Gas Logs and Soot Damage

This is a subject that I have blogged about in the past.  Gas log sets are very popular with homeowners and tend to create or add to a warm atmosphere when used.  However, soot damage is continuing to occur because manufacturers continue to build log sets that burn natural gas or propane incompletely.  That is, unburned carbon is escaping in the combustion gases and settling on walls, ceilings, furniture, clothing and anything else that happens to present a cool surface.  The science of combustion of gaseous fuels is well known and by no means new technology.  It has long been recognized that a blue flame is indicative of the closest to complete combustion that can be achieved.  The secret is mixing enough air with the fuel to obtain the correct mixture.  When the correct mixture is obtained, a blue flame results.  In contrast, flames with yellow tips or long yellow flames are indicators of incomplete combustion.  These are the flames that produce unburned carbon that ultimately settles on various surfaces as soot.  There is nothing that a homeowner can do to change the burning characteristics of a log set as the appearance is an inherent design.  If the log set is installed in a ventless fireplace, 100% of the products of combustion will enter the living space.  As a result, all of the soot produced will also enter whatever space the set faces.  If the set is installed in a fireplace with a chimney, then it is possible to control the ventilation of the gases by opening the chimney damper and allowing the gases to escape.  Instead of entering the home, soot usually travels up the chimney and settles on the walls and damper instead of the interior.

If you are unlucky enough to have soot damage, I recommend doing the following: first, take plenty of pictures of the places where soot has been deposited.  It is possible that you might be called upon to prove that soot damaged specific belongings.  Second, notify your insurance carrier.  Homeowners policies usually give policyholders a toll-free telephone number to call in the event that a claim has to be filed.  If you can’t find the number, call your insurance agent.  Your agent also has access to the insurance carrier and can report the claim or tell you what to do.  Third, start making a list of the damaged items.  The adjuster that will be assigned to your case will need to have an itemized list of damages so that they can begin to prepare estimates for those things that can be repaired or will have to be replaced.  Fourth, be prepared to have the gas logs set become the center of controversy.  Your carrier will most likely want to have the set examined by an engineer in order to establish a product defect.  The manufacturer also has the right to examine the set.  In doing so, both sides will have questions and will want access to your home and specifically, the area where the set was located.  Both sides will need documentation in the form of the owner’s manual, purchase invoice, and the metal identification plate that comes with the log set and is NOT supposed to be removed.  Fifth, the log set will become evidence and must be preserved as such.  The engineer hired by your carrier will want to take possession of the log set and place it in storage in anticipation of further examination or for use in court, if the need arises.  Sixth, cases can take months if not years to settle.  So, don’t expect to get the log set back anytime soon after it is taken.  Seventh, if you replace the set with another gas log set, remember that the possibility of soot damage returns again.  The only way to minimize the possibility of soot damage is to limit usage times to short periods or stop using the set altogether.

 

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Contents of Aerosol Cans can be Flammable!

During a recent vehicle fire investigation, it was discovered that the owner had been carrying at least eight aerosol cans of different products during the hottest month of the year so far.  The fire resulted in the destruction of a Toyota Highlander that was only months old.  This is a perfect example that illustrates the fact that people will forget that the contents are flammable and that the potential for explosion and fire is very real.  In this particular case, some of the contents of these cans were identified as Raid Multi 7 Insect Spray, Bayer Advanced Home Insect Spray and Aqua Net Hair Spray.  The cans that were recovered are shown in the photograph below.  It was also determined that at least one of the cans exploded prior to the fire.  It is imperative to remember that when products in aerosol cans are purchased, they should be stored in a cool and dry place, not left in a hot vehicle.  Not all aerosol cans contain flammable ingredients but, if you are not going to read the label, then treat them as flammable and store them accordingly.

 

 

 

 

So You Want to be Connected….

In today’s world, one of the main buzzwords is “smart”.  This word usually refers to a device that has the intelligence to identify your next request and act to provide the information almost instantaneously.  In order to do so, the device has to be connected to the internet.  Right now, “smart” devices are limited mainly to cell phones and computers.  I just watched a webinar that talked about the “home ecosystem” needed to form a “smart home”.  However, almost nothing was said about security.  Imagine connecting your kitchen appliances to the internet.  From any remote location, you could start a load of laundry, do a load of dishes, or cook dinner and have it ready by the time you get home.  Similarly, you could adjust the temperature of your thermostat so that your home will be cooled or heated when your family gets home.  It all sounds great. But, there is a downside.  No matter how far technology advances and no matter how secure networks become, hackers (as they are known today) will ALWAYS be around to try and break the system.  As long as people are connected, hackers will try to steal information.  With that information, imagine someone taking control of your home, whether it’s listening in, watching you, or controlling your devices.  It’s up to you to decide whether you want such devices in your home.  If you don’t mind somebody spying on you, that’s fine.  Remember, those ads that pop up on your phone or computer just when you happen to be thinking of buying the same item, didn’t just pop up by coincidence.  They popped up because someone has captured information about something that interests you.

How Can I Help?

