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  • 360 Degrees Hot

    Summer 2017

    A drone can collect more data for less money and more safely than can traditional catastrophe adjusters. This article explores the role of drones in the insurance industry, specifically in construction claims.  We also consider the technology used with drones, rules and regulations governing their use, and legal implications to consider.

    360 Degrees Hot

    by Matt McCutcheon, Doug Kent, and David Amori

  • Dig Up Dirt On Environmental Issues Before One Shovel Goes in the Ground

    August 09, 2016

    Before your next construction project begins, you should consider some important environmental issues that could impact your project. A hazardous materials building survey and environmental site assessment can prove invaluable to managing potential impacts, worker exposures and overall costs.

    Dig Up Dirt On Environmental Issues Before One Shovel Goes in the Ground (PDF)

    by Keith Pokorny, LEED AP

  • Getting to the Bottom of Construction-Related Defects

    April 20, 2016

    Tornadoes can cause catastrophic and extensive damage to all types of structures. For the homes and buildings that are salvaged after such an event, a detailed assessment by a qualified structural engineer helps to determine the extent of structural damage and repairability of the structure.

    Getting to the Bottom of Construction-Related Defects

    by Carl J. Schoenberger and Joseph A. Kraus

  • Managing Experts in Large Losses
    January 14, 2016

    Large losses present a unique set of challenges. Here are 4 key steps to managing your expert team before the next large loss comes your way.

    Managing Experts in Large Losses

    by David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Funneling Your Resources

    April 20, 2016

    Tornadoes can cause catastrophic and extensive damage to all types of structures. For the homes and buildings that are salvaged after such an event, a detailed assessment by a qualified structural engineer helps to determine the extent of structural damage and repairability of the structure.

    Funneling Your Resources

    by Carl J. Schoenberger and Joseph A. Kraus

  • When It's Not Hail

    June 29, 2015

    When thunderstorms produce damaging hail, property damage can manifest in several forms: broken windows, damaged roof-top equipment, and roof damage.  The determination of whether the observed roof-related damage is or is not the result of a hail storm is the result of a qualitative approach to the inspection.

    When It’s Not Hail (PDF)

    by David Amori, PE, RRC

  • The Fire is Out. Now What?

    March 23, 2015

    At a time when cost controls are critical, one must evaluate the value from a particular expert given the investigation dollars spent both during and after a loss. The type of expert assigned to a certain loss can make all the difference in the world in how a claim is settled, and whether there is an avenue for recovery of insurance funds or the protection in potential liability claims.

    The Fire is Out. Now What? (PDF)

    by E. Metts Hardy, IAAI – CFI, CFEI, CHMT

  • Protection from Hazards in the Post Fire Environment

    March 10, 2015

    Following a fire event, a variety of people spend considerable time in the post-fire environment, including first responders, fire investigators, EMS and insurance claims adjusters.  Exposure to post fire hazards should be considered by all those entering the property and performing work well after the fire event. 

    Protection from Hazards in the Post Fire Environment

    by Keith W. Pokorny, LEED AP

  • Figuring Out the Frozen Pipe Claim

    February 27, 2015

    According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), plumbing supply failures are the leading source of residential water losses.  Many of these are caused by broken pipes that result from water that gets trapped inside them and freezes. However, the actual cause of the event may be attributable to freezing temperatures, or a latent pre-existing condition may have been exacerbated by cold weather.

    Figuring Out the Frozen Pipe Claim

    by David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Squaring the Slab

    October 31, 2014

    Different types of weather events can cause sufficient structural damage such that the superstructure is a total loss. This presents the question of whether the existing slab-on-grade foundation can be re-utilized for construction. Re-utilizing the existing slab-on-grade can save significant time and money, but there are three main areas an engineer must evaluate.

    Squaring the Slab

    by Michele Bogdon, PE and David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Structural Deficiencies in Roof Collapses Can Lead to Subrogation Opportunities

    October 20, 2014

    The cause of a sudden roof collapse is not always obvious.  The initial reaction is to attribute it to extreme weather conditions; but the weight of ice and snow, intense rainfall, or high winds may only be the catalyst that exposes a design flaw, construction error, or maintenance issue that was the primary cause of the roof collapse. 

    Structural Deficiencies in Roof Collapses Can Lead to Subrogation Opportunities

    by Sarah Byer, PE and David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Common Examples of Non-Storm Related Moisture Intrusion

    August 21, 2014

    In this interview with Claims Journal, David Amori, Vice President of Engineering, describes how the 2014 winter weather season could affect residential foundations.  Mr. Amori also addresses how to discern the damage from pre-existing conditions and how to identify subrogation potential.

    Common Examples of Non-Storm Related Moisture Intrusion

    Video by Claims Journal featuring David Amori, PE, RRC


  • Foundation Issues Related to Winter Weather and Snow Loads

    June 02, 2014 this interview with Claims Journal, David Amori, Vice President of Engineering, describes how the 2014 winter weather season could affect residential foundations.  Mr. Amori also addresses how to discern the damage from pre-existing conditions and how to identify subrogation potential.

    Foundation Issues Related to Winter Weather and Snow Loads

    Video by Claims Journal featuring David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Determining Design Errors in Commercial and Residential Structures

    May 22, 2014

    For the forensic investigator, damage assessments require taking a global look at the loss to determine all causes, including possible design and construction deficiencies.

    Determining Design Errors in Commercial and Residential Structures

    by David P. Amori, PE, RRC

  • How Hot is Too Hot? A Structural Assessment of Fire Damaged Buildings

    October 15, 2013

    After the fire has been extinguished and the origin has been determined, the long arduous task of rebuilding begins.  Mr. Amori discusses how the extent and scope of repairs of the structural damage will play into the cost and sequence of repairs, as well as code issues and temporary housing.

    How Hot is Too Hot? A Structural Assessment of Fire Damaged Buildings

    by David P. Amori, PE, RRC

  • Around the Nation: California

    October 14, 2013

    On August 17, the California Rim Fire started and quickly became the third largest wildfire in the state’s history.  Read about its impact on the environment, wildlife and surrounding property.

    Around the Nation: California

    by David Brien, Senior Chemist

  • Failure Analysis Investigations

    September 17, 2013

    Failure analysis is always an important part of any fire investigation when an electrical or mechanical system is involved.   EFI Global experts regularly conduct failure analysis investigations to provide comprehensive, technical examinations that identify the failure and assigns responsibility when possible.

    Failure Analysis Investigations

    by Mark Simpson, CFEI

  • Precarious Foundations

    July 02, 2013

    Claims adjusters and forensic experts must work together to accurately separate storm-created distress from ongoing construction defects. Here are some common conditions and factors to consider.

    Precarious Foundations

    by David Amori, PE, RRC

  • Identifying Solar Panel Failures

    July 01, 2013

    When called upon to identify the source of widespread glass panel failures in a large array of solar panels, EFI Global investigators faced a complicated puzzle amid looming accusations and litigation.

    Identifying Solar Panel Failures

    by Alan Rose, P.E. and Eric Beebe, EIT

  • Avoid That Sinking Feeling

    June 20, 2013

    Dr. Sway discusses sinkhole investigations and remediation strategies for such losses.

    Avoid That Sinking Feeling

    by Andrew T. Sway, Ph.D., PG, EIT

  • After the Storm: Analyzing Tornado Structural Damage

    May 22, 2013

    What kind of structural damage can insurers expect from the Moore, Oklahoma tornado?  What building codes are in place to mitigate loss from tornadoes?

    After the Storm: Analyzing Tornado Structural Damage

    by David Amori, PE, RRC and Shawn Johnson, PE

  • The Value of Wood Decay Analysis in Water Losses

    February 25, 2013

    Wood decay analysis helps the investigator and claims adjuster determine whether a water loss occurred from a recent single event or from chronic water intrusion.

    The Value of Wood Decay Analysis in Water Losses

    by Mark Goldman, CMC, CEICS

  • Raising the Roof on Wind-Resistant Technology

    January 02, 2012

    A review of the current codes, design, and roof-covering selection process.  Also presented is a number of common construction-related defects that result in the loss of millions of dollars annually.

    Raising the Roof on Wind-Resistant Technology

    by David Amori, PE, RRC

  • PCBs in Building Materials

    November 01, 2011

    This article presents the advantages to performing testing for PCBs during the planning stages of a project, and how it can result in the ability to obtain competitive pricing for the work involved.

    PCBs in Building Materials

    by Keith W. Pokorny, LEED AP, BD+C and Neil R. Webster, CSP, OHST

  • Alternator Fires in Vehicles

    October 01, 2011

    A close examination of the ignition source of fires occurring in vehicles, particularly in those produced since the mid-1960s.

    Alternator Fires in Vehicles

    by Paul W. Hansen, PE

  • A Volatile Climate

    September 01, 2011

    Five emerging trends in environmental claims, including cost reduction strategies, application of technology, crossover of environmental services to standard forensic claims, third party claims, and vapor intrusion.

    Claims, September 2011

    Ted Cleveland, P.G. Vice President, Operations and John Cook, P.G., CHMM, Senior Project Manager

    The tiny pinhole in the pipe elbow probably took more than twenty years to form and cause a leak, a day or two to be discovered, and less than an hour to be repaired. This recent claim involving corrosion of a pipe elbow on a home heating oil tank resulted in a very minor release of a few gallons of heating oil to the surrounding surface soil. The insured acted appropriately, the release was quickly investigated and repaired. Based on the size of the tank and volume of the release, state regulations did not apply; however, local regulators became concerned over the possibility of impact to shallow groundwater in the area. Although the shallow aquifer was not considered a source of drinking water, it was used extensively for irrigation. Furthermore, the property owner soon began to notice petroleum like odors inside the home/office necessitating relocation for a couple of days. After the repair of the leak, the situation was completely resolved in a few weeks with the excavation and removal of impacted soil from beneath a patio and a portion of the building adjoining the point of release. Fortunately, the release was discovered early, quickly repaired, and the volume of the spill was not sufficient to impact groundwater, which could have easily transported contaminants and associated vapors well beyond the boundaries of the insured’s property.

    The type of loss presented above is a fairly typical residential environmental claim. Years ago, this claim may have been settled as a mechanical issue with less focus on the longer term environmental contamination considerations, regulatory impact and vapor intrusion into the home. The complicating factors to these claims have more recently been growing. Therefore, the methods used to handle environmental cases continue to progress. By the nature of this type of work, environmental issues frequently evolve due to the regulatory climate, technological advances, litigation and cost considerations. To address these changes, some trends have become apparent in recent years.

    Cross Over Services – As referenced in the project above, often claims that begin as standard forensic engineering investigations are routinely incorporating an environmental component, such as soil and groundwater impacts, indoor air quality issues, along with asbestos and mold concerns.

    Cost Reduction Strategies – Not surprisingly, the focus on developing cost reduction strategies to control expenditures has becoming increasingly important The insurer’s handling of the claim, the role of consultants and leveraging of technology are all areas that are subject to cost control.

    Application of Technology – New technology is not only used for cost reduction, but is also important in expediting claim resolution, improving the quality of an investigation and the speed of delivering information.

    Third Party Claims – Innovative developments in the energy production sector and previously dismissed issues in the environmental cleanup industry have resurfaced and have produced third party claim concerns that previously were uncommon. These include vapor intrusion into occupied buildings from volatile chemicals associated with new and historical releases impacting soil and groundwater, and pollution concerns over the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques in the production of domestic natural gas.

    These trends are described in more detail below.

