Water Damage But No Signs of Water

Part of owning a recreational vehicle or travel trailer is keeping up with the maintenance. Owners of these types of vehicles know that they must make sure that sealed seams remain sealed so as to prevent water leakage. When water leaks occur, the signs are usually obvious: water stains will appear on ceilings, walls, and floors. In addition, when water has a chance to collect, spongy floors can be the result of rotting plywood. But, what about those times when the damage is there but the cause isn’t so obvious. Case-in-point, spongy floor but no water stains anywhere. This was an actual case that was recently encountered. Once the titled floor was removed from the damaged area, it became obvious that water stains were present and that water had caused the plywood subfloor to rot. Since there were no indications that the water came from outside the trailer, it had to have come from within. It was later determined that water lines had been routed beneath the floor where the damage had occurred. It then became clear that one of the lines had to have been leaking and caused the floor damage. Photos of the damaged floor and rotten subfloor are shown below.

Damaged floor adjacent to exterior wall
Title floor removed from damaged area, water damaged plywood subfloor found rotted

Who Owns the Evidence?

Recently, we conducted the examination of a 2013 Kia Soul, the purpose of which was to determine the cause of a fire. The vehicle had developed a problem with the antilock braking system and was taken to a local shop for repair. While on the shop’s lot and after an overnight, the vehicle was destroyed by fire the following day. During the examination of the vehicle, it was later confirmed that the fire had occurred on the repair shop’s property. It was also confirmed that the vehicle was owned by a third party. As a result, since the vehicle was evidence in the investigation, and since the vehicle was owned by the third party, the right of evidence ownership belonged to the third party. The implication being that any disassembly, or more importantly, any destruction of the evidence could be regarded as an act of “spoliation”. Spoliation of evidence refers to evidence that has been violated to the extent that one party to a lawsuit cannot use the evidence to prove its case. The party that causes the spoliation can usually be held liable by means of litigation. In these types of cases where the owner of the evidence is not the investigating expert’s client, care must be taken not to handle, remove, or otherwise examine something that can be altered by handling, broken, or replaced in its original position or state. It is advisable to photograph and document the condition of evidence and then conduct a joint examination with all interested parties at a later time.

Water Damage and Frost-Proof Faucets

Many homes and businesses are now equipped with something called a frost-proof faucet.  These devices are nothing new and have been around for several years.  They have all but replaced the old style water hydrants that had to be wrapped or covered and protected during winter months to keep them from bursting.  But, in order for a frost-proof faucet to work properly, it must be installed properly.  You would think that a plumber would be especially mindful of the consequences if they didn’t do the job right.  In any case, frost-proof faucets do rupture and the resulting water leakage can cause damage, either in a crawl space or inside a wall.  The photographs below show how the copper tube expanded at the point of rupture indicating where the water turned to ice and stressed the tube to the point of failure.  In order to understand what happened, it is necessary to understand that the faucet is equipped with a long stem that runs from the valve handle to the end of the copper tube where the water line is connected.  This is where the valve seat is located.  The valve seat is actually the part that stops the water flow when the valve is turned off.  If the faucet is installed horizontally or pitched upward, water will stay inside the copper tube instead of draining out of the hose connection end when the faucet is turned off.  The faucet must be pitched slightly downward with the hose connection end lower than the water line inlet end. Even if the valve seat is leaking, water must be allowed to drain out of the faucet.  In the case of the faucet in the photograph, when the water froze, its tendency was to expand to approximately 9 to 11% of its volume.  However, because of the enclosure within the copper tube, the ice could not freely expand.  As a result, the tube wall was stressed to a point where failure occurred.

Failed Water Hydrant
Expanded copper wall shown as bulge just to left of water line attachment
Area of copper tube wall failure

Importance of Leveling

Approximately four years ago, we conducted an examination of a reach-in cooler to determine why the door came off its upper hinge and struck the customer on the head who opened the door.  The injury to the customer’s head wasn’t serious but, a lawsuit did follow and was later settled out of court.  The cooler was typical of those found in grocery and convenience stores where shoppers can get milk, juice, or other cold beverages (see photo below). 

