Did You Get a Visit From Sandy?

Caveat emptor reigns supreme when purchasing a previously flooded home or building.

For months after SANDY hit our area, I was inundated with calls for help! My US Coast Guard shipyard and construction base experience, engineering training, and assistance with the development of the 2000 FEMA Coastal Construction Manual was valuable in helping my clients sort through their personal disasters.

Post-Sandy construction requirements overwhelmed the availability of qualified contractors and building code inspectors. Construction officials often allowed reconstruction without consideration for higher flood elevation requirements to expedite home owners returning to their homes. Insurance companies complicated the situation by using biased people to degrade the damage or misinterpret the federal flood insurance exclusions.

Homes and buildings flooded by super storm Sandy need extra due diligence before purchase.  FEMA published Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) recommendations shortly after Sandy that provides guidance for the necessary elevation to reduce risk of flood damage. The ABFE value should be understood for the location of a pending purchase.

In my opinion, it is prudent risk management to meet the ABFE requirements. For years, FEMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) have recommended a Coastal A zone where moderate wave action is expected.  NJ has not yet adopted this as a building code requirement. A FEMA Velocity zone is based on expected waves of 3 feet or higher. The ABFE maps show the limit of moderate wave action (LMWA) where waves of between 1.5 feet and 3 feet are expected.  FEMA and ASCE have recommended Velocity type construction for homes within the LMWA which essentially means upon pilings without lower barrier walls. The pending preliminary FIRM maps have significantly less elevation requirements.

Peter Schkeeper Named Fellow Member of Professional Industry Associations

Peter Schkeeper is one of the very few named a Fellow Member of the National Society of Professional Engineers “in recognition of exemplary service to the engineering profession, the community and the Society”.

Peter has also been awarded the title of Fellow of the National Academy of Building Inspection Engineers “for extraordinary accomplishment and leadership in the science and practice of building inspection engineering”.

How Good is Code Compliance?

Often I hear someone tell me they are building to “code” as if that is doing something very good. Well it is not. While code is ok, there are better and best practices that can provide superior results. In New Jersey building code requirements are stipulated in the NJ Uniform Construction Code (UCC) (N.J.A.C. 5:23). Building codes are actually the very minimum requirement to be “legal” in accordance with the NJ-UCC. Building codes are intended to protect the public health safety and welfare. They provide a baseline of requirements. For the most part they are only applicable at the time of new construction. With time and with state of art improvements in materials and methods of work, newer codes often provide better results than older codes. My point here is that codes are minimum requirements not unlike the worst jalopy that can legally drive on the highway.

Wind Driven Rain

Wind driven rain can create leaks. Locating the source of water entry from wind driven rain can be very difficult. Sometimes water testing is needed to duplicate the leak and/or invasive evaluation to learn what failed or what was not properly installed.

While a roof and building exterior may last many years without water leaks, a very specific high wind direction during a rain storm will generate wind driven rain that can cause water entry. That water entry may not be immediately apparent but once it happens it will often get worse over time.

Generally there is an underlayment weather resistant barrier below the roof covering and there is a secondary or weather resistant barrier behind siding. All penetrations need flashing systems and windows and doors need drainage systems. When these barriers are not adequate or the flashing systems at penetrations are not adequate or when there has been some exterior damage that was not detected and repaired, water entry can result. Included in exterior damage would be flexible sealant systems that were not properly replaced before they lost their bonding and/or flexibility. All materials have a service life when replacement should be planned prior to failure.

Following a high wind rain event it is recommended to perform a general inspection of your home or building to identify obvious damage even if water entry is not known to have occurred. When water entry is detected it is helpful to note the time and date and all weather information such as wind direction, wind speed, and rate of rain fall. Photographs of each building side are helpful when performing these post storm inspections to record your observations. An exterior inspection is recommended at least once a year.

How to Access FEMA Preliminary Flood Map Data

Home Lookup Tool and Publications Now Available
FEMA publishes preliminary flood map information at their website for our region. See it here. Go to the View Flood Hazard Info section and then for a specific home or building you can click on “What is my BFE? Address lookup tool.”

Sometimes that data uses the street location of the house that is different from the actual location of the house or building. Remember that it is the worst case flood zone applicable to any portion of the building that applies to the entire building. That same view flood hazard info section also allows viewing preliminary flood maps and related data. FEMA has numerous free publications that are very helpful when considering upgrading a home located in a flood zone. For example there is FEMA P-259, Engineering Principles and Practices of Retrofitting Floodprone Residential Structures, Third Edition (2012) and FEMA P-804, Wind Retrofit Guide for Residential Buildings (2010)

FEMA to Review Flood Damage Claims

Ensuring Sandy victims get fair treatment

In evaluating structural disaster, I have seen where insurance companies were presented with an adverse engineering report only to embrace a subsequent report supportive of denying full or any insurance coverage.