    Over the past several years, specialized consulting services and diagnostic test equipment have become increasingly necessary in the disposition of forensic engineering and fire claims. Unforeseen consequences of accidents, failures and oversights often include impacts to the environment as well as human health. Forensic engineering firms are well aware of these issues, and their changing complexities. Firms typically develop multidisciplinary teams of environmental consultants to support their cases. These teams may include environmental scientists, geologists, microbiologists, chemists, building scientists, and indoor air quality specialists. Team members are trained to work along side the forensic engineers and fire investigators in providing diverse consulting services such as historic document reviews, desktop soil and groundwater evaluations, regulatory reviews, asbestos, lead-based paint, indoor air quality testing, water penetration testing and other related services. While supplemental services are not required on every project, each of these services can play a vital role in defining and understanding the risks associated with a claim, and the value of an appropriate remedy.

    Perhaps the most effective use of both traditional and multidisciplinary support resources working together is as a follow-up to emergency response. After an emergency is abated and emotions are calm is the best time to develop a rational and cohesive approach to addressing both the cause of the emergency and the most cost effective, practical course of action for both the insurer and the insured. For example, the immediate goal of the fire fighter’s response to a small kitchen fire is to save lives, extinguish the fire and insure that it stays out. Incidental water infiltration into other adjacent areas of the building is a collateral issue that will result in fungal growth in 24-48 hours, bringing its own set of concerns. Asbestos containing building materials along with volatile and semi-volatile organics and particulates associated with incomplete combustion may also remain and pose a real or perceived threat to occupants during the cleanup and restoration phase of the project. While this may appear to be a fire loss requiring origin and cause investigation, the insurer would clearly be best served by having access to a multidisciplinary team of experienced engineering and environmental consultants working on the insurer’s behalf to fully define, understand and address risks in an appropriate and defensible manner.

    Cost Reduction Strategies

    There are many strategies currently employed to impact the cost of processing a claim. One primary strategy has been for insurers to utilize a clearinghouse approach to processing environmental claims by funneling them through environmental centers. These centers are staffed with adjusters possessing specialized environmental experience. As mentioned above, consulting firms often form multidisciplinary teams and appoint a single point of contact to meet the specific needs of the case on behalf of the insurer. Forensic consulting services may range from a routine desktop review by a single consultant, to a comprehensive third party review and extensive data verification involving several individuals. These practices should help better define and evaluate the risks, correctly focus the investigation and reduce the amount of time dealing with the issue.

    Often, a brief desktop review of readily available information provided by the engineer or adjuster can help understand the risks and evaluate the appropriateness of a remedy at a very reasonable cost. As an example, consider this scenario: Following emergency response activities addressing the release of a hundred gallons of diesel fuel from an above ground storage tank at a remote construction site, the remediation contractor excavated 25 yards of impacted soil. Soil samples obtained and tested from the excavation indicated elevated concentrations of diesel were still present at depths of 1-2 feet; consequently the contractor proposed additional limited excavation in the impacted areas with subsequent retesting. In this case, a desktop review of the available site photographs, test data, regulatory cleanup levels, and local soil profile, topography and geology, in addition to telephone interviews with the on-site contractor and regulatory authority, would likely yield sufficient information to evaluate the contractor’s recommendation and provide the insurer with adequate oversight at a reasonable cost. Of course, even this simple scenario has several variables and cannot be universally applied. The type and quantity of material released, local soil and groundwater conditions, the absence or presence of nearby sensitive receptors, concurrent health and safety issues, local environmental regulations, or the likelihood of litigation could warrant another approach and greater consultant involvement.

    Application of Technology

    In addition, use of time saving technologies such as ground penetrating radar, infrared thermography, high resolution aerial photography, and wireless access to remote databases and other information can provide answers quickly and cost effectively, especially when used in conjunction with short form reports and web-based report delivery methods. For example, water intrusion evaluations can be expedited with the assistance of an infrared camera. A trained operator can easily and quickly identify areas of moisture, which traditionally required detailed and time consuming moisture mapping techniques and even destructive testing. In less than half the time, areas of moisture can be imaged, mapped and confirmed with moisture measurements. Select infrared cameras are capable of receiving data from moisture meters and other field devices via Bluetooth™ wireless communication. Moisture measurements can then be sent to the infrared camera for inclusion on their respective thermal images. This information can be processed into a useable report, and often delivered the same day using a WiFi mobile device.

    Third Party Claims

    Third party claims and environmental issues go hand in hand. Two developing areas of potential exposure to third party claims are vapor intrusion in buildings and hydraulic fracturing in natural gas production. Gaseous emissions of volatile chemicals from contaminated soil and groundwater have the potential to migrate into overlying buildings. These vapor emissions tend to move towards areas of lower chemical concentrations by diffusion and lower pressures by advection. Pressures inside buildings are influenced by changes in atmospheric pressure, wind flowing over and around the building, internal and external temperature changes, and building ventilation equipment. These differences in pressure inside a building draw vapors inside through basement or foundation cracks and other penetrations, creating a potential health hazard to building occupants. While considered only a minor environmental concern for years, regulatory agencies throughout the country have reopened “closed” soil and groundwater pollution cases to reevaluate them for current on and off-site risks associated with vapor intrusion. While some believe that the risks are often exaggerated, the threat of serious health concerns to occupants is now considered real. Further, the perception of risk can be a powerful force. As a result, vapor intrusion is fertile ground for lawsuits involving those parties responsible for both new and historical contamination, commercial building owners, construction contractors and others.

    In the late 1940’s, hydraulic fracturing was first used to enhance gas production in rock formations. Recently, techniques have changed drastically and created an exploration “boom” in the Northeast and areas of Texas. Using this process, a company may drill a well several thousand feet deep and then turn horizontally through a shale formation for a great distance. Drillers pump millions of gallons of water under high pressure to fracture the shale and release trapped gas. A key concern is the fact that the water is mixed with sand and chemicals, some known carcinogens, which could impact surrounding property and water supplies. In addition, the infiltration/migration of natural gas into drinking water is also being investigated. The impacts on adjacent property and water supplies are currently being evaluated and litigation is forcing more transparency and innovation in the process. The success in production and the extent the method is used will continue to increase claim activity and will evolve greatly over the next several years.


    The need for environmental consulting services requiring specialized training and consulting expertise has steadily increased in response to regulatory changes, public awareness and litigation. As an outgrowth of traditional forensic investigations, environmental issues often arise and typically require quick and cost effective resolution. The use of multidisciplinary teams and the application of new technologies that enhance reporting quality and speed have become increasingly necessary. Public awareness of environmental issues continues to grow, increasing the likelihood of third party claims. Forensic engineering firms are responding to these trends by expanding their environmental capabilities to quickly and effectively define current and emerging risks so insurers can efficiently address these claims on behalf of their customers.

  • Speaking of: Environmental Forensics

    September 01, 2010

    Environmental forensic experts have been placed firmly in the spotlight after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and ensuing Gulf oil spill. Find out more about the role these experts play in the claim adjustment process.

    Claims, September 2010

    An interview with Cynthia Randall, Vice President, National Sales

    What are one/two/three tips adjusters should keep in mind when approaching the environmental & pollution claim management process?

    Three key areas can greatly influence mitigation time and efficiency in the claim resolution process relating to pollution events. The initial response with accurate assessment, effective cost control measures, and matching innovative project management solutions to the specific pollution issues contribute to timely and cost effective solutions.

    Initial response coordination consists of notification to applicable parties, assigning certified hazmat spill contractors. Accurate site characterization, with proper delineation of the contamination plume is crucial in determining appropriate clean up options. Cost effective remediation options with guidance / recommendations concerning the project management of the pollution incident are key in developing a go forward customized strategy. In order to manage the claim effectively, a proper project management approach should be implemented. This includes designating an experienced professional as the one point of contact, and offering a 24-hour on-call emergency response team to spills and incidents. Once project managers are contacted with a claim, the claim must be documented thoroughly, reviewed for regulatory implications, and remediation or response strategies must be implemented in order contain costs and streamline the response process. Regulatory responsibilities and reporting requirements to agencies must also be addressed, followed by litigation support to resolve the claim quickly and efficiently.

    How do environmental forensic experts respond to a disaster like the Gulf oil spill? Will they work with Worley Catastrophe’s independent adjusters to settle claims?

    Environmental releases such as the Gulf oil spill create immense challenges for all types of stakeholders including property owners, developers, and insurance carriers. The extent of contamination and regulatory response actions add increased pressure associated with management of an environmental claim. The ability to accurately reserve funds and overcome these challenges often determines the success of any multi-faceted project. Environmental experts can simplify these challenges by offering a comprehensive and streamlined project management process to assist with claims involving property and real estate damage resulting from oil spill pollution. The environmental experts work closely on a daily basis with the designated independent adjusting firm, such as Worley Catastrophe, to assist with the most timely and cost effective solutions.

    What kind of background/education/certifications should adjusters look for in their environmental forensic experts?

    The type of environmental professional needed is based solely upon the type of pollution event. Pollution events can often be sizeable and complex in nature, a core group of diversified professionals with extensive industry knowledge is desirable to address regulatory responsibilities and reporting requirements to agencies, and provide litigation support to resolve the claim quickly and efficiently. Environmental staff with the designation of Licensed Site Professionals (LSP), Professional Engineers (PE), Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIH), Certified Hazardous Material Manager (CHMM), LEED-accredited professionals, and OSHA trained Environmental Scientists are among the diverse group of staff professionals that handle pollution events and environmental issues such as site assessments, investigations, and remediation associated with spills and releases, petroleum management issues, brownfield site redevelopment, explosion investigations, risk assessments, indoor air quality, asbestos, and mold consulting. Environmental experts work in conjunction with the claims professionals to assist in mitigation and management of risk through accuracy, timeliness and cost effectiveness.

    What is the most misunderstood part of your job?

    An effective resolution to any environmental pollution claim goes beyond the initial response and clean-up efforts. Environmental forensic experts should not only respond immediately to an incident, but also conduct assessments and execute a variety of mitigation techniques to prevent possible migration and potential further contamination. This is accomplished by implementing tactics that simplify the challenges of the environmental pollution claim by utilizing a comprehensive and streamlined project management plan. If the site necessitates remediation, emerging and innovative remediation techniques should be implemented to facilitate site/habitat restoration. Guidance with recommendations regarding potential hazardous materials and disposal, site specific health and safety plans, as well as, regulatory implications associated with the conditions of the pollution event discovered during initial and subsequent investigations need to be carefully examined and included along with the selected remediation technique.

  • Concerns That Can Arise from Water Induced Losses

    November 01, 2009

    Learn about the importance of investigating for the presence of mold and conducting an asbestos survey before renovation occurs.

    Claims Advisor, Winter 2009
    Richard Byrd, District Manager and Jon Schatz, Senior Project Manager

    Both large-scale catastrophe-induced losses and small-scale single event losses have the potential to impact employees, individuals, insurance personnel, general contracting restoration firms and associated property loss. In addition to the actual water-loss event, secondary losses can become equally as devastating depending on pre-existing and/or event-related building conditions, and the role the insured’s take as part of required catastrophe restoration activities. During the water loss event, all project related information and environmental data generated is an integral part of the decision making process that may be disclosed at various stages to inform all the various “parties” involved with the project. All in all, a well-executed restoration project can minimize common delays and expenses of an ill-conceived and managed project.

