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.   

Water Inside Your Crawlspace?

Recently, Tennessee and many parts of the southeast have been experiencing a large amount of rain.  Not everyone has been flooded but, what about homes that have been inundated with water in a crawlspace.  When you stop to think about it, water entering a space where it shouldn’t be is the result of groundwater where the water table level is higher than the ground inside the crawlspace.  If not acted upon to remove, the water will cause floor joists and subflooring to mold and rot.  The moisture will also ruin air duct insulation and given enough time, will cause cinder block and brick walls to crack.  The photo below shows an extreme case where water has accumulated inside a crawl space and the process of decay has already begun. 

Although a remedy should have been in place long ago, drainage and foundation companies will usually recommend installing their “patented drainage systems”.  These systems usually include a sump, sump pump, and drainage piping, all for a few thousand dollars.  While these systems will work in most cases, most people don’t realize that the system is actually treating a symptom.  Water will continue to enter the crawl space as long as the water table level is above ground level in the crawl space.  The solution to this problem is to lower the water table level to a few feet below the foundation level so that when it rains any water that seeps into the ground is pumped away before it can enter the crawl space.  Unfortunately, many municipalities and states have strict laws governing drilling wells and pumping water out of the ground, and it can be expensive.  But if you’re lucky enough to be able to use an auger and drill to a depth beneath the level of the foundation, about three to four feet, you might be able to use a submersible or pedestal pump to remove the water.  It will take some time but, each time the pump is energized, a certain amount of water is removed and creates a void in the space where the pump is located.  The tendency will be for the water to fill the void and in the process, the water level has to go down.  Just some food for thought…          

Water Damage and Attic Installed Air Handlers

Most people are aware that air conditioning units can come as a package, everything in one box; or as a combination of two pieces of equipment, an outdoor condensing unit and an indoor air handler.  Remote, or split systems as they are often called, are specifically designed so that the air handling unit has to be located in an interior area where it can be safely operated and maintained.  One of the areas commonly used for air handler installation is the attic space of a building or residential structure.  Regardless of the location, provision must be made during the installation to catch water should the unit begin to leak.  It should be noted that water is a product of the cooling process.  That is, as air passes over the cooling coil, water can condense out of the air.  A drain line is typically connected to the cooling coil housing and routed away from the unit to the outside.  But, if for some reason the water does not drain correctly, it can begin to accumulate inside the air handler and will find a way to escape.  In order to capture the leakage and prevent structural damage, drain pans are commonly placed beneath the unit for this purpose.  It is the responsibility of the installing contractor to make sure that the drain pan is sufficiently large to catch whatever water leakage might occur wherever it happens to flow out of the equipment.  The photograph below shows a typical installation.  The problem that occurred here was that the drain pipe filled with debris and caused the drain water to back-up into the cooling coil and plenum.  When the water exited the unit, it missed the drain pan entirely and damaged the ceilings over the dining room and garage.  In this case, the drain pan was not large enough to fit under the air handler and plenum and was therefore useless.  Because of the damage that occurred, the installing contractor was held responsible. 

Applications of Investigative Mechanical Engineering

Although we have been practicing forensic engineering for over 30 years, it has come to our attention that many adjusters in the commercial and personal property lines markets may not know the extent of our services.  So, a list of services has been attached below.  Most of the applications are self explanatory.  However, every once in a while, someone will ask if the loss they are handling is within the scope of our expertise.  While it would be impossible for an adjuster to recognize every scenario, we welcome questions about our services as they pertain to the loss.  Recently, we were asked if a water loss involving a skid steer was something we could evaluate.  The loss involved determining whether engine damage was part of the loss and should have been covered.  This application was definitely within our experience and service capability.  In general, if the loss involves something mechanical or electro-mechanical, we can usually accept the assignment.  Please feel free to make contact by calling the office or emailing directly,  Our contact information can be found on the “About” page of our website located at www.rjhill.com.

Supco Surge Protector Warning

A warning has been discovered that was issued by Sealed Unit Parts Company (Supco) that alerts consumers to a potentially defective lightning surge protector.  The warning identifies two surge protectors, SCM 60 and SCM 150 that are intended for use with HVAC equipment.  The surge protectors can fail and cause a fire which can spread to a home.  The units are wired into the HVAC unit’s disconnect box and is supposed to shunt lightning away from the HVAC unit through its ground connection.  The disconnect box is that box located adjacent to the unit that controls power going to the unit. Supco recommends that the units be replaced or removed.  Supco has also identified the manufacturer of the surge protectors as Sycom Surge Inc. and could be out of business.  The company website lists a toll free telephone number that appears to be assigned to another party.  However, it is unknown if the address is still current.  Furthermore, Sycom managed to obtain Underwriter Laboratories (UL) seal of approval.  However, UL, has also issued a warning saying the surge protectors do meet UL safety standards.  It should be noted that the surge protectors have NOT been recalled.  The warnings are contained in the attachments shown below along with photos of the surge protectors. 

Watch Where You Park!

Watch Where You Park!