Reach-in cooler where the center door separated from upper hinge and hit custome

In order to understand how the accident occurred, the importance of leveling the cooler must be understood.  Leveling the cooler means that all of the horizontal surfaces are parallel and all of the vertical surfaces are parallel,  More specifically, the cooler door must be at right angles to the to the hinge brackets.  In this case, the cooler was not leveled during installation.  For whatever reason, the center leveling leg was found to have been lost when the cooler was installed.  When a leveling leg was finally installed on the cooler, it was never adjusted to make the cooler level.  As a result, the weight of the contents inside the cooler caused two horizontal structural members to bend (see photos below). The resulting bends caused the door to drop downward and at a small angle to the hinge brackets.  More importantly, the upper hinge pin dropped low enough in the hinge bracket so that when the door was opened, the hinge pin spun out of the hinge bracket causing the door to separate.  When the separation occurred, the tendency of the door was to rotate about the lower hinge and strike the customer.  

Upper and lower structural members bent in approximate center of cooler, leveling legs on ends adjusted for leveling
Center leveling leg found in fully inserted position, cooler not leveled

Hyundai and Kia Latest Engine Fire Updates

Hyundai and Kia are still having problems with engine fires.  The manufacturers are now telling owners to park their vehicles outside of their garages and carports because their vehicles can suddenly ignite even if the vehicles have not been driven.  The warning applies to approximately 485,000 vehicles in the U.S.  The problem is with the antilock braking system module which can leak fluid and cause an internal short circuit that leads to a fire.  This recall now includes 2014 – 2016 Kia Sportage, 2016 – 2019 K900 Sedans, 2016 – 2018 Santa Fe SUVs, 2017 – 2018 Santa Fe Sports, 2019 Santa Fe XL, and 2014 – 2015 Tucson SUVs.  Dealers are supposed to replace a fuse and if necessary the anti-lock brake control module.  Kia is expected to begin notifying owners beginning on March 31st and Hyundai owners will be notified beginning on April 5th.  We have previously reported on this issue and the articles are still available for review.  The articles are in the following posting sates: Feb 2020, Sept 2020, Jan 2021, May 2021, and Dec 2021.  The articles can be accessed by clicking on the month and year located on the right side margin and scrolling through the page after it loads.  For additional information, about the recalls, owners can contact Hyundai or Kia by phone or email as listed in the articles.   

Ford Recalls Vehicles for Brakes and Driveshaft

The Ford Motor Company has recalled 2021-2022 Bronco Sport and Escape vehicles as a result of the faulty manufacture of the rear brake linings.  The linings do not meet the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 135 and as a result, vehicles require longer stopping distances.  The remedy for this particular recall is currently under development and Ford was expected to begin notifying owners on January 10, 2022.  The number of vehicles involved in this recall is approximately 114,996.  Ford’s identification number for this recall is 21C31.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332 and referring to Ford’ recall number. 

Ford has also announced the recall of 184,698 F 150 pickup trucks, year models 2021-2022.  The problem with these trucks is that heat and noise insulating shields can loosen and make contact with the driveshaft.  Contact with the driveshaft can cause damage to the driveshaft that could also lead to a fracture type failure.  Owners should take their vehicles to a Ford dealer for a free inspection.  If repair is necessary, then the dealer will repair the vehicle free of charge.  Owner notification letters are expected to be mailed on January 31, 2022.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-866-436-7332 and referencing recall number 21S56.     

More About Hyundai and Kia Engine Fires

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is continuing its investigation of engine fires in Hyundai and Kia vehicles.  NHTSA has reportedly opened a new engineering analysis that covers in excess of 3 million vehicles.  It should be noted that some of the vehicles have already been recalled.  The vehicles in question are 2011 through 2016 Hyundai Elantra, Santa Fe and Sonata; and, Kia Optima, Rio, Sorento, and Soul.  These are the same engine problems that were reported in September of 2020 and again in January and May of 2021 on our blog.  All of the vehicles involved in the investigation are equipped with one of the following engines: Theta II GDI, Theta II MPI, Theta II MPI Hybrid, NU GDI, and Gamma GDI. For additional information, owners can visit NHTSA’s website at www.nhtsa.gov or contact their Hyundai/Kia dealer.       

