Smoke Damage on Art, Collectibles, Heirlooms and Antiques – Tips For Making An Insurance Claim – Smoke Damaged Oil Painting

This article is by guest blogger Charles out of Orange, CA who is an “Expert Broker” or “Independant Adjuster” for insurance companies who need to find the right people for the right job. I asked Charles to write about this subject given the “journey” he just sent me on to look in on a widow out in St. George, Utah who had a fire and lots of smoke damage. You will benefit greatly by following his advice. His tips are “gold.”

Scott M. Haskins

Utah fires

Canyon fires in Utah Valley filled the valley with smoke and ash

Smoke Damage on Collectibles, Heirlooms and Antiques – Tips For Making An Insurance Claim

This article will help you discover a few valuable tips for making a successful insurance claim for damaged artwork, antiques, memorabilia, heirlooms and collectibles etc. which are exposed to smoke. I am a professional fine art insurance claims expert and I broker the expert services needed by the insurance companies to settle their claims. I’m going to share with you some insights from working on a couple of cases that will give you the inside info.

I work with art conservators all the time who work on smoke damaged items in their art conservation labs (Click Here for a quick video tour). I am often hired by insurance companies which deal with fine art claims. My job is to assess smoke damage to heirlooms, collectibles, antiques, keepsakes and memorabilia etc. when the owners of these articles file a claim. I’ve traveled as far as 1000 miles to loom over damage and help settle the claim on smoke damage.

Below are two smoke damage fine arts policy cases I handled. I hope this throws some light on ways to protect your collectibles and to look ahead at how you can be prepared in order to make appropriate claims if needs be. Those who collect and love their antiques, delicate furnishing, collectibles, family history and heirlooms etc. will for sure benefit from this article.

Chartis Asks: Is Smoke Damage Possible From 40 miles Away?

A short time ago I was asked to evaluate the fine finishes (gilding) and the artwork in an important estate in Los Angeles which claimed over $1/2 million damage. The prestigious property had a policy with Chartis (previously known as Chubb Insurance Company) and filed a claim for smoke damage to their frames, sculptures, fine arts, murals and gilt surfaces etc. due to the smoke from a fire that took place 40 miles away and 2 years previously! Chartis assigned me to assess whether the articles were actually damaged by smoke or not.

In this case it was obvious that over the past two years lots of dust particles had settled on these articles as compared to possible smoke deposits from 2 years back thereby contaminating the possible evidence. (one important tip, don’t wait but file the claim while the event is recent for the best considerations and handling of your claim, Another tip: document the irrefutable damage as soon as it happens.. it will be your proof!). With the help of expensive scientific analysis, the amount of dust deposits and smoke could have been estimated separately. But, they asked me to drop the test as it would have cost them more than a $1000. And if many multiples of test sampled had been required the analysis could have been many $1,000s. In any case, I had an art conservator to come in an give me back up for a thorough inspection.

Smoke damage?

In the entry, there were 5 vaulted ceilings similar to this one, except the crown moldings were in gold leaf.

I read the fine art insurance claim documentation very carefully which included 10 pages of detailed descriptions about the different items and finishes which were claimed to have been subjected to smoke deposits and corrosion. As I walked through the house inspecting the items, the claimant gave me the red carpet tour of the entire estate and explained to me the damages which he had noticed. According to him the gilt finishes had suffered a change in color due to smoke but, I didn’t agree with his argument. Besides the gilt items being coated with a protected lacquer, the finish’s surfaces appeared to simply vary in their types of finishes and I did not consider them as alterations.

Perhaps the owner had forgotten the appearances of the various finishes in the house and now was noticing details for the first time with the closer inspections? This kind of confusion is pretty common in claims for damage. This becomes a topic for debate between the claimant and the insurance company.

In the end, I was not in favor of the claimant’s point of view. After careful inspection of all articles and their finishes I completed my report stating clearly that there were no alterations in the colors and finishes. Therefore Chubb Insurance Company didn’t pay out on this fine arts damage claim.