    In the event of a water loss, an often overlooked aspect of the restoration is Asbestos Containing Building Materials (ACBM). Based on regulatory constraints, it is imperative that restoration contractors are made aware of the presence of ACBM, prior to beginning restoration activities. The mere presence of ACBM does not immediately require that abatement activities be implemented. However, the improper handling of ACBM can lead to an exponential increase in the number and cost of claims unrelated to the initial water loss, but attributable to the restoration activities implemented in response to the water loss. These claims and expenses can manifest themselves in both the short and long term. Asbestos contamination caused by uninformed contractors and improper restoration activities can lead to the need for the removal and disposal of building materials, carpeting, furniture and other personal items that would not otherwise be affected by the initial water loss. That is an example of the potential short-term additional cost. The health effects of asbestos exposure are well known and well documented. Whether it is the restoration worker, building occupant or anyone that comes in contact with airborne asbestos fibers caused by the mishandling of ACBM, the potential for liability is present. The latency period for the development of asbestos related diseases (10 to 40 years) leads to the potential for future health related claims and is an example of the long-term potential costs. The potential for these additional costs is real and avoidable.

    When initially investigating a claim that will lead to the disturbance of building materials present in buildings constructed before 1980, it is prudent to engage a qualified, properly trained Asbestos Inspector to complete an asbestos survey. In many states, a Licensed Asbestos Inspector is required to perform this work. In the case of water losses, an Asbestos Inspector with additional training and expertise related to mold investigation and remediation would be preferable. The Asbestos Inspector will develop a sampling plan and then sample all suspect building materials that will potentially be impacted during the restoration. In the unfortunate event that ACBM is present and will be impacted by the restoration, the sampling results will determine the proper response needed. A minor investment in time and the expense of an Asbestos Inspection will help to avoid major clean-up, replacement and health related costs.

    In addition to asbestos containing materials, mold growth is also an important concern following a water loss event. The difference between water damage and mold contamination is time, and the difference in the costs of addressing each can be staggering. Ideally, when water damage occurs, building occupants or the restoration contractor needs to act quickly to control the source of the water and limit the extent of the affected area. This first step is often one that does not get the attention it deserves. In many instances, the water damaged area is dried properly and mold remediation is conducted, but the problem recurs when the wind blows from the same direction during a heavy rain storm, or when a storm drain becomes blocked again. The source of the water problem, whether it is water infiltration through the building envelope, condensation issues or blocked condensate drain lines, must be identified and repaired to minimize the potential for repeated water damage claims.

    Significant accumulations of water are usually removed from the facility using drains, pumps, wet/dry vacuums or any other available methods. Once this is completed, the extent of the water damage must be determined so that fans and dehumidifiers can be placed to maximize their effectiveness. There are several brands of relatively inexpensive moisture meters on the market that can simplify the process of delineating the water damaged area by detecting residual moisture in wallboard, carpeting or other building materials that are not readily apparent by touch. Current EPA recommendations state that building materials that are not thoroughly dried during 48-hours should be considered for removal and replacement due to the potential for mold growth; however, this is only a guideline and there are numerous instances where the drying process took longer than 48 hours with no visible fungal growth and no measurable negative impact on air quality.

    One common problem is that site representatives respond to the leak promptly and do all of the proper steps exactly as instructed, but stop before they are completed. Sometimes it is as simple as not removing the vinyl cove base from the gypsum wallboard to allow for drying of this portion of the walls. Other times file cabinets and other furnishings are not raised off the carpeting or moved away from the walls to allow for sufficient air circulation for those areas to dry thoroughly. The problem could also be that the affected walls are covered with vinyl wallpaper, which tends to trap and hold the moisture, providing a perfect environment for mold to reproduce. Often these problems are not recognized until the drying equipment has been removed from the site, the insurance claim is finalized, and the area occupants begin to complain of allergic reactions and air quality problems. Again, the key to avoiding these problems is in the use of experienced water damage inspectors and restoration contractors who have learned how to identify and address these problems. Some states have started to establish minimum training and licensing requirements for mold consultants and mold remediation contractors. Use of these trained and licensed firms is critical to minimizing potential liability.

    Sometimes, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, a moisture problem is not identified promptly. This often results in mold contamination resulting either directly from the water damage, or from prolonged elevated humidity in an indoor environment. This is when the use of an experienced mold inspection consultant is essential. It is true that most types of mold grow on building materials with high cellulose content, such as gypsum board, ceiling tiles, wood, paper, cardboard and carpet tack strips. However, given the proper conditions, mold can grow on any surface, using dust and even the oils in human fingerprints as a food source. Areas which retain moisture, such as wall cavities with interior insulation or sound proofing, insulated attic areas or even the presence of wallpaper covering the wallboard can greatly complicate the process of finding the mold growth and correcting the problem. In general, if there is visible mold growth on the surface of a wall or ceiling, there will be much more growth inside the wall or ceiling cavity.

    Finally, there is a tendency for some consultants, contractors and owners to spend too much time and money focusing on identifying the specific species of mold growing in the water damaged area. Most mold remediation projects do not need to become science research projects. There are literally thousands of species of mold in the outdoor air, any of which can begin to proliferate in an indoor environment under the proper conditions. A few of these species have been labeled as “toxic” or “carcinogenic”; however, the scientific evidence of this is not conclusive, and there is still no Federal definition of acceptable indoor concentrations of fungi in an occupied indoor environment. It should be noted that all types of mold are potentially allergenic should a sensitive individual be in the area. Current EPA recommendations state that any visible mold growth should be addressed using the same procedures, regardless of species. Non-porous surfaces, such as hard wood, metal, concrete or plastic can typically be cleaned using commercially available detergent solutions. Porous surfaces, such as gypsum board, ceiling tiles, carpeting, fabric or paper products, usually require removal and replacement. Some people also focus on trying to kill the mold with a bleach solution and then just paint over the affected area, but this does not resolve the problem. Dead fungal spores are also allergenic, and the emphasis needs to be on the physical removal of the fungal growth from the indoor environment.

    There have been specific incidents where one person in a large open office area was complaining of allergic reactions, while the other people in the room had no problems. In one such instance, testing in the area revealed elevated concentrations of airborne fungi that were eventually traced to a nearby pipe chase that had unidentified condensation problems. In another similar situation, the carpeting in one portion of the office was found to have high fungal concentrations, likely resulting from roof leaks that were not properly addressed. Every building will experience various types of water damage. It is how the owner responds to these situations that determine whether a simple water damage claim spirals into a major mold remediation project.

  • It's Not Easy Being Green

    September 01, 2009

    Learn more about “Green Insurance” programs and policies, LEED concerns for commercial claims and the expertise required to investigate “green claims” on these types of properties.


    Claims, September 2009
    Keith Pokorny, LEED AP and Daniel Penaloza, CIH, LEED AP

    Mr. Pokorny and Mr. Penaloza discuss the “green insurance” programs and policies, LEED concerns for commercial claims and the expertise required to investigate “green claims” on these types of properties.

    Green building practices have grown annually, adding complexity to the analysis of construction projects, building systems, and building performance expectations. These efforts add a significant level of due diligence and the necessary expertise in responding to ‘green claims’ on the insurance products serving those properties.

    There are many new concepts within green building efforts that must be known in the claim industry and the third-party experts servicing these claims. Green claims involve understanding green concepts, such as increased energy efficiency, decreased water use, increased storm water control, and better indoor air quality. There must also be knowledge of the systems that drive the performance of these concepts. This additional expertise is not always entrenched in the basic knowledge brought forth by a typical claim representative, forensic analyst, scientist, or engineer. Nonetheless, specific knowledge of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED credits and information ‘behind’ the credits is essential. Examples of this are provided herein.

    Green Insurance Programs

    An ever increasing number of insurance companies are supporting these industry efforts by offering ‘green insurance’ programs and policies. These policies include insuring the construction process and parties involved and their attempt to achieve USGBC LEED certification levels (Certified, Silver, Gold, & Platinum levels). In addition to those, some newer insurance policies include options for building owners to upgrade the reconstruction on a claim to greener standards, including more energy efficient systems; enhanced or reduced water use on-site; and attention to potential indoor air quality problems associated with newly installed building materials and fixtures. Other policies provide professional liability insurance to designers, construction managers, and owners relating to the performance of installed systems that promise such sustainability and energy efficiency. Whatever the policy and resultant claim on that policy, the analyst such as a claim adjuster or third-party expert ? must possess the expertise to address not only traditional claim aspects (origin and cause, replacement value, potential subrogation), but also how these aspects may be impacted by the requirements of LEED certification or other sustainable building elements of the property.

    Before analyzing these elements, one should note that the construction and building industry from site zoning to the performance of a building post-occupancy is a much different environment than it was only years ago in many parts of the country. Certain cities, such as Washington, D.C. and Boston, for example, are continuing to build the ‘green’ concepts into building code for new construction. Some areas limit ‘green’ codes to schools and commercial buildings, but it will not end there. The USBC has further advanced its LEED certification process to have specific requirements forthcoming for LEED in schools, healthcare, homes, and neighborhood development. Some examples of building processes and materials that may impact the overall claim value are:

    Increased energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems.Natural or native vegetation and landscaping.Low-emission construction materials and/or green cleaners and chemicals.Use of coolants, and fire suppression that contain little or no amounts of ozone-depleting chemicals, such as CFC, HCFC containing coolants.Reduction of water use on site (low- or no-flow toilets, low-flow fixtures).Increased energy efficiency of occupant use systems such as motion detectors for lighting, heating, and cooling; after-hours lighting of buildings; and exterior landscape lighting.

    LEED Certification Standards

    Remember that while these are not currently required as part of the construction/design process the LEED certification process is voluntary for a building owner/developer guidelines are being incorporated in local code and regulation, thus becoming the norm. A good analogy is to consider the handicap accessibility requirements for a property owner. Although handicap accessibility was not widespread a decade or two ago, it is now a standard and a component of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and integrated into local building code and the building permitting process. Reconstruction on a claim for a property subject to ADA improvements positively impacted a variety of construction-related items on site from emergency egress, floor plan layout, restrooms and fixtures, and other property elements. The result was that the property was better suited for current operating expectations, thereby remaining competitive in its local market and possibly increasing its marketability. These same concepts drive the sustainable building community, with the expectation that market factors will favor a property that is more responsible in its energy use, more cost efficient, and more sustainable, with a lower overall environmental impact.

    Insurance claims on a property built to either certification standards of LEED or to local codes and regulations that reflect this sustainable approach can be viewed in three basic phases:

    Design and constructionPost-occupancy building start-upNormal building operations

    In analyzing any claim, there may be significant financial impact, depending on the stage. A damage claim during the construction phase may impact specific replacement of expected materials on-site, similar to any claim. While the materials may differ from that of traditional construction for example, if a wheatboard, cork, or bamboo material is used as a material that will gain the project credit for using a rapidly renewable resource the response is essentially the same: to replace the material in kind. This claim, however, speaks nothing to the performance of the building material.

    A claim to the performance of this building material may create different implications to the parties responsible, from the designers to the construction managers and the subcontractor community involved in the installation, inspection and verification process. This example gets even more complicated when addressing the installation of solar panels that fail in the future because of improper installation or design. Similarly, a non-CFC HVAC system designed to work in concert within a wholly commissioned building program requires significantly more complex analysis of a failure and replacement back to original specifications.

    A claim that occurs during construction or post-occupancy inspection of start-up because of equipment failing to meet the specified energy efficiencies can possibly be more easily addressed in a traditional claim response than a claim two years after occupancy when that same piece of equipment fails to meet the specified expectations. Significant information gathering may be necessary to determine the initial performance levels, what new standards may impact the overall commissioning ?formula? of the building, or new code compliance requirements.

