The presence of mold in structures becomes an issue in all types of claims including roof damage, flooding, and fires. As the media report on mold and our society becomes more educated about mold and its health effects, people's concerns rise on a daily basis. Reactions range from dismissal that mold is a problem to rampant hysteria that has people running for the hills. The reality of mold generally falls somewhere in the middle of that range. Everyone knows what mold looks like, everyone knows that mold may have health effects, and everyone knows that mold can be addressed. As with most issues, a level of reasonableness and prudence must be applied.
Since the dawn of time, regardless of the inhabitants of this planet, one of the constants of life is mold does its job, 24/7/365. Mold existed in the environment prior to man's arrival and will likely continue long after we are extinct. In modern society, we perceive mold as a problem which must be eradicated from our homes, offices and the indoor environment. In reality, eradication of mold is impossible. Even if mold could be eradicated, we would not want to see it go away because mold generally makes our life better. It is hard to understand the usefulness of mold when it is growing inside our structures and is creating problems for occupants, but mold has its attributes and is ever present. Our bodies have developed a tolerance to mold, but as individuals, our tolerance varies from individual to individual. Health problems occur when individuals are exposed to excessive amounts of mold, or their bodies are susceptible to mold's effects.
Before exploring how to control mold inside our buildings, it is vital to recognize that mold is an important and critical part of the natural environment. Molds allow the planet to sustain itself. Molds are a critical component of breaking down organic materials such as floral, fauna and their byproducts. We need and desire mold growth outdoors, but we want to limit the indoor presence of mold.
Mold is always present indoors. There are thousands of molds in our environment, but the ones that get the most press are stachybotrys (commonly referred to as "stachy"), aspergillus and penicillium. These molds are most commonly discussed because they are generally associated with chronic wetting of building components and have been documented to have a negative impact on human health. Indoor mold concentrations can fluctuate. For a healthy building, airborne mold concentrations inside our buildings are typically below the mold concentrations outside our buildings. In buildings exhibiting problem areas, airborne mold concentrations can be observed which exceed concentrations in outdoor air, or the percentage distribution of the molds are not consistent with the natural environment. Since mold is always present, the best we can do is limit and control its growth in the "built" environment.
Molds need two basic elements to perpetuate and thrive; food and water. To limit mold growth indoors, it is important to control one or both of these elements. Since molds consider organic materials (i.e. wood, paper, cloth, dust, etc.) to be food, it is almost impossible to eliminate these materials from our buildings. After all, these organic materials are the construction materials used to erect our buildings. Therefore, to control mold, we must control the water entering our buildings.
Water enters our buildings in four (4) primary ways: infiltration, flooding, moisture vapor transmission, and condensation. Often, when mold occurs, water is entering the building by a combination of these means.
Water infiltration through a leaking building envelop generally occurs when a building is not well maintained or a building is not well constructed, allowing precipitation to enter the building through faulty roofing, flashings, counter-flashings, siding, exterior finishes, and masonry.
Flooding can occur in various ways and may be associated with different types of water: clear water; gray water; black water; and natural flood waters. Examples of clear water flooding include a ruptured water heater or a burst potable water pipe. Gray water flooding occurs when slightly contaminated water (e.g. laundry water or bathwater) overflows. Black water flooding results from a sewer backup or a toilet overflow. Natural flood waters originate from flooding rivers and heavy precipitation and often contain, or are considered, black water.
Moisture vapor transmission occurs through natural processes. Moisture is transmitted in the form of vapor and migrates from regions of higher humidity to regions of lower humidity. Moisture vapor transmission generally occurs as air moves from warmer areas to cooler areas. This mechanism occurs when moisture is capable of moving via air leakage or diffusion. Moisture vapor transmission only creates a problem when the vapor condenses onto building components or contents.
Condensation is the change of the physical state of water vapor from its gaseous phase to its liquid phase. Condensation occurs when water vapor is cooled to its saturation limit and forms liquid on a cooler surface. Condensation occurs when warm, moist air enters a cooler space, a building's heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems fails to adequately reduce the relative humidity within the built environment, or inadequate air movement is present to dry moisture as it accumulates on surfaces. Many mold issues are created by owners, residents, occupants, contractors, architects, or engineers that have created moisture problems, or allow moisture problems to develop or persist. For example, owners and residents often create problems by failing to clean their gutters, directing downspouts into their landscaping instead of directing the water away from their homes, or failing to address a plumbing leak. Contractors improperly install materials, or install the wrong materials for the application. Architects and engineers often specify the wrong products for the application or the climate. When it comes to claims, we are often asked to evaluate if the mold occurred due to a single incident. When making the evaluation, like any forensic investigation, consider the evidence thoroughly. Educate yourself, know how buildings function, and understand the science behind mold growth. Determine if the mold growth stems from a single event or if it was caused by a systemic problem which has occurred over a period of time. Remove the positive and negative emotional responses and base your decisions on sound engineering principles. The evidence is there.
