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Fire damaged home - electrical cord under carpet (C) Daniel Friedman Fire Damaged Buildings
Fire damage assessment, repair & prevention for homes & other buildings

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Building fire damage:

Fire damage assessment, fire damage repair priorities, fire damage minimization. This fire damage home page provides links to in-depth articles on a variety of building defects, systems, or components that are associated with extra risk of fire; we also discuss fire damage assessment.

This article series also discusses how fire damage and mold damage might be related in a building. In a separate article we also discuss problems of wildfire damage risks to homes and how to minimize the risk of wildfire damage.

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Fire Damaged Buildings: assessment, safe building entry

Our photo at page top shows a Rhinebeck NY home that was destroyed by fire caused by an electrical cord that had been run beneath the carpeting.

Scope of Building Fire Damage, & Comparing Fire Damage to Buildings with Mold Damage

Chimney fire damage to a home (C) Daniel Friedman Photograph of  severe roof structure damage from an unattended roof valley leak in a historic home.

Our fire damage photographs above show two different extents of fire damage in the roof and attic of a New York home. Below we discuss damage and mold contamination questions following a fire in two different structures.

Article Series Contents

How Should Previous Fire-Damage Be Reported to a Home Owner or Home Buyer?

Building fire damage in boiler room (C) InspectApedia.com Dovber Kahn

Question: this home suffered a fire - what should be reported?

I inspected a home earlier today and the exposed joists in the boiler room (should be covered with fire rated materials) was charred. The areas which i pocked at seemed that damage was just on the surface.

There were also signs of fire damage in the home's attic.

Per listing agent the fire occured prior to current owner occupancy.

Beyond making a request to the present home sellers that they get more details from the owner of the home at the time of the fire and a suggestion to to consult with local building department regarding history of damage and documented measure of repairs taken, what other questions should a home owner or buyer of this home pursue?

Reply:

The request for information about who did what regarding repairs to prior fire damage that you suggest is important and useful.

In my experience, however, the depth of information that may be on file at a local building department concerning post-fire repairs may vary considerably from one building code enforcement jurisdiction to another.

An inspection report, such as a home inspection for an owner or buyer, concerning a building where there is evidence of a prior fire should make several points very clear in order to protect the building occupants and owners from a costly or dangerous surprise.

Fire damage and repairs in building attic (C) Inspectapedia.com Dovber KahnThe responsibility of the inspector, even if that person cannot complete the fire damage/repair assessment includes at least the following:

  1. There is evidence of a previous building fire and, presumably repairs to that damage
  2. The full extent of damage and repair cannot be given by a normal condition-of-property inspection, such as a pre-purchase home inspection report, and some additional information gathering and possibly also some additional property assessment are in order.

    We do not asset that the following warning topics mean that the buiding requires additional repair work, but these are topics for which an owner or buyer should be informed and alert. Ideally the records and receipts for post-fire repairs will address all of these and other site conditions affected by a fire.
  3. Structure: When there has been a building fire the substantial question is whether or not adequate repairs and renovations were made afterwards.

    Watch out: beyond the obvious concern with the extent of fire damage to wood structural members (and sheathing), post-fire assessment must consider as well the condition of structural connectors.

    Following a fire some structural connectors, such as metal truss plates and epoxied bolts or other framing connectors, may be damaged by the heat of fire or by post-fire corrosion following heat, loss of galvanized coatings, and water or other chemicals used to extinguish the fire.

    In addition, modern glulam or LVL timbers may have been weakened by the effects of heat on their binder or glue even when the members don't look charred to the naked eye. (Avent 1984) (Buchanan 1994)

    All connections will require detailed inspection to assess their loadbearing capacity. in his discussion of large fire-damaged timbers, Williamson (1982a) notes that the effect of fire on the strength of any connection is very difficult to determine without a thorough investigation of the affected connection, since the amount of damage is dependent on the quantity of metal and the surface contact of metal with fire along with other factors.

    There may also be possible chemical damage from the corrosive effects of fire residues. Metal roof supports, ceilings, and other structural members are vulnerable to long-term acid attack from fire residues (King 2002).