    As claims get more confusing because of the numerous factors in green building, the experts servicing them must have a greater depth of knowledge in not only code compliance and industry expectations but also in green building knowledge. Below are some comparisons for example purposes:

    Mechanical or HVAC Expert

    In addition to standard HVAC design, ventilation standards, and efficiency of equipment, a building that has met certain LEED credits for Indoor Environmental Quality and Energy and Atmosphere offers complexities in the following areas:

    Addressing the commissioning plan of the building’s HVAC and energy system, including such items as the rate of outdoor air ventilation within the energy efficiency model versus the actual performance in the building.Analysis of on-site renewable energy into the overall system, such as solar, biofuel, passive solar, and day lighting and the effect on temperature and comfort of the buildingContinuing the CFC-free and ozone depleting potential (ODP) safeguards in the existing system when reviewing replacements.Understanding certain building envelope enhancements that were made to impact energy efficiency.Understanding the level of individual occupancy controllability of certain building systems that affect the commissioning of the building. This is accomplished through individual controls and/or motion sensors.

    Changes to these items as a result of reconstruction after a claim (without attention to the intent of their original design) may offset the originally intended energy efficiency and overall building performance. Therefore, an expert familiar with building commissioning, energy efficiency, and whole building energy management – for example, a Certified Energy Manager (CEM) – may be more suited to this analysis accompanied by a LEED-Accredited Professional (LEED-AP) for specific building sustainability knowledge.

    Civil engineer and site development expert – Site development in a LEED-certified property may include significant efforts to control and reduce storm water from the site through a variety of methods, including installed subsurface systems, surface-level pervious surfaces, landscaped materials (bioswales, retention ponds, and so on), and vegetated roof systems.

    Additionally, considerations should be made for installed building systems that collect and reuse gray water for sewage conveyance, landscaping, or other non-potable uses. Also, certain sites may treat water on-site for re-use. An engineer responsible for inspecting a system failure on-site should be informed of the whole-building use of the system and possible integration of that system into other uses on site. Reconstruction and repair should consider the LEED credit intents to maintain the integrity of the sustainable system.

    It is evident that the challenges of sustainable building and facility management of these buildings will have an effect on the claim response process. Using experts that are current with local changes in codes and policies relating to ‘green’ building is important. Using experts who are proficient in these areas and are familiar with the processes of certification and the driving forces behind green building initiatives is equally important.

    Many LEED Accredited Professionals are a great resource in analyzing the costs, reconstruction processes, and impact of a claim involving a LEED-certified property or a property ‘upgrading’ to green in its current policy. Additionally, these professionals work continuously with engineers, construction managers, and architects within the green building industry and have knowledge to address claim details at these sites.

  • Assessment of Wind Related Damage to Commercial Roofing

    June 01, 2009

    What conditions to look for when examining commercial roof systems for wind-related damage after a storm.

    Claims, June 2009
    David P. Amori, PE, RRC

    In the wake of a Hurricane the monumental task of beginning to assess the losses and respond to the thousands of claims inevitably includes a number of claims concerning the functional assessment of commercial roofing systems. The design and construction of a roof system requires input from several disciplines including thermal considerations (Mechanical), fire resistance (Architect/Municipality), equipment carrying capacity (Structural), ability to drain and/or to store water (Architect/Civil), aesthetics, and the ability to resist any number of transient loads (Structural). The assessment of the damage sustained by a roof system during a storm event is an equally broad endeavor requiring the expert to call on a number of disciplines.

    When assessing wind related damage to a roofing system, the damage observed may often be present among several other construction, design, and maintenance issues. This convolution is the basis for discrepancies in scope of repairs and cost. It is at this point when a Forensic Roof Expert (FRE) is often assigned to try and sort out the storm related damage from the construction defects, design problems, and maintenance issues.

    The assessment of a roof for storm related damage generally begins with a visual assessment by the FRE. This would start with a brief assessment of the interior upper floor of a building to look for signs of water infiltration such as discoloration or delamination of finish materials. Evidence of water infiltration including oxidation of return air grills, diffusers, or suspended ceiling grid may indicate an ongoing problem and not that of a one time, recent event. Similarly, when possible, the underside of the roof structure should be observed for oxidation, wood rot, organic growth, or other signs of long-term exposure to moisture.

    Subsequent to the initial assessment the need may arise for destructive or non-destructive testing of the roof system or components for the delineation of the scope of repairs. At this point in the assessment the FRE may be tasked with the job of delineating the area of the roof membrane and insulation that need to be removed and, based on this area, determine if the roof is repairable or needs to be replaced. There are several methods for determining the relative moisture content of insulation including: Conductance, Infrared Thermography, Capacitance, Nuclear Moisture Detection, and Cores/Laboratory.

    Looking for conditions that are not storm related but that could contribute to water infiltration or other loss of function of the roof system is also recommended. The possible defects between construction, maintenance, and design are too numerous to list here. However, the most common deficiencies can be thought of in the following categories: poor drainage, inadequate ventilation, poor construction methods, inadequate design, and that the roof system is simply at the end of its service life.

    In addition to the assessment of storm related damage, a parallel thought process should be to determine if the damage observed is consistent with the intensity of the storm; should the roof have performed better. The evaluation of the performance of a roof system is difficult when the roof is near the end of its service life, drawings and specifications are not available, and when applicable code or reinforcement of the code is unknown. On newer roofs built under the enforcement of new requirements, the performance of the roof can be compared to weather data. If the performance of the system falls short of expected, further investigation by the FRE can shed light on the potential cause. For example, samples sent for laboratory analysis can determine the rate of inter-ply mopping of asphalt for comparison with specifications, membrane samples can be tested for tensile and seam strength, under deck observations can determine fastener type and patterns, uplift testing using a vacuum chamber can measure the deflection of a membrane at a specific uplift pressure, and opening portions of the system for observation can reveal fastener patterns, type, insulation type, condition of deck and adherence of components.

    These additional tests and investigative techniques in the hands of someone who understands the design process of the roof and local code requirements can be compared to the construction documents and design intent of the system for determination of possible avenues for subrogation.

    In summary, one of the most forgotten and neglected building systems happens to be one of the most complicated systems requiring design inputs from several disciplines and impacts the performance of equally as many systems after construction. The evaluation of the damage to and performance of the roof system requires an expert that can pull these several disciplines together for a global perspective of performance of the system.

  • Investigating Air Quality Concerns and New Developments in Maintenance

    June 01, 2009

    A look at how mechanical ventilation systems have evolved over the last several years and their effects on air quality in various facilities.

    Investigating Air Quality Concerns and New Developments in Maintenance

  • Benefits of Thinking Globally

    April 01, 2008

    Two case studies illustrate the importance for an engineer to consider the broader picture when investigating a loss event.


    Claims, April 2008
    Richard T. Frantz, P.E.

    Engineering involvement with property losses demands an open technical mind that can look at the bigger picture, sometimes beyond the scope of work initially requested by the adjuster or insurance company. Engineering law requires the professional engineer to protect “public health, safety, and welfare. “Sometimes specific technical requests are made to a forensic engineering firm that lead to much broader technical involvement in order to ensure compliance with engineering law and the protection of the public. Is it a benefit for an engineer to look at a broader picture when investigating a loss event, even if the scope of work has been specified? Let’s examine two examples.

    Following a large hurricane, a request was made to determine the cause of brick veneer damage on a large church structure. Inspection of the building revealed that the structure was an irregularly-shaped building, which is not uncommon for large church facilities. The hurricane event had produced strong, sustained winds for a short period of time, resulting in leeward suction wind loads on the high brick veneer face of the building. At first glance, there appeared to have been lateral forces on the wall that pulled the brick away from the wall, resulting in limited failure of the brick ties. Closer examination of the brick wall revealed a bulge in the brick at a mezzanine level and not the entire height of the wall. Subtle buckling of the roof and wall surfaces indicated that the shear walls that resist lateral loads had not responded properly to the wind loads applied to the building during the storm event. Inspection of construction drawings revealed that the building framing was changed from a steel-framed structure to a wood-framed structure to resist the applied wind loads. This was a significant structural modification and required different design and construction methods. Further investigation of the building and a structural analysis review determined that the building was under-designed to handle the code-required design wind conditions. The structure had twisted, resulting in compromise to wood connections throughout the structure. Even though the structure had rebounded back to a visually stable condition, suggesting minor cosmetic damage, the structural performance during the wind event led to condemnation of the structure for public occupancy. Clearly, relatively minor cosmetic symptoms can sometimes suggest major problems.

    A request was also recently made to investigate the extent of damage to an industrial concrete warehouse structure built in 1954. A forklift driver ran his forklift into a concrete column and sheared the column at the base. The heavy concrete roof sagged under the weight and shifted the load to an adjacent column, resulting in load failure to the adjacent column. Fortunately, the structure appeared to stabilize and did not totally collapse. A contractor was called in by the owner to shore up the roof structure in the damaged area. Pipe columns were designed and installed under the beam that was supported by the failed concrete columns.

    Several weeks after the accident and temporary repairs, a further inspection of the structure was required to determine extent of damage. At the time of the initial inspection, the structure appeared to be stable, and the owner insisted that the installed columns were designed by a professional engineer. Several days after the initial site inspection, the adjuster requested an investigation of the concrete that had fallen from the ceiling. A more detailed investigation of the “temporary repair” revealed that what was originally assumed “stable” was under-designed and inadequate for supporting the heavy concrete roof deck. The concrete deck continued to move, resulting in further crack distress to the roof deck and other concrete columns. he owner, of course, wanted the structure repaired and concrete columns installed under the roof deck so that much-needed operation space could quickly be restored. However, the structural conditions demanded more area to be cordoned off for occupant safety.

    Emergency shoring and wood cribbing was designed and installed to support a much larger area of roof deck. The crack patterns in the structure indicated extensive deformation of the roof deck and severe damage to column joints and deck sections. In the absence of material specifications and structural drawings, material testing revealed that the structure was also deficient in the required concrete strength. Repair to the observed distress alone would not bring the structure into compliance with structural code requirements. Ultimately, it was determined that replacement of a large section of the concrete roof deck would be required.

    Assumptions of adequate “temporary repair” or structural strength can result in a false sense of security. Thus, an understanding and review of all conditions when engaged on a site investigation should be made by the investigating engineer and the scope of work for this effort relayed to the client.

    In summary, careful consideration of the technical qualification of the engineer or engineering firm for a small or large property loss investigation is essential. A good forensic engineer should not only perform a proper technical investigation, but also have the ability to think “globally” on a loss, in order to protect the public, minimize client and owner risks, and identify conditions beyond the obvious.

  • Evidence is Key

    November 01, 2007

    Factors to consider when handling, examining, photographing and shipping evidence involved in water losses, and how, if not followed, it can negatively impact the conclusions and outcomes of the case.

    Subrogator, Winter 2007
    by George N. Eustace, P.E.

    Historically, fires and automobile accidents have been the primary types of property and casualty claims that presented a potential avenues of for subrogation. However, with the increased costs of mitigating the extent of water damage and reducing the potential for mold growth, claims involving large water losses have become another important area with subrogation potential.

    Large water loss claims often involve the failure of an appliance such as a water heater or washing machine, or a water connector or valve due to a material or manufacturing defect, or installation error. The nature of such losses requires the failed item to be removed and preserved as evidence for review by an expert for the insurance company, as well as by technical personnel from the manufacturer or installer. If the subrogation case proceeds to trial, the item will have to be produced as physical evidence. Therefore, determining the probable cause of a water loss requires the identification, retrieval, protection and examination by a knowledgeable expert of all available evidence involving the water loss. Since most water losses require prompt action to repair and restore the water damage, the evidence needed to determine if subrogation exists is often overlooked or mishandled.

