It is said that rebuilding a building no matter the reason for the rebuilding, is always the same. The building codes are not different and the engineering is the same. So why then is it so important to hire a contractor who specializes in rebuilding a home that has been damaged by fire?
First, fire affects building structures in very unique ways. Much of the damage is hidden from view and despite my 20 + years of experience in this specialty I am daily amazed in the way that fire can damage a structure. In wood framing there is an expectation from the engineers that the materials that were used are a specific size. Fire can very easily eat away at the wood framing making it under sized and invalidating the engineering of the home in general. I have see a seemingly relatively undamaged 4 x 12 with a small hole drilled through it that from one side look completely undamaged but from the other side have ½ of the thickness (2 inches) completely burned away. The fire went through the hole and ignited some material on the other side of the hole acting not unlike a blow torch then burned away the wood on the other side.
Aside from the wood framing a home is really many different systems that work together to create an environment that you can live in comfortably. How does fire affect a heating system, electrical system and or the plumbing?? Insulation windows and drywall all of these systems are affected differently by the fire, and the resulting heat and smoke.
As complex as all of that sounds, factually that is the easy part. What about the insurance companies? Or the adjusters? The amount of complexity that these institutions add to a claim could not be overstated. In most cases adjuster have no real experience in any of the trades. By real experience I mean actually ran a company that actually built homes or repaired them. I have seen “estimators” who then trained to be adjusters but not one successful contractor that I know of has left his profession to become a claims adjuster.
The average contractor walking into a large fire would very quickly become overwhelmed by the detail expected of him in the estimating process and the adjuster some how feels empowered by his ability to list thousands of different items in the smallest detail yet the price in the end may not in any way represent the true cost of rebuilding the home. The tool that the adjuster uses to create this confusion is an “estimating software” that is specially made for the insurance industry. There are many different ones “Xactimate®” and “Simplicity®” are two of the more popular ones.
As I said earlier this software is made for the insurance industry and in at least one case is owned by a conglomerate of insurance companies. It uses a surveyed price list that in some case can be very accurate and in others be completely wrong. This software is not made for contractors and no contractor would use it if it was not demanded of him to do so. But it can break a house down to the most minute parts anyone ever heard of. It is kind of mind numbing to use. This fine detail gives a false impression of accuracy.
But providing an accurate estimate is only part of the process, there is also getting the adjuster to understand it and agree to it. This is no simple cycle and in fact can be the most difficult. Further since much of the potential damage is likely hidden in the walls, behind cabinets or under insulation the contractor must be adroit in providing the insurance adjuster with supplemental estimates and documentation while the job is in progress without delaying the job. The purpose after all is to get the property owner back into their home as quickly as possible and their life back together.
Sterling General Construction has been handling small, medium, large and very large fire losses for well over 25 years and not only is very aware of the pitfalls that can come from the many different factors that surround such a project but has a proven track record of getting the project through the insurance company and the property owner back into their home.