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.

Ford Recalls Explorer Vehicles

The Ford Motor Company has announced a recall for 2016-2019 Explorer vehicles.  620,483 vehicles are being recalled for a faulty roof rail cover that can become detached.  If the rail cover separates from the vehicle while the vehicle is in motion, it can become a flying hazard for other drivers and their passengers.  Affected vehicles include base models, XLT, police interceptor, and Explorer Sport.  The rail covers are painted silver, black or absolute black.  Dealers will secure the rail covers with plastic push pins.  Owner notification is expected to begin during the week of June 28.  Ford’s reference number for this campaign is 21S22.  For additional information, owners can contact Ford by calling 1-800-392-3673. Owners can also visit Ford’s website at www.ford.com.      

Hyundai Recalls Elantra, Kona and Veloster Vehicles

Hyundai Motor Company has announced the recall of 125,840 2019 througb 2020 Elantra and 2019 through 2021 Kona and Veloster vehicles.  All of these vehicles are equipped with 2 liter engines.  The reason for the recall was that the piston oil rings were not properly heat treated.  As a result, the rings can chip and scar the engine cylinders.  The result can be oil leakage, engine fires and total engine failure.  Owners are instructed to take their vehicles to their dealers for inspection of the engine.  Dealers will replace the engine at no cost to the owners and also install piston noise sensing software.  Owner notification is expected to begin on June 25, 2021.  For additional information, owners can contact Hyundai by calling 1-800-633-5151 or visiting www.hyundaiusa.com.  Owners will need to have their vehicle identification number when contacting Hyundai.

Second Hyundai Vehicle Fire Update

Back in September of 2020, we announced that Hyundai was recalling 2013 through 2015 Santa Fe Sport SUVs for a problem with the ABS system that resulted in engine fires.  That recall was update in January of this year.  And now, Hyundai has again recalled these same vehicles for the same problem, increasing the total number recalled to 203,000.  The problem stems from the leakage of brake fluid onto the electronic circuitry within the ABS module and cause short circuiting and subsequent engine fires to occur.  It is recommended that owners who have not had their vehicle repaired, park their vehicles outside of garages or away from structures just in case a fire should erupt.  If a fire does occur, the damage can be extensive as shown in the photographs of our January 2021 update.  For additional information, owners can contact Hyundai by calling 1-800-633-5151 or visiting www.hyundaiusa.com.  Owners will also need to have their vehicle identification numbers (VIN).  The VIN can be found on the lower corner of the windshield on the driver’s side or on the inside of the driver’s door or pilar.     

Honda Recalls Over 600,000 Vehicles for Faulty Fuel Pump

American Honda Motor Company has announced that it is recalling 628,124 vehicles for a faulty fuel pump issue.  The fuel pump is located in the fuel tanks of the recalled vehicles.  The problem with the fuel pumps is that the impellers can break and stop sending fuel to the engine.  Engines will stall and possibly cause the vehicle to crash.  The recall is expected to begin on May 18, 2021.  Honda will replace the fuel assembly free of charge.  The following vehicles are part of this recall: 2019-2021 Acura MDX, MDX Sport Hybrid, RDX, TLX, Honda Accord, Civic Hatchback, Insight, 2019 Acura ILX, Honda Accord Hybrid, Civic Coupe, Civic Coupe si, Civic Sedan, Civic Sedan si, Civic Type R, Fit, HR-V, Odyssey, Passport, Pilot, Ridgeline, and 2018-2019 CR-V.  The current NHTSA campaign number assigned to this recall is 21V215000.  This recall is an extension of recall 20V-314.  For additional information, owners can contact Honda by calling 1-888-234-2138.

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
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