    To ensure an objective investigation, preservation of evidence is key. The first step in the process is to identify the item that has failed. In most cases this will be obvious based upon a readily apparent break or fracture in a plumbing line or fixture. The role of the claims adjuster is essential in the identification process because once the report of the loss is received, the insured must be instructed not to remove or disturb the area if at all possible. Otherwise, the removal of an item may change the material condition of the item or eliminate an apparent improper installation. A common example is the failure of an ordinary household item such as a water connector to a toilet that is to be hand tightened only. If the insured uses a jawed tool such as pliers or channel locks to remove the item, it could remove or obscure evidence of prior over-tightening with a tool. Improper removal can therefore cause collateral damage that can mask the cause of the failure.

    Before removing any items in the area of the loss, color photographs of the area should be taken. The expert reviewing the claim needs the color photographs in order to provide information on the specific use and installation of the item. Photographs can tell an expert if the item was placed under undue stress by the installer by twisting and kinking an 18- inch flexible connector when a 12- inch connector would have been more appropriate. Color photographs also aid in identifying the type and location of the connections, fittings and valve positions. Due to thermal cycles of expansion and contraction, water losses on hot water service lines are more common. In some cases, it is important the expert reviewer knows the direction of flow in the failed plumbing fitting or line. In the case of a washing machine, it is important to photograph the control panel to document the specific water level and temperature setting and the point in the cycle that a failure occurred. This information is useful in testing the appliance for a systemic failure.

    Photographs of the installation are also needed when the item under investigation is tested in the laboratory and does not fail. In such cases, laboratory testing reveals the cause of the water loss was improper installation or else quite possibly, the wrong item was removed and shipped for examination.

    During the photographing process, the claims adjuster should also interview the insured to get background information on the nature and extent of the failure and the failed item. Useful information includes the age of the home, the date the failed item was purchased or installed, the place of purchase, the name of the installer, and any available manufacturer model and serial numbers.

    A key part of the photographing process is the identification of other similar items in the residence that have not failed and that may be useful as an exemplar. Product item markers or labels on such items may be useful in identifying the other item in the home that had failed but is otherwise unidentifiable as to manufacture, model or serial number. Similar items installed at the same time and exposed to the same service conditions as the failed item may also be showing similar signs of failure. The most extreme example of this possibility involved the failure of a compression nut on a toilet flush valve on a downstairs powder room toilet on a $250,000 four year old home. The claim amount exceeded $35,000. A check of the same item on the downstairs master and upstairs guest bathroom revealed identical fractures and imminent failure.

    Once the item or area of the failure is properly photographed, the items can be removed. If possible, it is preferable to have the item removed by the expert reviewer if the loss location is convenient and cost effective. This reduces the number of people involved in the all important chain of custody for the evidence. Where an expert reviewer is not readily available, some insurance companies have established agreements with plumbing companies that have been trained on the proper documentation and removal of items often involved in water loss claims. A plumber that is not properly trained in the removal of evidence increases the probability of collateral damage that can mask or removes the signs of failure. For example, a failed fitting or section of copper tubing should be cut out of the line with a tube cutter and not by heating the tubing at a sweated fitting. A case involving a PVC transition fitting to a copper line was affected by a plumber who heated the sweated connection on the copper tubing next to the PVC fitting, causing it to char and melt, and therefore damaging the evidence.

    In some cases involving a failed item that has come apart, such as a faucet or valve, it is important that all the loose pieces of the failed item be collected. It is not unusual for an expert to receive claims requiring investigation and discover that all the pieces of the evidence are not available for review.

    For large appliances such as washing machines and water heaters, an outside service is often required to not only remove the item, but to properly pack and ship the item it to the expert reviewer. The manner in which the item is packed and crated is key, as demonstrated by a ceramic toilet tank that arrived with a request for the expert reviewer to determine what caused “the” crack. However, upon arrival, the box contained several small pieces from the shattered toilet tank. Good clear photographs of the item before it was packed for shipment would have been helpful, but none had been taken.

    Proper handling of the evidence is important when there are items that have cracks or fractures, particularly since the nature and extent of the failure is often based upon an analysis of the fracture or failure surfaces by a material specialist. The natural tendency is for a person to try and match up the separate pieces of a fractured item. The process of rubbing the fracture surfaces together can remove or distort the fracture surfaces and make a determination of the type of stress involved and the point of origin difficult, if not impossible.

    As mentioned previously, the chain of custody begins with the removal of the item from its place of installation. The change of custody between the various parties must be clearly documented with times, dates and signatures. It is wise for individuals taking custody of an item to photograph the item upon receipt and transfer in order to guard against accusations that the time item was changed or otherwise damaged during the time it the item was under their control. This is especially true for items containing several small parts or pieces that can be lost in the packing process. The shipment process should be by a trackable, traceable, and require receipt signatures. The various overnight express packing and shipping companies have proven to be reliable and cost effective in this regard.

    If a successful subrogation action is to be achieved, all parties must remember that the physical evidence to support the action must be properly identified, photographed, removed and transferred with a solid chain of custody. When faced with a water loss, the claims adjuster should make a decision as to whether the nature and extent of the loss warrants further examination as to origin and cause. The cost to remove and ship a failed item with subrogation potential to a knowledgeable expert for a non-destructive examination or operational test is normally less than $500. For Given the increasing costs of mitigating and water loss claims, it is often prudent and economical to pursue such an action.

  • Investigating the True Cause of Post Hurricane Property Conditions

    September 01, 2007

    A look at the importance of examining pre- and post-storm conditions in order to determine the true causes of property damage.

    Claims Advisor, Fall 2007
    Ted Cleveland, P.G. and George Eustace, P.E.

    Following a hurricane, damages to a residential structure can range from structural distress, to small areas of mold growth to a total loss of the structure. Storm damage can affect multiple components of a structure including the roof, windows, siding, foundation and interior finishes. Wind or water is often the most common cause of damage to residential properties; however, there are many factors to consider when assessing the various causes of damage. Some of the factors include material use, age, condition and construction methods as well as type, location and extent of the damage. It is essential that a professional with hurricane damage assessment experience evaluate these factors to accurately define the cause. Depending on the extent of the loss, the necessary professional may be an engineer, fire investigator or environmental professional.

    In the weeks following a hurricane, other issues potentially affect the damage to the structure. Factors such as extensive mold growth, material deterioration and fire could change the condition of the structure from its post-hurricane state. Standing water, high humidity and warm temperatures create a perfect environment for mold growth. Prolonged exposure to weather and human factors may also cause increased damage to the materials and structure.

    One of the most common comments an adjuster hears after a catastrophic storm event is: “My house was not like this before the storm.” In large measure, that is generally a true statement regarding the nature and extent of the distress for homes along the primary path of a storm where wind and water forces are the greatest. As one moves towards the outer fringes of the hurricane force winds and storm surge, the nature and extent of wind and water damage should be less. This assumes that all the structures were built according to local building codes and properly maintained. Homes that were not designed or built according to the building code or weakened by aging and weathering will be more vulnerable to damage at thresholds below hurricane force winds.

    When the nature and extent of damage present following a hurricane is not consistent with the reported wind speeds or storm surge, it is possible other factors such as pre-existing conditions from faulty construction or a lack of maintenance may be present.

    The best indication of the conditions present before a storm event can be provided by photographs taken prior to the storm or recent inspections and/or repair receipts. Homeowners should be encouraged to take photographs of their homes prior to an approaching storm to assist them in documenting storm related damage.

    Property condition reports from the most recent sale/purchase of the home are also helpful. After Hurricane Rita, a homeowner experienced a severe crack with both vertical and horizontal displacement in the concrete slab foundation that was being claimed as wind damage. An elevation survey showed that the foundation had settled in the direction of a row of large trees and voids were present along the lowest portions of the foundation. The initial indication was that the crack was due not to wind but to progressive foundation settlement over time. The homeowner provided a copy of the FHA report from an inspection just prior to the storm that reported a hairline crack. It was determined that the pre-existing crack had been exacerbated by the wind forces.

    Very few houses are maintained in such a way that they have no conditions of distress as a result of normal aging and weathering -commonly referred to as “wear and tear.” Such conditions include cracks in the interior and exterior wall finishes, doors and windows that do not close properly, water stains, leaking pipes, ceiling stains and cracks, uneven flooring, out of plumb walls, loose siding, appliance failures, roof leaks and chimney tilting.

    When such conditions are found following a storm event, it is a natural reaction for a homeowner to claim the conditions did not exist before the storm, particularly when the homeowner may not have noticed them until after the storm. A common example is a crack or separation filled with paint from the last time the house was repainted. Following Hurricane Rita, a Texas homeowner filed a claim citing cracks in exterior brick veneer. However, a close inspection of the cracks revealed the cracks were partially filled with mortar from the time the brick was laid.

    Regardless of the claims being made, there are items of distress that may be present after a storm event that cannot be reasonably attributed directly or solely to the storm without a closer examination of the nature and extent of the distress, the material conditions and the direction, type and magnitude of force required to cause the distress. Following Hurricane Charlie, a Florida homeowner told the inspecting engineer that his swimming pool enclosure was “not like this before the storm.” When informed that the purpose of the inspection was to measure and document the existing conditions and evaluate them for recent movement, deflection or failure of structural members, the homeowner commented that had he known about the inspection, he would have taken a sledgehammer to the anchor bolts. In most cases such attempts to mechanically enhance damage fails due to the person’s lack of knowledge of engineering, physics and material science.

    Distress may also be the result of a prior loss event, or a material, installation or design defect. Determining the scope of repairs that can be attributed directly or indirectly to a storm event requires expertise in the fields of building design, engineering and construction. Depending upon the nature of the distress or failure, a civil, mechanical, electrical or environmental engineer may be required.

    A common installation defect for laminated style shingles on steep slopes that is often claimed as wind damage is actually due to improper nail placement. By placing the nail too far above the nail line, the nail misses the bottom tab. Over time, the adhesive strip between the bottom and top tabs will fail and the bottom tab will slide down out of position. In this compromised condition, the shingle will be vulnerable to future wind damage below the performance threshold of 60 mph.

    The misplaced nail is also more likely to be overdriven through the upper tab if the pressure on the nail gun is set for penetrating two layers of shingle. Once the nail head punctures through the top shingle, the shingle has no resistance to wind uplift and is more prone to damage.

    With hurricane damage to roofs, windows and walls, water infiltration becomes a serious issue. Water infiltration, massive flooding and high humidity create the perfect environment for mold growth. Growth is further enhanced if the power is out and the space is not air-conditioned. If it goes undetected or no corrective actions are taken, the loss associated with mold can grow significantly. The areas most vulnerable to mold growth are gypsum wallboard materials, insulation and carpet. In evaluating the extent of mold damage to a structure, the loss must be examined in a timely manner by a qualified professional. Registration and certification of a mold professional is required in many states.

    As a result of Hurricane Rita, the actual wind/water damage from the hurricane was major, but the fact that electricity was lost for several weeks increased the extent of damage. An issue that is often overlooked is the necessity to identify water-damaged materials that do not have visible mold growth. One of the biggest misconceptions is that if you don’t have mold growing on building components within a few days, the materials will remain in good condition. With the electricity off for weeks in the non-conditioned, hot and humid environment, mold is very likely to occur even when there are no apparent signs of growth in the few days following the event. Many areas were cleaned of visible mold only to have continual growth in weeks following the storm. Contractors were required to return to the site multiple times to clean or remove materials. The overall cost and amount of downtime can be reduced if all water-damaged materials are identified and cleaned or removed in the early stages following a storm.