In another case, however, Chubb faced another claim worth $500K for a painting damaged in storage. After checking the painting thoroughly I recommended Chubb not allow the claim. But still, the company immediately paid the claim to the claimant. Later I realized that the claimant was a major customer to the company and had plenty of collections, properties, toys and boats etc. insured with them. This incident showed that as per their business interests and not merely on their principles, the insurance companies may disallow or settle the claims. (Tip: Having all your insurance needs handled by the same company may give you leverage when it comes to a settlement)

However, such business decisions are not really my problem. My duty is to report back on the actual conditions of the claims accurately and I do this as an advocate of the artwork. I do not alter my opinion based on who is paying me (the insurance company, or the claimant). This gives me credibility as an expert witness on art related matters and when I have to appear as a legal testimony in court.

Next Example: Allstate Insurance Company

In this incident of smoke damage, the insurance company did everything possible, voluntarily to help their customer with this claim.

As you may be aware, huge fast moving fires can be very fickle and sometimes consume one house while leaving the house next to it. Such was the case with this family’s house. While the fire burned everything all around the house, it “only” filled the house with heavy smoke.

In this case, the Allstate Insurance set an example for all the other insurance companies as to how they should act with the intention of protecting the client’s interests. As the victims were under mental stress and trauma, these policy holders were unable to file the smoke damage claim for their collectibles, family history items and keepsakes, heirlooms, etc. Even after a whole year passed they had not yet filed a claim. Still, the insurance company kept all options open and was waiting for them to address the issues of family keepsakes.

As an expert in the preservation and saving of treasured family items from smoke damage I brought in Scott M. Haskins, author of “How To Save Your Stuff From A Disaster” and owner of  Fine Art Conservation Laboratories (FACL, Inc.).  His company acted as the coordinator between the claimants and the insurance company. They gave all the possible help to the affected people in preparing their claims. They helped the client prepare a complete list of keepsakes and collectibles together with photographs and helped them to complete the claim making procedure. They also recommended special treatments for articles such as drawings, sculpture, photo albums, rare books and artworks etc. which must never be cleaned with industrial products. They made a list of around 550 various items including photos, paintings, antiques, books, furniture and statues etc. All these objects were damaged by smoke.

FACL Inc. performed the evaluation and gave the report and assessment to help file the claim. Once the formalities were completed between the insured and the insurance company, they helped the claimants in the conservation of articles by getting rid of the smoke smell & deposits.

FACL Appraisals also provided the contents valuations & fine art appraisals of the items when these were required by the insurance company (

To conclude, here are 5 important tips to file a fine art policy claim of smoke damages:

1. All the important documentation of the collectible’s records must be copied and kept in another location away from the collection. Online storage is a good option but remember to inquire about personal information security. To make this point, here is the short video of an interview with a woman that suffered a house fire:

2. Since items made of metal corrodes very quickly by ash and smoke, immediate action must be taken.

3. Insurance agents should be informed right away and with the proper documentation.

4. Always hire a true professional when it comes to cleaning the artworks and antiques etc. Don’t allow general house cleaners and disaster response clean up companies to clean them.

5. To avoid errors while filing the claim, ask the experts for help in order to determine the degree of damages.

For other examples of insurance claims, go to:

Do you have any questions?

Give Scott Haskins a call for a free chat: 805 564 3438 office, 805 570 4140 mobile

Andrew Jacobs, Disaster Response Coordinator 812 629 3681 mobile

For art appraisal questions? Call Richard Holgate 805 895 5121 mobile

Removing smoke damage from a painting Even though the heirloom painting was a throw away because of the extensive smoke damage, according to the owner, he was elated that the cleaning brought it back to its original condition.

If you liked this article, please click on the “LIKE” – THUMBS UP at the top of the page. Also, please leave a comment!




