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Smoke Damage – Discover 5 Valuable Tips Save Collectibles

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I’m visiting Utah Valley and it is covered in ash and smoke damage – Here are 5 proven tips for getting help with your artwork, collectibles, memorabilia, antiques and heirlooms with valuable info on dealing with insurance claims. I am a fine art conservator which is basically someone who specializes in painting restoration. At present I am in Utah doing some work for the LDS Church on some very important murals, helping the International Pioneer Museum which belongs to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers with some follow up from the moth before and meeting private art collectors. I’m also consulted and considered an expert on saving collections and treasured memorabilia from disasters because of my book, How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster. I’ve been in the middle of 9 major disasters myself! While I am here, several deadly fires have broken out burning down homes and destroying valleys along the Wasatch Front. I feel extremely sad for the afflicted victims of this calamity.

Alpine Utah on fire! Other fires took place in Carbon County which burned an entire development of homes and also in the area of Park City but I am not sure where exactly.

As an art conservator I often deal with smoke damage in our lab where we take care of the smoke deposits and smell on artwork. (for a quick video tour Click Here). Because of this specialization, I often consult for insurance companies who handle contents claims and fine art insurance claims which include memorabilia, heirlooms, keepsakes, antiques and collectibles of value.

Here are two such examples of claims which will definitely help you learn something. I hope it teaches you how to be well prepared, particularly if you own nice collectibles, furnishings, artwork and antiques which you have kept protected with a fine arts policy. However, this piece of information is specially and perhaps more important for heirlooms, family history etc. that are irreplaceable but not insurable (little financial value but HUGE emotional or historical value).

Is Smoke Damage Possible from a Distance of 40 Miles?

I was asked to evaluate a claim by Chubb Insurance Company (now known as Chartis). They hired me to scrutinize a property in Los Angeles city to find out smoke damage to sculptures, fine art, frames, murals, decorated and gilt surfaces which were a result of brush fires that took place 2 years back, 40 miles away!

 Smoke damage Vaulted Ceiling

In the entrance there were five arched ceilings same as this one, with the exception of the crown moldings which were gold.

Clearly, more than the deposits from smoke there is dust from the past 2 years. It may have been possible to examine the “dust” with complicated analytical means to establish the difference between smoke and dust but that option was rejected as it would have cost us $1,000′s.

This gave rise to these two questions:

1. Are there any smoke deposits?

2. Do they cause any kind of damage?

As the option of analysis was rejected, it was not possible for me to detect the presence of smoke deposits with naked eyes. Therefore the first question is unanswerable. So in short, my visit was about confirming and rejecting the claims of damage due to smoke deposits.

I cautiously read the 10 pages of detailed objects which were embodied in the claim worth $500,000.00 for repairs. I was accompanied by the client throughout the property. He explained to me what he saw as concerns and damages. He even showed me some gilt finishes that according to him had changed in color due to exposure to smoke.

In my opinion the “alterations” the client was pointing at are actually different colors of actual finishes which perhaps he has forgotten or was unaware of but has come into his notice now that he is taking a closer look. And this is where many home owners make a mistake while making claims: the situation wasn’t documented properly (video, photos etc.), the damage took place sometime ago, and there is no past historical record of value (appraisals or receipts) or conditions so it comes down to the belief of the insured versus the insurance company.

After my vigilant examination of all individual objects or items (frames, paintings etc.) and finishes, I observed that there were no changes therefore this owner did not get any support from me. In this particular case, Chubb benefited from my visit as it them saved them from paying $500,000.00 worth of fine arts claim. In another case, I inspected a painting for Chubb once which was claimed for $1/2 million and let me tell you they did pay this amount as they wanted to sustain the client who had insured an enormous collection, boats, houses and other toys etc. with them. So ultimately what induces the business decision and in what way an insurance company settles claim? Well the answer is simple – “Business”.

Well, I am not concerned with any of those things. I am just an advocate for artwork and regardless of whosoever is paying for my bill, I tell it straightaway. This is what makes me a trustworthy and genuine expert witness on art related matters as well as legal testimony.

Here comes another Example… Allstate Insurance Company

As seen with all fires, they take one house here and leave the other one next door through the neighborhood. One such case was that of a Mediterranean style home. The fire damaged the house; the heat caused the cracking of patio cement but “only” filled the house with ash and smoke.

Smoke damage House Fire

Allstate Insurance which was client’s insurance company was excellent in managing the major damage. But the client’s emotional issues kept them from dealing with the items which belonged to the family history, keepsakes and collectibles right away. For this very reason, claim was kept open. In fact, they even postponed working with the company for the claim of these objects for an entire year, though the presence of smell was still there!

FACL, Inc. helped the insured and the insurance company to:

  1. Motivate the client to complete their contents claim.
  2. Provide a complete inventory list of collectibles and keepsakes, along with photos.
  3. Propose treatments which are suitable for delicate items that must not be handled by harsh industrial cleaners (rare books, artwork, drawings, photo albums, sculpture etc.)
  4. On behalf of the insurance company it provided customer service to keep the client satisfied and happy and helped in concluding the claim process (which was being dragged before we came aboard).

There were around 550 items in total ranging from different types of paper items, books, paintings, photos, statues, antiques, assorted dishes and furniture. All these objects were ingrained with residue and strong smoke smell.

FACL, Inc. supplied the reports and evaluations to help move the claim and then provided conservation work to remove the smoke deposits and odor once the agreements were settled between the insured and the insurance company. (

FACL Appraisals offered the contents/valuations and fine art appraisals when it was needed by the insurance company. (

From our experience and knowledge in lots of smoke damage claims, here are 5 important tips for you:

  1. Make sure to keep an extra copy of your family records such as owner slips, receipts, documents, certificates, appraisals, historical info etc. in a different location preferably another state. Another good idea is to store it online but be certain about the safety of personal information.
  2. Try to take action as soon as you can. Smoke and Ash decay metals (sculpture, furniture parts, frames)
  3. Speak to your insurance agent in a timely manner.
  4. Avoid commercial cleaners to handle your valuables, collectibles, artwork, antiques etc. Instead make sure to get a professional help.
  5. Never assume that you “know” it if something is damaged or destroyed. Let an expert guide you with the right info. I often see people make BIG, sad and costly mistakes all the time.

Here is a short video of a woman who was a victim of house fire:

For more examples of insurance claims, go to:

Have question? Call our Scott Haskins for free chat: 805 564 3438

For Art appraisal questions, Call Richard Holgate: 805 895 5121

Smoke damage cleaning of heirloom The owner this heirloom painting was overjoyed when he saw how cleaning brought it back to its original state after it had been damaged because of smoke.

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5 Responses to "Smoke Damage – Discover 5 Valuable Tips Save Collectibles"
  1. Ryan Ridgway says:

    What great tips! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Vanessa Gray says:

    We recently had smoke damage at my mother’s property, these tips would’ve been very helpful in maintaining her collection! Thanks for sharing, i’m sure these tips will help add invaluable knowledge and help others in the future

  3. Blaine says:

    Great Tips! Appreciate it

  4. Jenny says:

    Wow, i never would’ve suspected an insurance claim to be brought forth from smoke 40 miles away! Very interesting 🙂

  5. Judith Frank says:

    You have a very interesting career! I would love to travel around and assess and restore fine art. Congrats 🙂 – Judith

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