    Other environmental concerns that affect a loss following a hurricane are asbestos, lead-based paint and hazardous waste. Hazardous waste will generally be associated with spills from adjacent properties or wastewater impacting a structure. A more common hazardous material that impacts damage assessments following a storm is asbestos. Asbestos is a natural occurring mineral that is found in many building materials that are commonly found in a residence or commercial building. Some Asbestos-Containing Building Materials (ACBM) include ceiling texture, wallboard joint compound, flooring, mastics, insulation and roofing materials. A hazard is created from asbestos only when it is airborne. Therefore, damage to ACBM from a hurricane can create potential for exposure. Contact damage, delamination due to water and vibration, as well as abrasion, can create problems-not only a risk of exposure for occupants, but also construction workers or consultants entering the building.

    To reduce the risk of exposure, a thorough asbestos survey should be conducted as part of the evaluation process following a hurricane or fire affecting a structure. Many states require that an inspection be performed prior to any repair or renovation work performed on any type of structure, and the EPA requires inspections on all commercial properties prior to this type of work. Asbestos is a highly regulated and hazardous material with high public awareness that should not be overlooked following a major storm event. A certified, licensed professional with significant experience in performing ACBM surveys must perform the survey. In addition, ACBM must be handled, removed and disposed of by qualified firms and workers. Typically, the most vulnerable material to hurricane damage is spray applied ceiling texture. It is a material that is easily damaged and transported by wind and water. In many cases, the material contaminates carpets, furniture and other finishes to the extent that the cost of ACBM removal significantly exceeds the cost of the original repair.

    Identifying the cause of damage to a structure following a hurricane can be complex and requires specialized experience. Not only is it important to consider physical conditions present at the time of the investigation, but also it is equally important to evaluate the pre-storm condition of the structure and determine the damage that has occurred since the storm. Timeliness of the inspection will improve the professional’s ability to properly analyze the gathered information and offer a sound conclusion.

  • Event Data Recorders' Role in Accident Reconstruction

    June 01, 2006

    A case study that illustrates the importance of combining crash data with a thorough analysis in an auto reconstruction investigation.

    Claims, June 2006
    Billy S. Cox, Jr.

    One sunny spring morning, on a rural road just outside of Houston, Texas, Molly Jackson, a vibrant 16-year-old girl with a bright future and a new driver’s license, was behind the wheel of her father’s brand new Chevrolet C2500 crew cab pickup truck. At the same time, just seven seconds before she would draw her last breath, Rhonda Simmons, a 46-year old divorced mother of two teenagers, was approaching from the opposite direction in her sleek and sporty Pontiac Trans Am.
    The freshly paved, two-lane county road with a 55-mph speed limit was so newly resurfaced that fog lines delineating the edge of the pavement had not yet been painted. The center of the road was designated only by small, reflective yellow tabs, spaced 10 feet apart. Neither Simmons nor Jackson could foresee how their lives would change forever in mere seconds — one leaving this earth and the other, living with the burden of another person’s death and facing criminal indictment.

    What Went Wrong?

    Just five seconds before their two worlds collided, the right-side tires of the big Chevy dropped off the pavement and onto the grassy shoulder. At 55 mph, the pickup was a little more than 400 feet from the very point on earth where the two lives would be irreversibly changed, yet Jackson only had five seconds to regain control of the vehicle. Partly because of her inexperience and partly due to the fact that the drop on the right side was much greater than she expected, Jackson struggled to steer the vehicle back onto the paved surface.

    As both drivers approached a slight S-curve, Jackson steered hard to the left, putting the Chevy into a yaw from which she would not recover. The big truck popped back up on the pavement, crossed the center point on the road, and struck Simmons’ Trans Am with more than 578,000 ft-lbs of kinetic energy. The vehicles engaged in horrific fashion, began to rotate in a clock-wise fashion, and then separated. The Trans Am was no match for the rugged and rigid Chevrolet. It crushed so much that the driver’s compartment around Simmons disappeared. Although the airbags deployed, the steering wheel was thrust rearward to the point of almost touching the driver’s seat, causing Simmon’s torso to absorb the full force of the airbag.

    An investigation ensued, but the sheriff’s department lacked the equipment or technical expertise to conduct a thorough crash reconstruction. However, they knew enough to be dangerous. One of the investigating officers remembered from a seminar that a yaw mark could be measured and variables plugged into a formula to determine a vehicle’s speed. Armed with this knowledge, investigating officers measured what they believed were yaw marks from the Chevrolet and determined that Jackson’s vehicle was traveling about 82 mph when she steered it suddenly and created the mark.

    Sheriff’s investigators failed to recognize that the damage, although extensive, was not to the extent one would expect if a 3-ton pickup struck a passenger car at 82 mph. Even more disturbing, they made no measurements of the impact point and points of rest, nor did they download impact crash data residing within the event data recorder (EDR) of the airbag control modules of both vehicles.

    Technology Yields New Clues

    Since 2000, Vetronix Corporation has manufactured a crash data retrieval (CDR) system that is available to law-enforcement, industry, and crash-reconstruction experts. It provides the user with an interface to gain access to the EDR of some Ford, Isuzu, Lincoln-Mercury, and many General Motors and Saturn vehicles. In the case of General Motors and Saturn, some model years as old as 1994 have data stored on the EDR.

    With the Vetronix CDR, data retrieval can be accomplished in five-to-10 minutes, assuming the EDR is accessible. The CDR converts hexadecimal codes into useable data and displays it in a decipherable format on a Windows-based PC.
    W.R. “Rusty” Haight, founder and director of the Collision Safety Institute in San Diego, Calif., said that EDR technology has improved and has lead to improvements in three key areas of traffic safety: engineering, education, and enforcement. Haight believes that this technology has and will continue to save lives. According to him, since the technology became mainstream in 2000, there have been recalls as well as less-significant changes in vehicle design, changes in driver behavior, and a whole gamut of traffic-safety improvements. However, he cautions that the room for error and misinterpretation is greater than ever.

    Although the data can be instrumental in reconstructing a crash, it can be misleading or wrong if it is relied upon as a stand-alone data point. Insurance companies can make better claim decisions and reduce claim costs if the data is used as intended — as a tool to be used in combination with a thorough crash reconstruction. \The EDR data should supplement the information documented in photos, damage-repair estimates, scene evidence, law-enforcement reports, and witnesses’ accounts in order to determine liability or, in some cases, to help determine whether the collision magnitude was severe enough to cause occupant injury in a low-velocity crash.

    “The data … is what it is, no different than a skid mark is a skid mark,” Haight said. “How it can and when it can’t be used is a second issue and one that needs to be addressed through understanding, proper training, and proper application of the technology.”

    Results of the Reconstruction

    In the case of Jackson and Simmons, the data harvested from the wreckage of both vehicles told a story that was very different than the results of the sheriff’s investigation.

    First, the EDR in the Chevrolet pickup stored five seconds of pre-crash data that included vehicle speed, engine RPM, brake-switch position, and percent-of-throttle input. At no time in the five seconds preceding the crash did the speed of the Chevrolet pickup exceed 65 mph. Yet the sheriff’s department erroneously calculated the speed to be 82 mph as the truck began to yaw. In fact, the last recorded speed of the Chevrolet pickup was 58 mph.

    The EDR also recorded a maximum change in velocity, or delta-V, of -25.9 mph and indicated that Jackson was wearing her seatbelt. The EDR in the Pontiac Trans Am also recorded some crucial data, although it was not as extensive as the Chevrolet pickup. There was no pre-crash data, but the maximum recorded delta-V was -39.8 mph.

    The electrical system on the Pontiac was severely compromised, forcing a more cautious analysis of the stored data. For example, the data summary indicated that Simmons was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of the collision. The inspection of the vehicle during reconstruction revealed, however, that the driver’s seatbelt latch plate was still inserted into the buckle and the belt was cut in two places by rescuers who worked to free Simmons from the wreckage. Because of the damage to the electrical system, all of the data could not be written to the EDR and the system interpreted the results for the driver seatbelt as being unbuckled.

    Using all of the information collected from both EDRs in conjunction with the crash reconstruction yielded a much different crash scenario than the one the sheriff’s investigators had developed. The calculated impact speed of the Chevrolet C2500 was 58 mph, yielding a calculated change in velocity of –24 mph. The calculated impact speed of the Pontiac Trans Am was 55 mph, with a calculated change in velocity of -39.8 mph. The EDR data yielded a change in velocity of –25.29 mph for the Chevrolet pickup and –39.05 mph for the Trans Am. The calculated changes in velocity differed from the stored data by 1.34 mph on the Chevy and a mere .75 mph for the Pontiac.

    The crash reconstruction and the data retrieved from the vehicles were in agreement. The calculations performed by the sheriff’s department did not consider any of the physical evidence available at the scene, other than the yaw mark. Further, their investigation did not consider the data stored by the EDR in either vehicle. Thus, their hypothesis was inaccurate and their presentation of the criminal case to the district attorney’s office was based on erroneous calculations.

    Jackson may be found liable in a civil lawsuit, but she was spared from criminal prosecution after a thorough crash reconstruction, partially based upon data retrieved from the EDR of each vehicle, was presented in total to the district attorney’s office. The crash was a tragedy for all parties involved, but the tragedy could have been further compounded by a faulty police investigation that did not include readily available crash data.

    Future of EDR

    As long as safety advances continue to be made, an increase in the use of the technology will continue as well. Down the road, Haight said, we are likely to see other related innovations for both fleet management and individual applications. Tying in other vehicle systems, including diagnostic tools, is the next logical next step. Haight believes that analytical computer programs already in use will be modified to include data from in-car systems for better, more rounded analyses.
    Finally, Haight offered a bold vision for the automotive and insurance industries, who typically find themselves on opposite sides of an argument in the area of design improvements.

    “I anticipate insurance companies [will offer] discounts for drivers of cars with accessible systems and while that would require a huge leap forward with the auto manufacturers, it’s a win-win position for both,” he said. The results of a thorough crash reconstruction, combined with an analysis of the EDR data, will yield a more accurate crash reconstruction. It also demonstrates that while the technology is beneficial, it should be used as a tool in the complete crash reconstruction toolbox and not as a stand-alone data point. As public awareness of the technology grows, other manufacturers likely will follow the lead of General Motors and Ford and make the data more accessible for use in crash reconstruction and other safety-related applications.

  • High-Tech Investigators

    October 01, 2005

    An article that explains EFI Global’s role with insurance agents in various service lines. In this article, EFI Global is coined as the “CSI of the insurance industry.”

    High-Tech Investigators

  • It's in the Plumbing

    September 01, 2005

    A closer look at the rise in water-related insurance claims, their various causes, and what adjusters can do to adequately prepare for subrogation.

    Claims, September 2005
    Michael J. O’Connor, P.E.

    Nationwide, water-loss claims continue to climb. In California alone, such claims have risen dramatically, with the percentage of homeowner claims growing from 24 percent in 1997 to 32 percent in 2001, costing insurers $1.7 billion. In a single year in California, between 2000 and 2001, claims rose $47 million. For some insurers, this meant that 40 percent of claim payments were for water losses.

    The rise in water-related losses has been attributed to many causes. Some studies point out that modern homes have much more plumbing in them than older homes. In general, older homes do not have as many bathrooms, while newer homes often have extras such as wet bars, icemakers, water filter systems, soft water systems, and residential automatic fire sprinklers. Modern homes also are built to be more airtight, thus tending to trap moisture more readily. Much of the increase in water-related losses can be blamed on modern materials used in the manufacture of plumbing fixtures, as well as poor construction methods.

    Plastic vs. Metal

    Plumbing fixtures, such as valves, waterline risers, toilet ball-cock valves, and pipes themselves, used to be manufactured from metals such as copper, brass, stainless steel, and galvanized steel. Today, many of these items are made of plastic materials. The plastics used are cheap, lightweight, readily manufactured, and easy to install. The problems arise when plastics are used in the wrong applications, designed improperly, or installed incorrectly.