About Scott M. Haskins

Scott Haskins has been in professional art conservation since 1975, specializing in the conservation/restoration of easel paintings, murals and art on paper. FACL, Inc. is known nationally for doing A+ work no matter the size or difficulty of the project. We are happy to do a quick cleaning on a family heirloom. Our client list and resume is also full of very satisfied clients of large, difficult/complicated projects at remote locations. Excellent services are also available as an Expert Witness/Legal Testimony in art related matters. Consultation on art related projects occur regularly including extensive insurance evaluations for insured or insurer. Services are offered worldwide. Scott M. Haskins is also author of the "Save Your Stuff" series, educational information, materials and supplies to help people protect and save their treasured family heirlooms and collectibles at home and office. He can be reached at 805 564 3438. Video and written testimonials at
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56 Responses to Smoke Damage on Art, Collectibles, Heirlooms and Antiques – Tips For Making An Insurance Claim – Smoke Damaged Oil Painting

  1. Jackson Bush says:

    Our home was in the area of a forest fire and we were worried that something from our home could become damaged from the fire. I’ll be sure to check items in the house for smoke damage knowing that it is possible for things to become damaged.

  2. Lorrie Baloun Graves says:

    I am contacting you for an original Michelle Usibelli oil on canvas that lived through our house fire late last spring (Fairbanks, Alaska). I have photos of the piece and can also send dimensions. Potentially, I would like this piece restored . Please contact me as to your steps and procedures involved and any other pertinent information I might need or that you need from me. Kind regards, Lorrie

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Lorrie,
      Give me a call and let’s talk! 805 564 3438 office, 805 570 4140 mobile
      I’m assuming you are safe from the earthquake?!?! Wow…

  3. Alice Lyons says:

    I would like to clean 12iinch statue of the Madonna that my brother purchased in Italy, but he was a heavy smoker for years and the statue is permiated with the nicotine. What can I use to clean it without damaging it. Thank you.
    Alice Lyons

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Hi Alice,
      Its hard to say based on what I know; Many statues have water based decoration, meaning that the paint may come off with just spit!! Is your statue made of ceramic, wood, cloth… I mean, in order to respond I need details. We do not use any off the shelf detergents or cleaners as ALL OF THEM will have an adverse effect on art objects. Call me if you’d like to discuss and maybe we can figure out something. Scott 805 564 3438

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  19. Daniel Weise says:

    I just spoke to Scott and got some advice about a fire related issue we had at our gallery in NY. He was very knowledgeable and very helpful in giving us his expert opinon on our situation. thanks Scott!

  20. Dana Kinest says:

    Excellent article. I just came across this post and I am so glad that I did. Very well done!

  21. Nick Andrews says:

    It is important for you to make sure that the professionals you hire can do the job. We have loved working with FACL on our paintings. They’ve done some amazing research for us. We found them through the recommendation of Karges Fine Art.

  22. Ben says:

    40 miles away and two years ago and they expected that work? That’s Interesting so why didn’t they file that claim when it happened as apposed to two years later?

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      I’m not sure Ben. I never got a good answer to that question. Its interesting that about 6 months after I filed my report/analysis, I was called by another insurance company to look over this job again. They didn’t know that I had already inspected and written the reports. So, I’m assuming the first insurance company I did the work for refused to settle with him.

  23. Gary Stein says:

    It’s amazing what Q-tips can do remove damage. All you need is a dab of water of saliva!

  24. Pingback: Phyllis Dorion

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Phyllis, thanks for the good question. Well, that’s really a question for your insurance agent. But generally, collectibles of high value may not be covered. The insurance company may require what is called a “ryder.” That means a separate policy to cover just the collection. If your collectibles are not of high value or if they were inherited, then they may be covered in your home owner’s policy. Also ask your agent when you need to have an item appraised. Usually, there is a dollar amount that triggers the requirement for an appraisal. NOTE this subtlety: the insurance company may not require you to have an appraisal to sign up for the insurance BUT they will require the appraisal if you have a claim! If your item is, let’s say, stolen or lost in a fire… how are you supposed to get it appraised if it is missing?! So, obviously, if the insurance company requires an appraisal for a claim, you had better have it on file before the loss. For questions about these matters, you can call international art appraiser Richard Holgate and chat it up for free: 805 895 5121

  25. Ricky says:

    It is devastating for this to happen but this is why you need a good insurance policy. Nothing in life is guaranteed except for 2 things, and unfortunately neither of them include a perfect restoration job.

