By Kevin L. Jones
Spring brings a pattern of violent and sometimes deadly tornadoes to the southeastern United States. The night of April 12, 2020 a tornado rated EF3 to EF4 strength touched down in Chattanooga, Tenn. and traveled across the area, wreaking havoc on commercial buildings and homes that stood in its path.
Like many people that night, a young couple took refuge in a downstairs closet of their two-story dwelling and rode out the terror as the twister ravaged their home. It ripped a large portion of the roof from the house, moved an exterior wall off the foundation, and dumped a load of rain and other debris throughout the interior. The couple emerged from the closet shaken, but otherwise physically unharmed—but the nightmare of their ordeal was just beginning.
[STORY CONTINUED BELOW: BE SURE TO WATCH THE INTERVIEW]
As the couple assessed the damage to their home the next day, they contacted their insurance company, just as many others were doing. Fifteen days later, a franchise restoration vendor was contacted by the insurer’s Third Party Administrator (TPA), and that restorer was on site the next day. The restorer approached the job as a Category 3 water damage, based on the phrase from the IICRC S500 describing “wind-driven rain et al.” as indeed Category 3. The restorer was directed by either the insurer or TPA to apply anti-microbial to all ceilings, walls, and floors and was further instructed to do nothing else until coverage was determined. Moisture content was recorded as 99% for wood framing and moisture level as 99 for non-wood materials. Finally, on May 11, 2020, the restorer was instructed to begin the drying process. Fortunately, no visible fungal growth was observed.
As the project progressed toward completion, the insured couple, having been given a notification and explanation from the restorer about Category 3 status, began to ask the contractor why sheetrock that had been recorded at the 99 level and listed as affected by Category 3 water was still in place. After several discussions, the insured was advised that the insurer had instructed restorer to change the job from Category 3 to Category 2. As a restoration vendor of both the insurer and the TPA, and due to the restoration company’s stringent guidelines to its franchises, the restorer complied with the directive. As the insured continued to ask questions, the restorer stated they were further instructed by the insurer to have no further contact with the insured.
The role of a restoration consultant
I was finally called into the fray as a restoration consultant by another restorer aware of the situation and was asked to try and help the insured couple. I obtained as much paperwork as I could and began the process of writing reports to lobby for this water damage to remain a Category 3. My argument centered around the S500’s definition of Category 2 vs. Category 3 water. I demonstrated that even if the Category 2 definition was indeed acceptable to begin with, the fact that the job sat unattended for over 15 days placed the home in the Category 3 status.
As of the writing of this article, I have followed up with three more reports, the final one on June 30 when I was finally able to inspect the residence. In this final report, I was able to speak based on my own observations, include my own photographs, and inspect the home thoroughly. While I did not find high moisture contents in any wood materials that I could access, I did find numerous rooms with elevated sheetrock moisture readings, most in the 30 range when the comparable driest area found measured at 5. I observed some fungal growth on hardwood floors that were still in place. My biggest observation was that all exterior walls, some with major damage, contained blown-in insulation, which according to the S500 should be removed when it is wet. With the amount of roof missing, there is no doubt the insulation was saturated at some point.
Since June 30, the insurer retained an IEP, who came to the same conclusions as I did but was able to write a suggested protocol. As of Wednesday, July 29, the insurer has re-evaluated and will treat the the job as Cat 3 instead of a Cat 2.
The very essence of this situation, one many restorers are familiar with, shows the need for restoration contractors to recommend a trained and experienced restoration consultant to their clients. Not only will it serve the contractor’s interests for accountability and to ensure proper payment, it will protect the insured from questionable ethics by their insurer and the insurer’s TPA.
Kevin L. Jones is a restoration consultant and instructor with I-40 Structural Drying Academy and Consulting and an IICRC-approved WRT/ASD Instructor.