    One striking example of plastics gone awry was the defective ABS drainpipe debacle that resulted in class action suits against various manufacturers. The manufacturers had used defective resin in ABS drainpipes widely included in residential construction in the last half of the 1980s. The defective ABS pipes broke at the joints, causing leaks in walls and under slabs. These pipes are still causing problems nationwide.

    In another case, a company designed, manufactured, and marketed a faucet water-line riser made from a polymer composite hose with metal connector nuts on each end. Connecting the nuts to the hose required barbed inserts inside the hose that were held in place with metal ferrule crimps. The inserts were made using nylon 6/6 plastic, which is subject to hydrolysis in hot water, meaning that the nylon will absorb the hot water causing the long nylon polymer chains to break. Over a period of years, the nylon 6/6 becomes weak and brittle, and eventually breaks. The break causes the metal nuts to come loose from the composite hose, which results in flooding.

    Published engineering texts documenting the problems with nylon 6/6, including water absorption, hydrolysis, and failure, did not deter the manufacturer from choosing a plastic that was not suited to the environment in a hot-water supply line. Failures from these nylon barbed inserts have accounted for millions of dollars in property damage.

    Another type of plastic failure is the cracking of plastic coupling nuts used in water-line risers to connect toilet ball-cock valves to the right-angle standoff valves in walls. These coupling nuts are supposed to be hand-tightened only. If the installer uses a tool, such as a pair of channel locks, to tighten the nut, the nut can become over-stressed and crack. Eventually, the coupling nut will fail and hundreds of gallons of water will flow into the home.

    Even if these nuts are installed correctly, some are made from polyacetal resin, which is subject to chlorine attack even at concentrations as low as one part per million. These nuts break down over a period of five to seven years and eventually fail by circumferential cracking around the base of the threads. I have analyzed dozens of such cases in which no tool marks were found, yet the nut failed anyway after five or more years of service.

    Metallic Fixture Failures

    Plastics are not the only materials that can fail. Modern stainless steel braided water lines are an example of a good quality material with an Achilles heel. Although stainless steel is remarkably resistant to corrosion, chlorine attacks it, causing it to corrode and become brittle. The stainless steel braided water lines rely on the braids to contain rubber hoses inside, keeping the hoses from bursting. If the braids fail, the rubber hose will fail as well, creating another water loss. These types of failures can be avoided by keeping chlorine-based cleaning products away from stainless steel water lines.

    Brass plumbing fixtures are not without problems, either. Many brass castings have built-in flaws. I have examined dozens that have cracked and caused costly leaks. Examination of the fracture surface within these cracks usually reveals a bubble in the casting that weakens the brass and causes crack formation. Often, the fractures are so small and unremarkable that the installer does not notice them. Even when initially pressurized, the brass casting may not leak. It is not until the crack grows that a leak is noticeable.

    Corrosion of pipes is still commonplace. Even though most modern homes include plumbing with copper pipes, these are not immune from corrosion. Dozens of copper pipes have developed pinhole leaks in crawl spaces and under slabs. These usually develop from the inside out, caused by small foreign particles in the water that settle in the copper pipes. The particles interact with the copper, causing oxygen-depleted corrosion cells to form. The cells cause pitting corrosion that, ultimately, forms a hole all the way through the pipe.

    Corrosion from the outside also can occur, usually due to contact with corrosive soil. This can be avoided if the builder surrounds the pipe with free-draining gravel above the native soil or wraps the pipe with a corrosion-inhibiting coating such as plastic tape.

    Water heaters corrode, as well. Usually, the tanks of water heaters are constructed of steel with glass liners adhered to the steel tanks. The glass liners serve as protective coating to inhibit corrosion. Despite the best efforts of the manufacturer, however, small holes or “holidays” occur in the glass, and areas of steel exposed by holes tend to corrode. To inhibit the corrosion, sacrificial anodes often are used inside the water heater tank to protect the steel. The anodes do not have an infinite life, however, and eventually will corrode away.

    If the water heater is connected directly to a copper piping system, the steel of the tank and the copper in the pipes can set up a galvanic corrosion cell that will cause the tank of the water heater to corrode away rapidly. This always results in leaks. To prevent the galvanic corrosion from occurring, it is imperative that a dielectric coupling be used to electrically separate the steel tank from the copper pipes. Failure to use such a coupling constitutes defective installation of the water heater.

    Adjusting Water Loss Claims

    Defective plumbing fixtures and improper installation account for many of the water loss claims in the United States. Forensic engineers often investigate claims that arise from these defects and subrogation can be pursued successfully. Careful analysis and documentation of the evidence can present a solid and convincing claim against responsible parties, and insurance carriers can recover significant revenues.

    Claim adjusters can do a great deal to document causes of water losses and help preserve evidence. For example, toilet overflows and leaks cause millions of dollars of water damage each year and, yet, many of these losses are poorly documented, resulting in the failure of the subrogation process. When faced with these claims, adjusters can take a number of steps to increase the chances of successful subrogation.

    It should be determined whether the toilet overflowed from the bowl or the tank, and this information must be passed on to the forensic engineer. An overflow from the bowl indicates a clogged toilet with an accompanying leak from the tank into the bowl. A tank overflow, however, signifies a malfunctioning valve in the tank itself or the improper sizing of the tank overflow drain.

    Photographic documentation is important. Several photos should be taken of the toilet in place, including the condition of the guts in the tank.

    A forensic engineers should have the opportunity to inspect the entire toilet. If it is impractical to conduct the inspection in place, the toilet should be shipped to the investigator as a unit. The adjuster should not attempt to determine the cause of the failure and send only selected parts to the engineer, as this can result in a report from the engineer stating, “No conclusion is possible because insufficient evidence was available.”

    When dealing with the failure of a waterline riser, the adjuster should document the waterline in place with several photographs and note the use of the waterline, as well as its age. The entire waterline should be sent to a forensic engineer, not just the failed part.

    Additional questions to consider include whether the waterline was used to connect to a faucet. If so, was the connection for cold or hot water? Was the faucet in a kitchen, bar, or bathroom? It also should be ascertained who installed the waterline, and where it was purchased. In the case of a failed stainless steel braided waterline, it is useful to know whether any chlorine-based chemicals were stored near the failed waterline.

    Failed washing machine hoses also need careful documentation by on-scene adjusters. These hoses usually fail right at the ferrule crimp. It is important, therefore, to check whether the hose was bent at the crimp when in use.
    The age of the hose also is a factor. Had it been furnished with the washing machine? If the hose were a replacement, when was it installed and by whom?
    Manufacturers often deny many hose failure claims by placing blame on improper use or installation of hoses. Careful documentation at the scene can refute these arguments.

    Adjusters also can play a significant role in the investigation of water heater failures, many of which involve defective installation. In addition to documenting the installation details with several photographs, the adjuster should take close-up photos of the waterline connectors to the water heater. A forensic engineer should examine the water heater and the waterline connectors to determine whether proper dielectric couplings were used. The insurance industry pays out millions of dollars per year in water loss claims. Because many of these are due to defective materials or defective installation, they can effectively be brought to subrogation, resulting in millions of dollars in recovery. Adjusters, working in concert with forensic engineering investigators, can play a key role in the subrogation process.

  • Encouraging Signs for Fire Safety

    August 01, 2005

    Mr. Hardy talks with the editor about the latest fire safety trends and how they decrease death and injuries, both among firefighters and the general public.

    Encouraging Signs for Fire Safety

  • Investigating Water Loss Origins

    January 01, 2005

    Learn more about the causes and origins of water damage and the importance of a thorough investigation of water losses.

    Claims, January 2005
    Mark E. Goldman, CMC and Stacey O’Rourke, CMC

    Water damage is costly to both homeowners and insurance companies. It is estimated that the cost of household water damage in California, alone, exceeded $500 million for 2002. While the number of water-related claims varies year to year, the average amount paid for such claims increased steadily from $2,577 in 1988 to $3,646 in 2002.

    The high cost of water damage spotlights the importance of thorough investigation of the causes and origins of water losses. Understanding how moisture enters buildings and causes damage can be a challenge, as well as the most interesting aspect of a building inspection.

    Determining whether a water-related claim is covered by the policy or is a building defect requires attention to detail, as well as special equipment. Often, water sources may be hidden behind walls. It also is common to find two or more water intrusion sources in the same location. Determining the primary source of water entry and the comparative value of each loss, while dealing with anxious insureds, adds to the challenge.

    Cutting access holes into walls or using penetrating moisture meters in occupied locations should be done with the permission of the occupants. Damage should be kept to the minimum and, if possible, the site should be sealed while work occurs. It also is important to bear in mind safety issues, especially in the presence of children or immune-compromised occupants.

    Getting Started

    The investigator begins with a detailed examination of the outside of the building, looking for problems in the building envelope and drainage. Inspecting the landscape, the inspector should look at the slope of the land around the house and signs of high water tables related to neighboring wetlands.

    The house’s basement or crawlspace bulkhead doors should be inspected for erosion below the door and caulking failures around the doors. Stairways leading below grade should have drains at the landing and be free of accumulated debris. Basement window wells should have adequate drainage and the window caulking and trim should have good seals. Concrete aprons around the building should be slanted away from the building and the seams should be caulked. If a building is brick or masonry, the pointing should be checked for gaps.

    Buildings with expanded foam insulation system exteriors should be inspected with failed caulking seams in mind, and buildings with vinyl or aluminum siding that is not original construction should be inspected with some concern for what may be covered.

    Crawlspaces should be ventilated and well drained. The subfloor should be insulated with a vapor barrier protecting the warm side of the floor sheathing. If the crawlspace is dirt, it should be pitched for drainage and, ideally, covered with a vapor barrier to direct ground moisture away from the house. If water is a problem below the house, a sump pump should be well maintained and the water drained away from the house.

    In environments that are so wet that crawlspaces cannot be kept dry, resulting in unsuccessful remediation efforts, mechanical exhaust fans should be present to maintain negative air pressure below the house to minimize moist air entry into the occupied areas. The floor joists and subfloor should be inspected for signs of chronic exposure, including wood decay, heavy insect presence, and fungal growth. Masonry surfaces should be inspected for efflorescence (deposited salts), indicating water entry through the foundation.

    The building exterior should have gutters and downspouts that drain away from the house. Depending on its age, it should be noted whether the building has gable, ridge, soffit vents, or none of the above for ventilating the attic. Inspection of the exterior walls for water stains, microbial growth, excess shrubbery in close proximity to the house, and the condition of trim and caulking around the windows and doors should be included.

    The roof should be looked at for missing or bulging shingles, the presence of metal drip edges, and the condition of chimney and valley flashing. Moss, algae, or mold on the exterior of the building are indicators of damp conditions. Overgrown trees and shrubs near the house may be aesthetically pleasing, but could prevent sunlight from drying the exterior of the house effectively.

    Moving Inside

    Upon entering the building, the investigator should inspect the flooring at the entrance. Careful observation may indicate whether tracked-in water is a problem, particularly if the surface is unprotected carpet. One of the most ignored moisture problems in buildings is the condensation moisture on slab-on-grade floors. The earth generally is 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the air temperature.

    During periods of elevated relative humidity, condensation can occur when the temperature of a surface is below the dew point. Carpeted surfaces installed on concrete slabs may hide this moisture. Some recent building code changes, such as the Massachusetts energy code, require sub-slab insulation in commercial and multi-residential buildings to minimize this condensation moisture.

    The same condensation can occur on basement walls. If the house has a basement that is unfinished, the inspector should examine the foundation wall construction. Old stone foundations are likely to be porous and allow moisture to enter the basement. Concrete block and poured concrete foundations should be tighter, particularly if coated on the exterior, but water stains on the concrete and around foundation windows, along with efflorescence, are signs of water entry.