    Exposed metal connections provide a means for heat conduction into the wood (Fuller et al. 1992),
    ... - US FPL cited in detail below.
  4. Roofing: if a fire originating inside the building interior did not burn through roof but if the roof covering, such as asphalt shingles, was heated to a high temperature, the roof covering may have been damaged and may have a reduced remaining life.
  5. Electrical system: Records may show that some or all electrical wiring was replaced within in area of the fire and areas exposed to high heat - or perhaps not.

    There is a more hidden risk that could be serious if not addressed. Heat exposure, for example, can damage electrical wire insulation, making it less safe in the future.

    Similarly, heat-damaged devices, receptacles, switches, AFCIs, GFCIs, circuit breakers, or other electrical controls may leave them looking normal but nevertheless unreliable and thus unsafe.
  6. Mechanical system: The same questions pertain for heating and air conditioning equipment, pumps, motors, and appliances, as raised above.
  7. Plumbing system: heat-damaged plastic supply or drain piping, if not replaced, may be at greater risk of a future break, leak, and water-related damage.
  8. Mold contamination: as we discuss at FIRE RELATED MOLD CONTAMINATION, the spread of water used in the extinguishment of a fire or of rain or melting snow and ice post-fire if a building's roof and exterior were damaged, can lead to mold contamination in building ceiling, wall, or floor cavities that were wet even if they were nowhere near the actual fire.
  9. Smoke Damage & Odor Issues: may remain in the building even after its structure and other components have been repaired and replaced. Fire-damage restoration companies can offer help in finding, cleaning, removing, or sealing materials giving a remaining smoke or fire odor problem.

An inspection report that fails to make an effort to make the client understand the concerns and what to do about them would not be living up to the standard of public trust that pertains to home inspectors, engineers, architects, and other building professionals.

Fireplace in Poughkeepsie NY (C) Daniel Friedman at InspectApedia.comAs one can read in the articles I cite below, even an experienced and trained licensed professional engineer ultimately is going to have to use her experience and judgement to form an opinion about fire damage to building components.

While there procedural guidelines, as the articles I cite suggest, even a engineer experienced in wood frame construction can't use standard tables or measures to evaluate fire-damaged wood - those members in that condition don't appear in framing span tables.

And in-situ strength testing of fire damaged structural beams, studs, joists, etc. to determine their point of failure is simply not feasible.

So an intelligent eye and mind applied to the situation by an experienced inspector can be credible in forming useful observations about conditions in a fire-damaged wood-frame structure.

I attach below two US FPL articles that confirm the view that the structural integrity of lightly-charred solid wood members is usually not compromised.

If probing finds only very superficial charring on wood structural members and if there is no evidence of sagging, breaking, etc. they're probably OK; often we can note that some members were already replaced and others left in place, suggesting that a contractor made a decision, at the time of the work, on which needed replacement.

A separate question, discussed at PYROLYSIS EXPLAINED, is whether or not heat-exposed wood materials have henceforth a lowered point of combustion and thus lower future fire-resistance.

Wood Structure Fire Damage Assessment

Zones of structural condition in fire damaged structural wood at InspectApedia.com adapted from the original US FPL article cited in detail in this article. This illustration shows the various zones in fire-damaged structural wood members, adapted from the US FPL article cited in detail just below.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Post-Building Fire Mold Contamination

This discussion about when, where, how and why a building may become mold contaminated following a building fire has moved to FIRE RELATED MOLD CONTAMINATION

Wildfire Damage Prevention Advice for Homeowners

This topic has moved to its own page at WILDFIRE DAMAGE PREVENTION for HOMES - Recommendations about Trees, Shrubs, other Vegetation around the building to reduce wildfire damage risks

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Or see FIRE DAMAGED BUILDING ASSESSMENT & REPAIR FAQs - questions & answers posted originally on this page.

Or see these

Building Fire Damage Assessment & Prevention Articles

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FIRE DAMAGED BUILDINGS, ASSESSMENT, REPAIR at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to BUILDING DAMAGE, DISASTER, REPAIRS

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