  26. Greg says:

    Thanks for writing this out Scott, it makes you realize that you need to be protected even if you believe you are in good hands.

  27. Matt says:

    If they are responsible for doing a good restoration job, chances are this kind of thing will not happen.

  28. Jen says:

    I hope this is something that rarely happens. By the way Scott, I read your book. Very insightful.

  29. Dave says:

    Thanks for bringing this out Scott.

  30. Brian says:

    Sometimes you gotta take your chances and hire someone who you have heard is reputable. Even though something like this is the worst that can possibly happen.

  31. Ron says:

    Thanks for the tips Scott, just in case something were to happen.

  32. Nat says:

    Unfortunately it is a complete chance you take when hiring any kind of professional. Even one with a good reputation.

  33. Claire says:

    What a devastating thing to happen.

  34. Kristy says:

    This is disturbing but yet not surprising. Regardless of who you rely on to help you (whether it is art restoration or not), it is a chance you take.

  35. Rae says:

    Before hiring to professional to do the job, make sure you know they can do it. It is a chance you take either way but if you find out from others who have hired them what kind of job they did and all were positive reviews, chances are they will do a good job.

  36. Renee says:

    Damage after restoration should never ever happen. By the way Scott, I read your book. Excellent info.

  37. Lila says:

    Wow sounds to me like you are going to be in a bad situation regardless of what kind of insurance policy you end up with. Destruction after restoration should never ever happen.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Well, Lila, damage as a result of restoration IS NOT inevitable. In order to help people make a wise choice, I’ve set up this blog to make people more aware and give them a place to go to make a phone call or ask better questions. The answer to many of life’s problems in “due diligence.”

  38. Jim Raines says:

    After the claim is paid out, it is usually wise to shop around for a new policy, especially one that offers some degree of past incident forgiveness.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      I know you work with car insurance Jim and I’m sure you have experience to back up your advice. But the same situation doesn’t really exist with artwork. Partly it depends on whether you are making a claim on a home owners policy or a fine arts policy. Partly it depends if you have multiple policies with the same company. Partly it depends what type of insurance it is (flood, earthquake, fire, theft). I have submitted several claims over the years and never had my rates increased more than the usual.

  39. Desiree says:

    If I had smoke damage I would definitely do my homework as far as who to hire to restore it. But even then you are taking a chance. That is awful.

  40. Randy says:

    Having your collectibles ruined due to smoke damage is disturbing enough but after restoration it coming out in worse shape is unspeakable.

  41. Darren says:

    Before hiring anyone for restoration you need to find out from others who had work done to see if they were happy. That is sad that the restoration would come out horrible like that. What a waste.

  42. Keri says:

    The only way you will know if someone who you are going to hire for restoration is good is to find out other people’s experiences with them. Google can come in handy for stuff like that.

    • Scott M. Haskins says:

      Thanks Keri for the comment. References are good but do the people you are asking have good judgement? Is their artwork the same kind, same value, made the same way? Google, of course can’t answer those questions for you either. I once knew a Russian man who did painting restoration in the SF area. He was very nice and lots of people loved him and sang his praises. When he died, I was sorry for the loss of his family but it was the best thing to happen to the art world in SF in a long time. He was HORRIBLE at art restoration! He damaged so many paintings that passed through his hands.

  43. Liz says:

    Now that would be a tragedy, having the collectable in worst shape after being restored. That should never ever happen.

  44. Amy says:

    It is very sad that the “restoration” can create more damage than the shape the collectables were in before it was about to get “restored”.

  45. Hal says:

    I also am in complete agreement. You need to be sure that professionals in this line of work are going to make the repairs as promised. It is honestly quite tragic when more damage has been done as a result of their carelessness.

  46. Bobby Malone says:

    I couldn’t agree more you, ensuring that professionals are employed to carry out the cleaning and repair work is crucial to making sure that no more damage is done than has already been.

Comments are closed.