minimums Tasks for Smoke Damage To a Building

Usually at a minimum, light smoke damage will require a wipe down and cleaning of all horizontal surfaces. Consider cleaning textiles such as drapes and carpet. Also consider wiping down and cleaning all vertical surfaces. If a smoke odor remains, consider running an ozone machine and/or a negative air machine with carbon and/or HEPA filters until the odor is eliminated. Sometimes HEPA vacuuming of surfaces is also necessary.

Further Considerations to Estimate Smoke Damage To a Building

For moderate smoke damage, in addition to the suggestions discussed above, consider sealing and painting (or sanding and refinishing, as the case may be) the horizontal and vertical surfaces. For any materials that both won’t come clean and cannot be sealed and painted/sanded and refinished (such as synthetic materials), consider removal and replacement. If textiles won’t come clean, consider removal and replacement or consult with a professional textile cleaning service or dry-cleaner.

For heavy smoke damage, consider removal and replacement of all horizontal and vertical surfaces and fixtures. In other words, consider “gutting” the area/room down to its framing. Once gutted, consider sealing the attic and/or wall framing for odor control as smoke odor can permeate wood and leave a permanent, lingering smell long after the walls and ceilings have been replaced which could necessitate gutting the structure all over again to get it right.

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