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October 15, 2020

How A Fire Nearby Or Even Miles Away Can Damage Your Home

While Virginia is not facing the catastrophic wildfires that are overwhelming western states, brushfires, fires at other homes or nearby properties, and even fire pit blazes too close to your HVAC system can cause significant damage. Chances are if you can smell smoke in your home or see it near your house, ash, soot, and smoke have entered your HVAC system.

House on fire with flames and smoke drifing toward home next doorAfter a recent California wildfire was put out, the smoke and ash from it had already damaged an HVAC system miles away. Insurance appraisers discovered that soot and ash had coated the condensing unit and entered the blower and ductwork, causing the system to malfunction.

In Virginia last year, a homeowner returned from work one day to find that an extensive fire had occurred at the home next door. The heat, smoke, and ash from that fire caused a failure in the homeowner’s outdoor unit, but not until weeks after the event. It was only when a repairman came to fix it that the damage was discovered. The unit did not need to be replaced, just some parts, but it was an inconvenience, and the uncertainty of future issues was raised.

On average, 50% of the time, this sort of damage does not require a full system replacement because electrical components and refrigerant levels aren’t usually affected. But costly cleaning of components and ductwork may result, and some systems may require switching out the furnace and ductwork if cleaning isn’t sufficient.

Ash, soot, and smoke

The large and tiny particles produced by a fire can travel miles from the source and be pulled into your home through your HVAC unit. Air filters will help trap larger particles, but a clogged filter cannot remove as much debris and this forces the blower to work harder.

Coils in the condensing unit can also become clogged and coated to the point that the compressor motor starts to malfunction.

Smoke, soot, and ash will cling to ductwork as well, restricting airflow and lessening the lifespan of your HVAC system.

What to do

If a fire occurs near your home, replace your filters immediately. Vacuum all intake and return air registers, and clean with a damp cloth if needed.

You may not see it, but soot will settle on your walls, flat surfaces, upholstery, and curtains. If you dust your furniture and see a black residue coming up, you’ll want to do a thorough cleaning of your home to limit the circulation of the microparticles.

Condenser coils can be easily washed with a hose, but not a pressure washer. Condenser cleaning solutions will make the process easier, and there are fin and coil cleaning brushes you can use to gently loosen the settled ash and soot.

Ductwork, evaporator coils, and blowers should be cleaned. This requires the removal of parts and the use of specialized equipment, so it is best performed by a professional.

Insurance coverage

Your standard home insurance policy should cover this sort of damage if it occurs, with your deductible applied. If you are not a Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia member, you will want to check with your insurance provider to make sure.