A lot of material has been posted on this website in the time that it has been in existence.  Some of that material has elicited comments and questions.  I would like to reiterate that I’m here for just that purpose.  I know that some of you that read this blog have questions about how to handle an incident that has affected you or someone you know.  Many of you have never been through a property claims process and don’t know what to expect.  Times are changing and it’s not like the old days when an adjuster came to your home or business.  Although some companies have not completely automated yet, many have incorporated electronic adjusting.  That is, you send your carrier pictures or other proof of your loss and they will determine how to settle the claim.  In other cases, drones are used to survey vehicular or structural damage.  Some things haven’t changed, like fires, water losses, and automobile accidents.  Property damage and personal injury are still going to occur.  And some of those things are going to be caused by defective products.  That’s where I come in.  If you have any questions about claims, defective products, investigations or engineering in general, please let know.  You can contact me via the comment section on this website or email me directly at rjhill@rjhill.com.

 

State Farm Accused of Influence Pedaling

On May 25, the Huntington News reported that State Farm Insurance Company had attempted to influence the Illinois Supreme Court.  State Farm spent $4 million to get a judge elected so it could evade paying $1.05 billion to 4.7 million policyholders.  State Farm had authorized the repair of vehicles using non-factory authorized and non-original equipment manufacturer parts which resulted in a class action lawsuit.  However, it an attempt to evade paying the judgment, State Farm formed an elaborate network of contributors and funneled the $4 million to a judge’s campaign which was in violation of RICO statutes.  State Farm’s trial is scheduled for September 18th, later this year.  The full text of the Huntington News article can be found at http://www.huntingtonnews.net/157148.  The article also points out that State Farm failed to compensate policyholders in 48 states (except Arkansas and Tennessee) for “breach of contract” in using substandard parts.  This means that policyholders all over the country are affected, not just residents of Illinois.  Policyholders are encouraged to visit http://www.halevstatefarmclassaction.com/home/documents and review the documents.  Because of this situation, policyholders are supposed to receive a notice by postcard of the trial.  This is the policyholder’s notice of the possibility to recover damages if their vehicle was repaired with non-approved parts.  A copy of the postcard is part of the documentation contained in the Hale v State Farm website.

Fiat Chrysler Recalls 4.8 Million Vehicles

Fiat Chrysler has recalled approximately 4,800,000 vehicles because of a problem with the cruise control.  If the control short circuits, the driver might not be able to deactivate the control in order to reduce speed.  Use of the malfunctioning cruise control increases the driver’s risk of a crash.   The following vehicles are involved in this recall: 2014-2018 Chrysler 300 sedans, Dodge Charger sedans, Journey and Durango SUVs, Ram 2500 and 3500 trucks, Ram 3500 trucks (greater than 10,000 pounds), 4500 and 5500 cab-chassis trucks, Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs; 2014-2019 Ram 1500 trucks, 2015-2018 Dodge Challenger sedans, 2015-2017 Chrysler 200 sedans, 2016-2018 Ram 3500 (less than 10,000 pounds) cab-chassis trucks, 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, and 2018 Jeep Wrangler SUVs.  The recall applies to those vehicles with automatic transmissions and gasoline engines.  Fiat Chrysler is advising drivers to stop using the cruise control.  If the driver cannot disengage the cruise control once engaged, the driver should press firmly on the brake pedal and shift the transmission lever from drive to neutral.  Let the vehicle coast to a stop while steering safely to the side of the road and then placing the shift lever in park once the vehicle has come to a complete stop.  Owner notification will begin on or about July 6, 2018.  Owners should then take their vehicles to their local dealer for a free repair.  For additional information, owners can contact Fiat Chrysler by calling 1-800-853-1403.

It’s Not Always the Contractor’s Fault.

Although the time has come when warmer weather is upon us, the effects of this past winter are still being felt.  Recently, we were involved in an investigation that focused on the cause of damage to a water cooling coil located inside of a cooling tower (see photo below).  This might seem strange to some but, it is possible to require the cooling of a building during the winter.  In the investigation we were performing, the system was comprised of a water cooled water chiller.  This might not mean anything to most people but to those familiar with chiller operation, water was the fluid used to both cool the air and remove the heat absorbed by the refrigerant.  On the condenser side, water was circulated through a shell and tube heat exchanger and then pumped to another coil type heat exchanger located inside the cooling tower.  The problem arose when the local air temperature began to drop below freezing.  As the water temperature dropped below 40 F, water flow between the condenser and water coil was stopped (as part of the automatic control sequence).  As the air temperature continued to drop, the water temperature also dropped until the water froze inside the coil and caused it to burst in several places.  Since this was new construction, it was the engineer’s position that the mechanical contractor had erred and was negligent in their responsibility to protect the equipment.  However, it was later determined that the building had been turned over to the building owner under the substantial completion part of the contract.  As a result, the building owner was responsible for the protection of the building as well as the building’s mechanical systems.  Regardless of the positions taken by the various parties, the design of the HVAC system including the incorporation of freeze protection, was the responsibility of the mechanical engineer.  This responsibility is not an arbitrary assignment.  It has been long recognized by engineers and specifically, those engineers that are involved in HVAC design.  Although freeze protection had been designed into other parts of the system, no provision for freeze protection was made for the cooling coil located inside the cooling tower.  When all was said and done, the engineer failed to incorporate an adequate way to protect the coil and blamed the contractor in order to avoid the appearance of failure on their part.

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