Building envelope assessments for storm-related damage is a normal part of job for the property adjuster and forensic consultant. The assessment of storm-related damage inevitably becomes a question of whether the observed condition pre-dates the storm or is the result of sudden and
recent event. In fact, the question may very well be, “Did the observed condition exist
during or even before the building was constructed; is the condition the result of a
construction or design related defect?”
Buildings are fairly straightforward.
With four walls and a lid, there isn’t much
really that can go wrong. Right? Actually, buildings are doing quite a bit even
though it appears that they are sitting
there, blocking the view of the sunset.
Even a simple building is, in actuality,
a somewhat sophisticated “machine.” It
keeps the wind and rain out, hopefully.
A building reflects radiation, insulates
from temperature fluctuations, maintains
an internal environment, cycles gas, and
manages vapor transmissions.
It also transfers gravity—the weight
of material, people, equipment, and
furniture—and lateral (wind and earthquakes) loads safely to the foundation.
This modern machine distributes fresh
water and electricity and expels waste.
It can detect smoke or unauthorized entry and even call for help. And that is a
simple building. All these things happen
when an amazing sequence of events
comes together out of seeming (and literal) chaos through the procurement
process resulting in a finished building.
What can go wrong?
tions of and flaws in the design, material defects, and things can go seriously
wrong. By the way, none of the opportunities for a construction defect mentioned above include malintent. Defects
can happen with honest, well-meaning
So how does one sort a construction
defect from storm-related damage? A
claims professional can make this determination in a couple of ways: One is
to endeavor to understand the layers of
physics associated with a building and
identify the root cause of an observed
condition based on the current understanding of the physical world. The other
is to look for manifestation of a condition in a manner that would be consistent
with an ongoing, cyclic, and/or chronic
issue that is not that of a sudden, recent,
and acute event such as a storm.
A Few Ongoing
The opportunities for things to go
wrong when constructing a building are
almost endless. Inevitably something will
catch the contractor or the design team
off-guard. What is surprising, however, is
the number of issues that are repeated on
almost an epidemic scale. A few of those
include the following:
Ventilation. With respect to roofs,
proper attic ventilation is vital to the performance and longevity of the framing
and roof covering. A properly ventilated
roof assembly can also impact cooling
costs in warmer portions of the United
States. Most building codes (
International Code Council, 2006) and industry organizations (Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association) require that attics and
enclosed rafter spaces shall have cross
Construction is seldom performed by
one entity. Usually there is a general contractor whose job is to “buy-out” (
subcontract) the construction of the building. Typically there would be somewhere
in the neighborhood of 25 subcontractors
and maybe 10 to 15 suppliers, all of which
are orchestrated through the general contractor to provide what is, in some cases,
an artistic interpretation of the design
documents. Each subcontractor has
work that will interface with the work of
another. The opportunities for overlaps
and, worse, holes in the scope of work are
many. Multiply that with misinterpreta-
Recognizing conditions that require a long period of time and ongoing or cyclic exposure to moisture can be helpful in discerning storm-related damage from a con-struction-related defect. Here are some conditions to be mindful of:
Efflorescence is the drying out of a solution of hydrated or solvated salt. This occurs when moisture travels through a porous medium, dries out, and results in a salt
residue on the surface. These salts are often leached from mortar, masonry, or backfill
from a below grade application.
Corrosion of ferrous building components such as steel roof deck, bar-joists,
beams, and columns can be indicative of ongoing exposure to moisture. Exposure to
acidic chemicals like magnesium chloride (the stuff they put on the roads to melt ice
with that destroys the parking garages and bridges) can accelerate this process but is
still indicative of ongoing exposure to moisture.
Wood Rot is the decay of wood building components from fungal digestion. These
fungi tend to prefer moist environments and this can be indicative of constant or cyclic
exposure to moisture.
Multiple Repairs can be in the form of layer after layer of sealant, flashing, and
coating, whatever it takes to mitigate the water infiltration. Evidence of multiple repairs in a particular area is evident that the function building envelope failure is not
that of a recent one-time event but that of an ongoing condition.