On May 17, 2010 at 9:35am, our basement de-humidifier caught fire.  If I had not been home, and if our basement smoke alarm had not alerted me, the fire inspector assured me that both our home and our dog would have been “toast.”

This traumatic experience had me asking the question “Why us?” and the answer seems to be so that I can share information with you that may someday save your lives and homes.

Most importantly, de-humidifiers frequently cause fires according to the fire inspector.  He suggests that all de-humidifiers be replaced every three years, no matter what.  Ours was just over seven years old, was a top-of-the-line unit from Sears (Kenmore manufactured by LG) and had actually been serviced halfway through its life (who services a de-humidifier, right?)  The fire inspector also suggested that de-humidifiers should be on a timer (similar to that used for lights while you are on vacation) so that they are forced to shut off on a regular basis, allowing the engine time to cool off.

Although our fire was relatively minor (fire and water damage was limited to the basement), the smoke damage was substantial and impacted all three floors of our home.  The clean-up and restoration of our home caused us to live in a hotel for almost two months while the contractors worked to restore our home.  The amount of stress that we experienced as a result of a fairly small fire was considerable and the interruption in our daily lives was significant.

I hope that you never have a fire in your home and I would like to share some tips to hopefully help prevent one.  We have all heard fire safety tips many times but please, be patient with me and hear them one more time.

  • Install both smoke and CO detectors on all floors of your home (including the attic and the basement) and replace the batteries at least once a year (easiest to do when the clocks are set back/forward.)
  • Provide escape ladders in each bedroom on every floor in case a fire blocks the normal exit.
  • Replace de-humidifiers every three years and always run them on a timer.  Unplug them when going on vacation.
  • Review escape plans and options with your family and designate a meeting place outside the home so that you’ll know that everyone is safe.
  • Candles and space heaters can be serious fire hazards so never leave them unattended.

Another aspect to consider in a loss is the type of insurance coverage that you have.  Most of us try to save money on insurance premiums, which is fine until you have a fire or other loss.  We were lucky to have had Chubb’s replacement cost insurance, but the process was time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes very emotional.  Please review your policy with your insurance agent and ask about your insurer’s track record on settling claims.

We decided to use the services of a public adjuster, an advocate for your rights under the insurance policy.  There are restoration issues that we would never have raised and benefits that we would not have received if we had not hired a public adjuster.  These experts work only for you, and receive a percentage of your total claim as payment.  The insurance company tries to minimize the amount that is paid for your loss and may not consider all of your needs.  The public adjuster can not only help you obtain the maximum payment but they also remove some of the stress of negotiating with a large insurance company by assisting you in understanding the nuances of the claims process and intervening on your behalf to get you the best outcome possible.  After our fire, our lives were dramatically changed and dealing with an adversarial situation such as negotiating our claim would have been very difficult without the public adjuster’s assistance.

Gwendolynn A. Van der Zyppe
Gwendolynn A. Van der Zyppe
635 Valley Road Montclair NJ 07043