    Examination of the floor joists, insulation, and subfloor sheathing is recommended. If the first floor is air conditioned and the basement is not, the cool surface of the subfloor may condense moisture. The water heater and other mechanical equipment located in the basement should be inspected for rust or water marks from previous water entry.

    Between the Walls

    A finished basement introduces some new problems. The investigator should inspect for water stains and test the base of the exterior walls with a moisture meter. If moisture entry is suspected in any areas, it may be necessary to cut holes into the drywall.

    Several techniques can be used for investigating moisture sources within walls. A moisture meter is the least invasive but cannot always indicate the sources of the moisture. Mapping the moisture at the base of walls, around windows, and around doors can determine whether the seals are failing.

    Moisture patterns on flooring can indicate whether the moisture is coming from a leaking pipe or from an outdoor water intrusion. A boroscope and a relatively small hole can allow the investigator to observe the inside wall directly on the exterior wall or at a 90-degree angle. This should allow observation of leaking pipes or efflorescence on a hidden wall in a wall cavity, assuming insulation is not a major interference. Fiber optic videotaping is used in heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning duct exploration and in uninsulated wall cavities to look for water damage.

    A relatively new tool, infrared light analysis of wall temperatures, can be used to evaluate wall moisture, both in the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Because water holds heat differently than many building materials, this analysis can be useful when other methods are unsuccessful. Although it is sensitive and non-invasive, it is not widely used, however, because of its cost and limitations. Outside testing must occur when sunlight is not present, and the results can be affected by metals.

    In occupied areas of the house, the search for water damage should include careful examination of water stains and looking below sinks, bathroom fixtures, and around tubs, both visually and with a moisture meter. Again, there are occasions when slowly leaking pipes hidden in walls or animal nests (sources of urine) will not be observed and only destructive sampling of a suspected location will locate the moisture source. If holes must be drilled into finished walls, blank electrical plates to cover the holes can minimize the impact of the destructive testing. If possible, test holes may be cut inside closets and behind base moldings.

    Attic inspections involve determining whether water damage is the result of condensation moisture, ice damming, or roofing failure. Widespread water damage or ice crystals on the lower surface of the roof sheathing in cold seasons are indicative of condensation moisture. Discoloration from water staining along the eaves, coupled with poor or obstructed soffit attic ventilation, is indicative of ice damming, as are icicles from the gutters in the winter. Water stains and streaks concentrated around chimneys and roof valleys indicate flashing and seal failures.

    One of the most powerful tools for the building investigator is to be a good listener. Although some occupants may offer biased opinions, most insureds can provide valuable historic information, which can be confirmed or denied by careful examination. Understanding how water affects exposed building materials after single events, as opposed to chronic exposure, is another key to interpreting causations of water losses. Wood decay, for example, only occurs after long-term exposure, while efflorescence on masonry or concrete is not likely from one-time leaks. Putting all the clues together makes for an objective evaluation, which should stand up to the scrutiny of all parties.

  • A Hurricane Season of Discontent: Lessons Learned in 2004
  • An Ancient Trouble is Still a Modern Worry

    May 01, 2004

    Although the battle against mold has been waged for centuries, this article presents some practices that can help minimize mold losses.

    Claims Mold Supplement, May 2004
    Mark E. Goldman, CMC

    And he shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house with hollow strakes, greenish or reddish…break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house, and carry them forth out of the city.

    This passage from the Book of Leviticus, which reads like an awkward directive from a manual on mold remediation, is an indication that mold has been troubling mankind since Biblical times. Although mold has been an issue for centuries, only in recent years has it grabbed the spotlight. This is due to high-profile lawsuits, such as the Ballard case in Texas, in which a family claimed that mold in their home was the source of their myriad health problems. The Ballards won an initial $32 million judgment against their insurance company, which later was reduced to $4 million.

    The Ballard case is only one example of the onslaught of litigation that has targeted defendants, including contractors, architects, insurers, building owners, and property manager. As health problems have become connected to mold exposure, mold has been elevated beyond a simple property loss issue, and many property owners and tenants have growing concerns about toxic mold exposure.

    In reality, the relationship between health and mold growth in buildings is poorly understood. It appears, however, that short-term health implications and the possibility of long-term health effects do exist.

    In the insurance industry, mold is not always part of a standard insurance policy. In instances where it is included in policies, the trend is toward instituting dollar caps on coverage, in order to minimize pay outs. It is unknown whether waivers and exclusions of mold insurance coverage will continue to stand up in court. Some argue that it is difficult to make a distinction between mold due to a “covered peril,” such as a broken pipe, and mold growth resulting from other sources, such as excess humidity, condensation, or building defects.

    At this point, there are still more questions about mold than answers. However, many lessons have been learned about proper building practices, preventive maintenance, accurate testing, and remediation procedures that can help curb mold losses.

    Examining Building Practices

    Post-World War II Construction practices are partially to blame for mold problems, due to the use of building products such as carpets, fiberglass, and gypsum board. These materials are porous and contain nutrients that support mold growth, whereas plaster and hardwood flooring, common construction materials prior to WWII, are much less susceptible. It is important to remember, however, that all building materials, both organic and inorganic, can become breeding grounds for mold if improperly installed. Careful planning and attention during the construction phase will reduce the changes of costly mold and moisture problems down the road.

    First, a site should be properly graded before construction begins and all materials should be kept dry during construction. Although this seems like common sense, bad weather is not the only threat to materials during this phase. Condensation on cold concrete slabs and foundations or non-insulated building corners has provided sufficient moisture in some cases to cause mold growth.

    Insulation under concrete can prevent condensation, which is a particular issue in hot, humid climates. Also, moisture barrier products can prevent moisture from entering low areas. These products, often sprayable liquids, form seamless membranes that shield porous building materials from moisture penetration. If moisture is noticed in the basement prior to the HVAC installation, the basement should be properly dehumidified. Another action that can prevent future mold problems is to allow wood and concrete adequate time to dry before installing plywood, carpet, tile, etc.

    When it comes to installing carpet in commercial settings or homes, common sense should rule. Carpet should not be installed in a health-care of food setting, such as cafeteria, restaurant, or kitchen. Liquid spills and food can be difficult to clean up, and excess moisture can lead to mold growth. However, there may be minimal risk in installing carpet in a second floor bedroom or office, and acoustic and cost considerations may make carpet the best choice under certain circumstances.

    Gypsum board, especially when used in basements, should be installed approximately an inch off the ground to prevent water from wicking up in the event of minor leaks or floods. Gypsum board paper-faced products used as exterior sheathing present unique problems. If the board becomes moldy and remediation is necessary, the exterior of the building may have to be removed to allow access to the gypsum sheathing, a colossal undertaking and one example of why vigilance during construction is important.

    O&M Plans

    A well designed operation and maintenance plan is one key to preventing mold damage and property loss. These plans ensure that building managers, owners, and maintenance workers are aware of the specific actions they must take to prevent and, should the need arise, promptly address mold and moisture problems. The value of these plans increasingly is being recognized across the industry.

    In the commercial insurance field, some carriers require that the building be evaluated by mold consultants initially, a requirement for purchase and insurance coverage in some cases. Additionally, some require that the building management maintain an O&M plan designed to prevent water instruction. Failure to follow the plan could result in loss of coverage or added costs.

    Unfortunately, there is no standard O&M that works for every building. To be truly effective, an O&M must be tailored to the individual building, existing building systems, and the climatic region. Humid climates will have very different building pressurization and HVAC needs that dry environments. Buildings in these humid regions, such as the southeastern United States, should be positively pressurized and should have moisture barriers designed to minimize moisture intrusion. An O&M plan would include special focus on monitoring moisture in the basement and inspection of the integrity of the building envelope.

    In the Northeast, ice damming and moisture condensation are problems, but can be combated with well-designed attic ventilation and well maintained roofs. Colder climates also suffer frozen pipes that can burst, causing water damage. The roof, attic, and plumbing system in colder climates should be inspected regularly, especially during winter months.

    Also of importance: if a building in this climate is to be vacant for an extended period of time during the winter, the water system should be shut down and drained. If the water system remains turned on, pipes must be insulated and kept warm, and someone should check on the building frequently to ensure that an event, such as a pipe break, has not occurred.

    In general, an O&M plan includes common-sense inspections carried out by maintenance staff or outside contractors. Roofs, HVAC systems, building envelopes, crawl spaces, basements, attics, and plumbing and drainage systems should be inspected and evaluated. Any standing water, visible growth, or water stains should send up red flags. Disaster response procedures should be outlines clearly, and a list of vendors with expertise in inspection and remediation is helpful to have on hand.

    Moisture problems uncovered during inspections may be small and cost little to nothing to fix, such as moving a water cooler to a tile surface rather than allowing it to remain on carpet, where water damage is evident. Larger problems may require outside help and may be more costly, but it is always better to address the problem immediately rather than allowing it to spiral out of control, which could cost even more money later.

    When Mold Happens

    Approximately 200,000 species of mold are in existence, and only about three dozen species are known to contain mold toxins, the black mold that has caused widespread fear and attention and is linked to varying health issues. However, even on-toxic mold can cause allergies, irritation, and asthma. In rare cases, immune-suppressed individuals can develop opportunistic infections from specific mold species. Therefore, it is important to have mold problems eliminated quickly and effectively.

    Remarkably, at this time, there is no federal, state, or local licensing of mold investigators or remediation contractors. Hiring incompetent people or companies to handle mold issues can have catastrophic consequences. Ineffective remediation work could release mold spores into the air, worsening the problem. In school, health-care, or residential settings for example, occupants may be very young, elderly, or have preexisting conditions that could be exacerbated by shoddy clean-up jobs.

    What should you look for in a competent remediator? Field experience and knowledge of building systems is the short answer. A mold expert may hold many different certification programs and titles, but those are not the most important criteria in deciding whom to hire. A mold expert can be Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), a microbiologist, or a Certified Microbial Consultant/Investigator (CMC/CMI), but be sure to look past the degrees, certifications, and fancy titles and ask questions about a candidate’s field experience.

    It also is helpful to be aware of some common mistakes that help identify lack of experience. For example, a novice investigator is likely to overcompensate by collecting more samples than needed. Unnecessary sampling can drive up the cost of the investigation and, often, is not valuable in establishing the cause or the age of the water loss.

    Another mark of inexperience is the collection of airborne fungal samples when visible mold growth is present. Although required by some insurance companies, if mold growth is visible, little is gained from sampling airborne fungi. Airborne levels are altered with temperature, relative humidity, and vibration, and air sampling does not provide assessment information unless mold growth is not visible.

    Evaluation of whether mold exists in a wall cavity presents a challenge to many new investigators. Is destructive testing required, and will the testing affect the building occupants? How and where does one test in order to minimize the damage and still be confident that the testing is thorough? The industry does not have clear-cut answers to these questions, and picking the best options can be daunting for an unseasoned investigator.

    Solving the Problem

    Why have mold losses been so difficult to control? One possible answer is that, because to prevent and quickly solve mold problems, a commitment must be made by all parties: the architect, construction company, building owner, manager, and tenants. Everyone involved must be dedicated, and this is difficult to achieve for obvious reasons.

    However, more people are now aware of not only how dangerous mold can be, but also what actions can be taken to prevent and address problems. O&M plans are gaining momentum, smarter construction practices are being implemented, and building supply companies are working to develop moisture-resistant materials that may eventually replace what contractors are using today.

    The battle against mold has been waged for centuries and, despite a sometimes frustrating struggle, experts are developing new and inventive ways to keep the slimy beast at bay.



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