Recently, we were asked to determine the cause of a fire in a 2002 GMC Sierra.  Since the vehicle was more than 10 years old, it was apparent that subrogation against the manufacturer, General Motors, was not going to be an option.  It was also learned that the vehicle had not been recently repaired so, subrogation against a third party was also not an option.  Upon arriving at the vehicle, it was noted that it was situated in an open area.  From the surroundings, it was clear that the land had been used as a dumping ground for wood chippers.  Wood chip debris was everywhere and the spot where the vehicle had initially ignited was clearly evident from the burn mark present on the ground.  Upon examination of the vehicle and verifying that combustion had taken place beneath the vehicle, it was clear that the wood chip debris had come in contact with the engine or engine exhaust pipe and ignited.  The vehicle and the ground that it was on are shown in the photographs below.  Whenever it becomes necessary to drive onto unpaved ground, it is prudent to make sure that your vehicle is not parked over dry wood or wood debris, dry grass, brush, or hay; dry corn stalks or husks, and anything else that might ignite and destroy your vehicle.               

Wood chip debris scattered on ground, blackened area where fire initially occurred
Casualty of wood chip debris fire

Kia Recalls Sportage Vehicles

Kia Motors America has announced the recall of its 2017 through 2021 Sportage vehicles not equipped with smart cruise control.  Kia has identified a defect in the hydraulic electronic control unit (HECU) that can short circuit and result in an engine compartment fire.  This is the same item that has been tentatively indentified in previous posts involving vehicle fires.  See archived posts made on May 5, 2021, “Second Hyundai Vehicle Fire Update”; January 20, 2021, “Ford F350 Engine  Fire”; January 7, 2021, “Hyundai Recall Update”; and September 10, 2020, “Hyundai and Kia Vehicles Recalled for Fire Hazard.  Although not specifically confirmed as being the same component, the HECU is suspected of leaking brake fluid internally within the unit that causes the short circuit and ultimately results in the engine fires.  For this reason, the vehicle manufacturers want owners to park their vehicles outside and away from any combustible structures.  According to Kia, illumination of various warning lights such as tire pressure, antilock brake, and check engine can also occur.  In addition, a burning odor or smoke coming from the engine compartment can occur.  If a burning odor is detected or smoke is observed, stop and exit the vehicle as soon as possible.  Get all passengers out and away from the vehicle.  For this particular recall, owners can refer to NHTSA campaign number 21V137 when contacting their Kia dealers for a repair.  The repair involves the replacement of certain fuses in order to prevent the overcurrent condition leading to engine fires.  For additional information, owners can contact Kia by calling 1-800-333-4542 or visiting Kia’s website at www.kia.com.

Weather Related Damage

Now that spring is here, the possibility of severe weather is a constant threat.  Here in the south we have just gotten through three severe storm episodes in the last two weeks.  With the severe storms come the storm claims.  It should be noted that whenever a claim is submitted to a carrier, the damage has to be weather related.  In other words, the cause of the damage has to be connectable to the resulting damage.  Although this point might seem obvious, there are those people that don’t realize what this statement means.  Just because your a/c goes out after several days of rain doesn’t mean that it was struck by lightning.  Unless lightning is proven to have been present when the failure occurred (and it is possible), the failure was most likely caused by something else.  We recently investigated an instance where a homeowner claimed that his heat pump expired as a result of ice that formed during a winter storm in February.  Upon further investigation, it was determined that the breakers that controlled power to the heating side of the unit were old and worn to the point where nuisance tripping was occurring.  As a result, the unit would not operate for more than a few minutes before shutting down.  The condition of the breakers is shown in the photograph below.  It is also understood that not everyone can be their own technician but, remember, if your claim is submitted on the basis of weather damage, the damage has to be seen as sudden and accidental.  But, more importantly, the damage has to be “connectable” to the damage causing event.  It is further suggested that when a weather related incident is encountered, it is documented as thoroughly as possible. Examples of documentation include taking photographs of ice crushing pipes, burn marks left behind after a lightning strike, wind tearing off roofing shingles, flood water level marks left on walls.  Remember to make notes and document all conversations with people involved as well.        

Cracked and Worn Breakers

Another Refrigerator Water Filter Failure

In yet another example of a defective product, we have encountered another water filter that has failed and caused damage to a residence.  The appliance involved was a Samsung refrigerator, model # RS2556SH.  This refrigerator uses a water filter that is mounted inside the refrigerator, in the upper right hand corner of the cabinet and is shown below.  The refrigerator is also equipped with an electronic panel that, among other things, tells the user when to replace the filter.  Although there is no way to tell when a filter will burst, it is prudent (and recommended) to replace the filter as soon as the filter light indicator tells the user that the filter life has expired.  Leaving the filter in place after the life has expired is risking a serious water leakage and damage situation.  As shown in the photograph below, the crack almost propagated around the entire circumference of the filter.  As it happened, the filter had been in use for approximately six months before the failure occurred.  It should be noted that the manufacturer recommends replacing the filter every six months.

Water filter cracked almost completely around

Property Inspection After Snow and Ice Storms

After last week’s ice and snow storm, most of the country has been left to dig out from under the freezing effects.  Most people don’t realize this but, ice can expand between 9 and 11 %.  When ice can’t naturally expand, the pressure imposed on the surroundings can rise dramatically.  Take for instance a water main break.  The water inside the water main doesn’t have to freeze for a break to occur.  Water in the ground can freeze and exert pressure on the exterior surface of the pipe by transmitting it through the dirt.  In similar ways, roofs can be damaged and pavement can be cracked.  Property owners should take the time to inspect their properties after thawing has occurred to determine if any damage is present.  If damage is encountered and depending on the extent of the damage, decisions will have to made on the best time to have the damage repaired,  how the damage will be repaired, and by whom.  Property owners should not take unnecessary risks, especially around electrical service.  Obviously, if the property owner cannot climb on the roof or enter a crawl space then they will have to find someone who can do the inspection for them.      

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