Having a fire in your building can be catastrophic, even when the initial incident is minor. The damage done to your building by the fire, smoke, and the water and chemicals used to treat it can often be significantly greater than many people realize.
While a fire may be contained to a small area, more damage may be done by smoke escaping the scene of the fire, as well as by the treatment of both the smoke and the fire. Even when the building is still structurally sound after the fire has been put out, the damage and restoration may be costly, and may prevent you from re-entering or using the building again in a timely way, costing you even more in lost productivity. Thankfully, there are ways that you can avoid many of these issues before they occur, circumventing the damage and preventing the spread of fire and smoke throughout your building, as well as the costs that they can incur.
Average Fire and Smoke Damage Restoration Costs
According to nationally collected data, the average costs associated with restoring a building after a fire are around $52 per hour, with minor fires costing between $7,000 and $25,000 for 1,000 square feet and major fire damage costs between $21,000 and $70,000 for the same amount of space.
While some damage is unavoidable, such as the yellowing of plastics and highly porous materials like marble while the fire is raging and actively putting out smoke, a lot of damage actually occurs after the fire is out. According to the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), within hours of the fire being extinguished, fiberglass, metals, and appliances will also become discolored from contact with the smoke.
A few days after the fire is out, walls will be permanently yellowed, while wood and metal furnishings will begin to corrode and will need extensive restoration. If the smoke damage is not corrected, within weeks of the fire, carpeting will discolor permanently, while things like silver, crystal, and glass will exhibit extensive pitting and damage from the smoke. At this point, the damage done to materials begins to increase dramatically, along with the associated costs of restoration.
Owing to the fact that smoke can spread so quickly during a fire, and most buildings will be closed to anyone attempting to gain entry until long after the fire is out, it’s often days or even weeks before restoration can begin.
The longer the smoke and soot remain on surfaces throughout the building, the more damage that is being done, even after the fire itself has been put out. Therefore, the restoration costs after a fire can only continue to grow, even in the event of a minor fire if it’s not given the immediate attention it needs.
Because many buildings and businesses may need to wait on repairs owing to insurance concerns, smoke damage can actually be much worse than the initial fire in terms of expense.
The best way to avoid these extensive costs and the lengthy restoration that is often required is to prevent the spread of both fire and smoke whenever possible, containing it to the initial area where it appeared, and localizing the damage.
The Speed of Smoke and Fire
Smoke and fire often begin in a very small way. Sparks and small smoldering flames are often the first signs of a fire, and may begin to spread even before things like smoke alarms have a chance to register their presence.
It takes just over one minute from the time of the first flame for smoke to fill the room where the fire is. In just under three minutes, the smoke cover will be so great that the smoke will begin to travel to other rooms through any means possible.
In fact, according to the FDNY, just three minutes after the fire has begun it becomes significantly more difficult to combat. The fire and smoke will begin to find avenues through the building making it more deadly for occupants, and harder for firefighters to fight.
Smoke causes the bulk of the damage during a fire, and in many cases most fire prevention devices such as sprinkler systems will not contain the smoke and fire quickly enough to prevent its spread to other areas within the building. Elevator shafts and stairwells are particularly susceptible to the spread of smoke, as well as the interior of walls and vents.
By the time flames are visible throughout a building – within 5 minutes – it is often too late for sprinklers to help in a significant way, as well as too late for occupants to escape. At this point, if the flames and smoke were not confined to the area they began in, fire and smoke damage costs and casualties will only continue to grow.
Preventing Fire and Smoke Damage Costs
Simply installing standard methods of putting out a fire isn’t enough to avoid the full costs of fire and smoke damage restoration. With smoke able to travel quickly to other rooms and areas of the building in less than three minutes, the most effective way to prevent smoke damage is to contain it in the room where the fire began.
Smoke is the biggest factor in the cost of restoration, with fire and water damage tied for second place. Proper fire and smoke planning and prevention means including both smoke containment and fire extinguishing devices in your building design and planning.
Fire and smoke curtains can help keep smoke and flames in the location they begin, and prevent them from spreading to other areas of the building where they can do more harm. Smoke curtains should be installed in vulnerable areas where flames and smoke are most likely to travel, including elevators, stairwells, atriums, doorways, and vents.
Smoke curtains are unobtrusive, and can be installed discreetly at the top of the opening where they can be deployed either manually or automatically in the event of a fire.
Proper fire and smoke containment will make it easier for firefighters to find and put out the flames, and prevent the spread of the damage to other areas of the building.
Smoke curtains alone can significantly lower the restoration costs associated with a fire. Used with other fire blocking devices, they can help buildings recover faster from a fire, helping businesses get back to work and minimizing losses in productivity and capital.
Avoid Fire and Smoke Damage Restoration Costs
The costs associated with fire and smoke damage are tremendous. If you’re only taking steps to put out a fire, you aren’t doing enough to protect your building from the damage and associated costs of fire and the accompanying smoke.
Invest in fire and smoke curtains today to help contain the spread of fire and smoke and to lower the costs of restoration. This small investment can pay off significantly in the event of fire by preventing the type of escalating damage often associated with these disasters. Don’t wait to find out what a potential fire could cost your business; install smoke and fire curtains beforehand to stop the damage ahead of time.