Happy Holidays Everyone!

We have had a very successful year despite battling the pandemic, bad news around the country and the world, and people’s frustration with everything in general. We are also very thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. Our hope is for 2022 to be an even better year than 2021.

We would like to wish everyone a HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Cold Weather is Here Again!

            Once again, the weather has turned and cooler temperatures are starting to become the norm.  With the arrival of cold weather comes the use of heat producing appliances to keep our homes and businesses warm.  If you haven’t already done so, it is recommended that you engage a reputable heating and air conditioning company to service your furnace or heat pump and make sure that it is working properly before the really cold weather settles in.  For those of you that undertake that job personally, there are a few things that you should bear in mind.  When you take the service access panels off, be prepared to clean the motor and blower thoroughly.  Use a brush (a paint brush works fine) to clean inside the air openings of the motor and blower louvers.  Once you’ve dusted the air handling section, use the blower end of a shop vac (if available) to blow all of the dust out of the air handler.  If you don’t have a shop vac, use a standard vacuum cleaner and suck out as much dust as possible.  Lint and dirt buildup can burn and help to spread a fire, particularly if the furnace is started, allowed to operate, and service ignored for several seasons.  With heat pumps, air has to be able to flow freely through the inside and outside coils and therefore, has to be free of and any trash and debris that might have accumulated during the summer.  As with gas fired units, the air handler also has be cleaned and kept free of dust and lint.  Air filters should be replaced at the beginning of each heating (and cooling) season and inspected at least once per month.  Filters should be replaced when you can’t see through the media.  If you can’t see through the filter media, then air is being restricted enough to affect the heating (and cooling) capacity. 

            Aside from standard heating units, there are those that use kerosene or propane gas heaters.  In addition to a through cleaning, care must be taken to remember that small, fuel burning, space heaters and some gas log appliances are NOT VENTED.  As a result, they will produce CARBON MONOXIDE, a deadly, toxic gas.  Since these appliances are not vented, carbon monoxide is released into the space being heated.  DO NOT go to sleep with one of these types of appliances in operation.  Death from asphyxiation is a likely result.  Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning should be evacuated to the outdoors as quickly as possible while awaiting ambulance service.  Moreover, if you have to use a portable generator because of a power outage, remember, the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning is still present if the generator is operating inside the home or garage.  If using a small electric heater, a through cleaning is also required.  The main thing to remember when using space heaters, whether fuel burning or electric, is to keep them far enough away from combustible materials.  The heaters usually come with operating instructions that discuss how far from combustible material the heater can be placed.  However, the operating instructions are usually misplaced, discarded, or lost.  If you can’t remember how far away to place a heater, generally, a three foot distance is usually far enough away to keep most combustible material cool enough to keep it from igniting.  However, if the material feels too warm at a three foot distance, then move the heater back to increase the distance until the material feels cool.  USE COMMON SENSE! 

Water Pipe Damage Due to Arcing

Several years ago, it was permissible to “ground” an electrical system by attaching a wire from the grounding strip or terminal inside the fuse or breaker panel to a metallic pipe.  In many older homes and commercial buildings, this is still the case.  The intended purpose of doing so is to channel stray current directly to earth ground in order to prevent injury and damage to people and property.  Stray current can come from electrical problems with appliances, power surge and lightning.  In a recent investigation, a situation was discovered where electric utility wiring was faulty and caused their side of the power supply to a residence to energize the “ground” or neutral side of the supply.  The end result was the creation of several arcs between the ground wire strap and a copper water pipe.  The arcing that occurred was intense enough to burn holes in the piping.  Since the pipe was part of the hot water supply to the home, the home was flooded.  The damage to the pipe is shown in the photo below.   

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