Many times I have seen reports that were not prepared by a New Jersey Licensed Professional Engineer. An Asbury Park Press article  cited one of my reports where I indicated that, in my opinion, the insurance company engineering report was probably not entirely written by the engineer who signed the report.  My report was submitted to my client before an independent court case in New York became public, where it was found that the insurance company modified or had an engineering firm modify the original which was less than favorable to the insurance company report.  Just recently The New York Times  reported that FEMA will now investigate all Sandy claims to determine if an engineering report had been modified.

A structural engineering friend of mine who was low on work at the time of Sandy was offered insurance company work by a national engineering firm specializing in providing disaster evaluation coverage to insurance companies.  He was flown to Louisiana for an education program and presented with a procedure to perform some cursory observations and then was to select from a set of pre-written reports having only a few places for original opinion.  When he challenged the instructor with the idea that he might have a different opinion than one of the standard reports, he was sent home without a job.

Regrettably, I have learned that even the engineering profession can have some bad apples.  It appears that insurance companies may be offered the services of such biased people to reduce the insurance company payouts.  I am happy to learn about this FEMA development and hope it will be helpful to Sandy victims who were not given fair treatment.

Roof Warranty

Protecting your investment, your family and your home.

Obtaining a roof covering warranty is extremely important when having a new roof covering installed.  It can be a complicated process.  It does cost more for a better warranty.  No assumptions can be made during the process of learning about the warranty you are to receive.  It is so easy to be deceived into thinking that a manufacture’s published “material only” warranty is all you will need. In my experience most roof leaks are not caused by roof covering material failure.  Improperly installed or missing flashing systems are probably the greatest cause of roof leaks particularly with high slope roof surfaces. Poor workmanship is the largest cause of roof failure.  Workmanship issues and the labor to correct improper work are excluded from a basic material only warranty.

Assuming the contractor is providing a warranty when you are shown the manufacturer’s material warranty is not good enough. There are many materials used to apply a roof that are not necessarily supplied by the roof covering manufacturer plus there is the labor element.  Roof covering warranties are available that cover both material and labor even when the roof was not properly installed.  The warranty is often different for residential use then for commercial use.  In commercial applications it is possible to obtain a no-dollar-limit (NDL) warranty that covers both material and labor even when improper workmanship was found.  The NDL warranties typically range from 10 to 30 years.

The best roof warranties require inspection by the manufacturer’s factory representative.  It is recommended to have the roof material manufacturer’s representative participate in the specifications for the roof covering including a review of all associated materials that will be used.  This includes all flashing systems, fasteners, fastener locations, and edge conditions.  Some manufacturers also make flashing systems to be used with their roof covering products.  All roof to wall joints, all valleys, all penetrations, and all edge conditions require appropriate flashing systems.  Additional water penetration reduction materials such as ice and water shield may be needed in certain locations of the roof. How roof water drainage is being handled may affect how the roof covering should be applied. There may be the need to modify the roof deck before a new roof application is made which should also be reviewed with the manufacturer’s factory representative.  A third party such as an inspector cannot replace the manufacturer’s factory representative unless authorized by the manufacturer.

All warranties have exclusions so it is very important to understand what is being excluded when making your purchasing decision.  Warranties often have notification requirements that if not met will void the warranty. The initiation of the warranty may require certain notifications as typically would the transfer of a warranty, when covered.

Higher levels of warranties often require higher level certifications of the contractor by the manufacture.  Today you can expect to see warranty options published at the manufacturer’s website. A thorough review of the material manufacturer’s website is a necessary element of your homework when purchasing new roofing.

An Infrastructure Video You Must See

Saw this video and am compelled to share it. We all drive over bridges, occupy or visit tall buildings, live near dams. “John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight” three minute infrastructure video is fun and compelling. Watch it here.

Infrastructure is vital and we must start maintaining it at the least or who knows where the next Minneapolis type bridge failure will be.

Get after your county, state, federal representatives to do something constructive. We did.

Roof Water Runoff Control

How does your property handle it?

Roof water runoff control is one of the most important things a home or building owner can do to reduce potential basement water entry and soil settlement at the foundation.

Observe what happens during very heavy rains. The kind of rain that only lasts a few minutes typically causing flash flooding of roads.

The ponding of water on the ground near the foundation will guide you to where measures are needed to divert the water away from the building. Grade level gutters may be needed if larger gutters and larger downspouts with rigid drainpipes are not enough to keep the water away from the foundation.