Dispute resolution, accurate documentation, rapid claims processing - these are all important elements of the property and casualty claims process. In fact, each of these elements can determine the Customer Satisfaction scores (C-SAT) of consumers when processing claims. When looking at roofing claims in particular, the importance of third-party validation and the inalterability of those results have become the cornerstone to increasing and maintaining CSAT scores.
Why is third-party validation important? Particularly, it provides accurate information and historic documentation that can limit disputes and speed the processing of claims. With the increasing number of professionals involved in the claims process, having third-party validation that is set or unchangeable is critical.
An influential new technology in this area that furnishes important third-party validation for roof measurements is provided by EagleViewĘ Technologies headquartered in Seattle, Washington. EagleView provides aerial 3D roof measurement reports that include overall square footage, linear footage and pitch. The reports are the most accurate measurements in the industry due to their ability to create 3D images and then extract the important measurements from the 3D diagram. The patented software and process have been tested by major insurance carriers for accuracy in thousands of in- stances with great success.
A key part of third-party validation is the assurance that measurements cannot be altered or changed after the fact. From the very beginning in early 2008 when EagleView was launched, it has had a strict policy that measurements are guaranteed and all files sent out are read-only.
"As we developed EagleView, we knew that we had to have accuracy we could stand behind in order to be a true validation of roof measurements for all parties involved in a roofing claim," said Chris Barrow, president and CEO of EagleView Technologies. "We do not allow anyone to change the measurements on the reports because we know they are accurate. We have a thorough quality control and dispute process, so for the very few instances where measurements are off we can correct and validate them for the customer."
"Before EagleView, there was a lot of room for dispute with little accountability due to the lack of a fast and affordable third-party expert," said the president of a large engineering company that relies on EagleView. "We documented countless instances of overpayments on the side of the carriers due to inflated material estimates. EagleView has changed how we do business by giving us fast and accurate measurements for a reasonable fee. It has not just benefitted our clients, but the industry as a whole."
"In order for any report to be useful, it must be generated by an independent and unbiased organization. No one affiliated with the claim can have the opportunity to change or modify the measurements; otherwise, the report is always open to scrutiny in a dispute," concluded the engineering company president. "We have been in countless litigations, disputes and arbitrations and have found no substitute for EagleView's reports. They have become the standard."
The EagleView Technology was introduced to I-ENG-A members during their 2011 annual convention.
When certain facts about a claim become dubious in the mind of the adjuster; due to a certain feeling, or specific actions on the part of the claimant, insurance professionals at times feel compelled to call upon the services of a forensic engineer.
A qualified engineer, certified to ply his particular trade can ferret out all sorts of interesting details that the claims adjuster has either no knowledge of, or has little time to pursue. But is the worth of the forensic engineer limited to his engineering know- how only, or could there be a more nuanced angle to his investigation?
Let's say there is a failure of a main support member in a particular structure, and you contact an engineer to investigate. Is it only the detailed engineering calculations you are hoping to learn about, or could there be more to the failure than just one weakened member? Are there other important questions that need to be explored? Tensile, compressive and shear stresses may all come in to play as a reason for the failure. We know the stress is equal to the force applied to the cross-sectional area of the structural member,
S = σ = F/A
and calculations can be completed to ensure code requirements were maintained.
But, it's not just the calculations, which many engineers can do.
What other circumstances surround the failure? Was the structure designed very recently, or was it built many years ago? Are the materials of construction per the specifications? Were the welders qualified to complete the welding? Were the procedure qualification records maintained? Were the fasteners of the correct material and thicknesses such that they would meet long-term requirements? Were any similar structures built that can be reviewed? Has corrosion been ruled out as a potential cause? There are many aspects of every investigation when an engineer has to be more than just an engineer.
The engineer needs to be overly curious, to the point of being a sleuth. Inspector Clouseau was heard to say, "There is a time to laugh, and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them". Take the guesswork out of choosing the right engineer. Choose one who is more than just tables and numbers. Don't let the last laugh be on you.
Give your local I-ENG-A member a call!