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Smoke Odor From Fire Damage

How To Think With Smoke Odors

Entering any home that has been burned is upsetting; entering into your own home and seeing your personal belongings disheveled, blackened and buried in debris is a shock that one does not easily recover from.

Suddenly your nicely organized and well cared for home is a mess. Your freshly painted walls are now black, and your knickknacks, clothing and furniture are unrecognizable.

But the one thing that stands out more then any other is that the odor from the smoke is pungent. Even after you leave the home you will still smell it. You will, if you spend an extended time in the home, have to shower and wash all of the clothes you were wearing to get rid of the smell.

Our job as we see it is to get you back into your home in its original condition or better. As part of that, along with the freshly painted walls and new carpets, is getting rid of the smoke smell.

Heavy smoke damage in the bathroom of a home in Redwood City

Smoke: What You Need To Know

When confronting smoke odors there are a number of different problems that you will run into.

The first thing to know is that the smell is so overwhelming because it is on everything. So the first thing to do is to remove all personal belongings out of the area that was burned. If your whole house burned, it would mean removing all personal belongings from the home. Clothes, pots and pans, art, furniture, linens, etc. Since all of these items are probably insured, you do this in coordination with your adjuster. Hard surfaces like pots and pans can simply be cleaned. Clothing can be dry cleaned but they may not be able to remove the smoke odor. Furniture, if the smoke wasn’t too heavy, can possibly be cleaned but this would need to be done without delay or it will get into the stuffing and no amount of cleaning seems to get that out.

The next thing to know is that smoke is basically a gas that has particles suspended in it. Being a gas, it can go anywhere that air goes. What can be missed is that a home has an air circulation pattern that includes wall cavities. This circulation pattern can change depending on whether it is warmer or colder outside, or in the attic, and it can also depend on which way the wind is blowing and buffeting the home. When there is a fire, the heat expands the air and forces smoke into all the nooks and crannies of the home including light switches, electrical sockets, behind the base board, under the hardwood floor, into the attic, into cabinets, etc.

Light Smoke Damage in a Bedroom in San Jose. Notice the darker halo on the ceiling above the heat register, this indicates that smoke got into the heating system.

The contractor working on your home has to know this information. If he doesn't, after the repair is completed, you may still smell smoke on certain occasions, such as during weather or wind changes. This makes smoke odor seem like a phantom; it seemingly appears from nowhere and then vanishes.

An experienced contractor knows how to figure out where the smoke might have gone. He also knows that he may find other areas that have been damaged by the smoke in the course of rebuilding your home. Most importantly he knows that nothing is certain until there is no more odor.

When it comes to the actual structure of the home, framing and drywall, smoke can be cleaned off and then painted over. This is the customary way of handling smoke on a structure, it is effective and proven successful over many years of use. The tricky part is getting to the structure. Much of the drywall wall that is taken down in a home is only taken down to get to the framing hidden behind the drywall that smells of smoke and needs to be painted.

Third, the type of surfaces the smoke is on can be absorbent or non-absorbent. Meaning the smoke can be wiped off easily the material needs to be professionally cleaned (like dry cleaning), or in the worst case scenario the item would not be recoverable. Carpets are usually not salvageable if heavily affected by smoke; insulation is not salvageable and very absorbent of smoke.

As a property owner this can cause one to spin. It is bad enough that you have to look at all your personal belongings in disarray if not destroyed, but then to have to determine what is salvageable and what can be cleaned.

When working with untrained people some will always say everything has to be removed, and others will always say that everything can be cleaned. Both suffer from the same lack of understanding of how homes function and how to clean smoke. Both make trouble for the property owner and shouldn’t be listened to.

For these reasons smoke damage is best handled by professionals that not only know how to remove smoke from surfaces but also understand all of the nuances of a building.

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