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Q. Most restoration contractors seem to concentrate on water damage work. Fire and smoke might be neglected and be an opportunity for me. What should I consider if I wish to diversify into this field?
These projects normally include all of the challenges involved with water restoration projects, as fires are normally extinguished with water, plus there are typically more structural repairs.
In addition, the full service restoration contractor must be able to handle their finances efficiently as fire restoration projects can last for an extended period of time.
It’s not easy, but can be quite profitable.
First, let’s consider some of the financial aspects of this. Employees, subcontractors and vendors typically demand payment before the job is completed. Complete payment for the fire restoration work can take weeks — or longer — to receive after the project is completed.
Second, there is the competition. Because in recent years there has been a reduction in the number of construction projects, construction contractors have entered the restoration business. The contractor normally has a good working knowledge of building science and can handle fire jobs. Because of the nature of contracting, new construction contractors are familiar with working on low-level profit margins.
And third, the level of damage and the repairs can be subjective. Does a material retain a malodor after the fire? People have different sensitivities to odors. Fire damage and its evil sibling, smoke damage, can be hidden from those that fail to thoroughly investigate the structure.
Failure by the fire restoration contractor to control or eliminate odor will lead to frustrated customers and potential legal and financial pitfalls for the contractor.
All that being said, with training — and the right business management components in place — you can make this a profitable division for you.
While there are several aspects of getting into fire and smoke that can’t be considered in this single article, here are a few more to analyze.
A successful fire restoration project begins with good communication among the contractor, the customer and the insurance company's representative.
Agreement on what has been damaged by the fire, or the scope of the loss, is vital for the successful completion of the fire restoration project.
Control of the fire's odor and potentially hazardous gasses released by the fire residue should be one of the first orders of business. Smoke and fire residue are potentially carcinogenic.
There are several different approaches to controlling these odors. Certainly one of the most effective means of odor control is to remove the source of the odor. Selective demolition of materials that cannot be restored should be done as early as possible during the restoration project.
Depending upon the extent of the fire damage, the contractor may need to build containment to assist in smoke residue and odor control. A training class specific to this is highly recommended.
The breadth of the skill set should also include dealing with people who are dealing with an extremely emotionally and psychologically stressful situation.
Industry sources estimate that 60 percent of homeowners are underinsured by 22 percent. Along with seeing their home and personal belongings damaged or destroyed, the insured may have to find temporary housing or workspace.
If the insured does not have enough coverage to repair or replace fire damaged goods and surfaces, the situation can become volatile.
As with any new business venture, analyze and plan it carefully, and success will be much easier to achieve.
— answer submitted by Bill Weigand