When we inspect buildings (homes or commercial properties) it’s not unusual that we might come across evidence that a house fire has taken place, sometimes to the surprise of both homeowner and their real estate agent. One need only look at the Fire Statistics from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office to realize the impact fires have.
In part, this can be due to the fact that remedial work has taken place that is not readily apparent. Other times, the affected areas are simply painted (sometimes with a “silver” coloured paint) to prevent smoke odours from permeating throughout. Some areas however remain untouched after a fire, for example, in an attic (see left picture) or in unfinished basement areas (see right picture) as they are tucked away in a location that is not frequently accessed or simply difficult to get at.
So it begs a number of questions after the discovery of a fire, or our suspicion that a fire has taken place, for example:
- to what extent did that fire have on the building?
- what remedial action may have taken place (if any) e.g. behind the finished walls and ceilings?
- did the fire get extinguished early on causing only smoke damage?
- was the structural integrity of the building compromised?
Quite often, answers to these questions cannot be ascertained by a visual inspection. While we might suspect that a fire has transpired at some point, additional information from the vendor or other additional sources such as the Fire Marshall’s office or insurance company will be needed to learn more about when the fire took place, the extent of the house fire and any remedial work that was carried out to the building. Depending on the severity of the fire (or what’s remaining after the fire that’s been corrected or not) you may require an evaluation by a structural engineer. Charred wood (e.g. roof rafters, floors joists) is not necessarily all bad nor does it need to be replaced in all instances. In fact, charring wood can make it more resistant to fire in the future and preserve its structural integrity. However, when sufficient amounts of the wood have been burnt away, it does require additional bracing / support or replacement.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t add: please make sure you have up to date working smoke alarms in your home. Generally, it’s recommended to have one per level and one per bedroom.
If you are considering buying a building that’s been in a fire, own one that has or are simply unsure if there has been one, protect yourself…get it inspected.