If you’ve suffered through a fire in your home and you need to make a fire insurance claim, your policy is the first place you should look for information. It contains everything you need to know about your coverage limits, deductibles, responsibilities, and more. But insurance policies can be hard to understand.

It helps to know what you should expect during the home insurance claim process and what your policy will actually cover.

Should You Hire Help?

When you initiate a claim with your insurance provider, they will assign the claim to an insurance adjuster. It’s their job to assess your losses and recommend a settlement to the provider. They may work directly for the insurer or they may be a third-party, but they are paid by the insurer.

You have the option of working with a home insurance lawyer who represents your interests and assists you with your claim. They can help you keep on top of paperwork, deadlines, and negotiating with the insurer if you feel their settlement offer is insufficient.

Whether or not you should hire help depends on a few factors:

  • If you have suffered a significant or total loss, the money at stake is substantial, and any mistakes in filing your claim can be costly.
  • If you feel as though the offer made is insufficient or unfair. While it helps to hire an insurance lawyer early in the process, that doesn’t mean you can’t still get help negotiating with the insurer once they’ve made an offer.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the work involved in making a claim, or you feel you don’t understand the policy, an insurance lawyer can make the process much less stressful.

What Will Your Insurance Cover?

An insurance settlement is not a windfall. It is not a way to upgrade your home or belongings or perform what should be regular maintenance. Your settlement should cover most of the costs of rebuilding your home, replacing your belongings, and living elsewhere while your home is undergoing repairs.

There are three main sections of coverage that are evaluated separately by the adjuster. They have their own coverage limits and deductibles.

Structure / Dwelling

The cost of fire and smoke damage repair ranges widely depending on the extent of the damage done to your home. While a total loss will mean your home has to be rebuilt entirely, even a partial loss can take months of work and tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

The Structure / Dwelling section of your home insurance policy covers the cost of restoring the building itself and potentially external structures such as a shed or detached garage as well. It covers things like the cost to repair the interior and exterior of the home, flooring, rooftop, foundation, etc.

However, it will not cover expenses like property taxes and mortgage payments that will still have to be paid (though your mortgage lender may have policies in place that will help you recover).

Personal Property / Contents

A separate section of your policy covers lost and damaged personal property. This refers to any belongings that were inside your home or on the property. For example:

  • Furniture
  • Clothing and linens
  • Electronics
  • Media (DVDs, records, books, etc)
  • Artwork
  • Food

Certain items, such as fine art and jewelry, may be subject to individualized limits and may require additional coverage in order to insure their full value. Make sure to consult your policy to determine if special limits apply.

This section provides funds for you to replace your belongings. You will have to complete a Schedule of Loss: an exhaustive list of all your belongings and as much information as you can provide about them, such as where they were purchased and how much they cost.

Some issues to watch out for in this section include undervaluation and over-depreciation.

Additional Living Expenses

Finally, there are the expenses that come with finding somewhere else to live while your home is restored. Not only does this section cover expenses such as the cost of staying in a hotel or finding a temporary rental, but it can also be used to claim expenses such as additional transportation costs, food above your usual expenditure, and costs related to storage and moving.

Only additional expenses are covered. For example, if you typically spend $200 a week on groceries as a family, but that cost increases to $400 for a week because you’re relying on takeout without the use of a kitchen, the difference can be claimed.

Be prepared when you make a fire insurance claim. Know what to expect and what your policy actually covers.