Hurricane Irma Recovery Tips

Paul Beers – GCI Consultants, LLC

  • What to look for in Roof Assessments
  • Identifying Exterior Building Problems
  • Windows – Doors – Glass – Frames
  • Mitigate your damage tips
  • Flood Damage
  • What about the next storm


About The Everything Building Envelope Podcast: Everything Building Envelope℠ is a dedicated podcast and video forum for understanding the building envelope. Our podcast series discusses current trends and issues that contractors, developers and building owners have to deal with related to pre and post construction. Our series touches on various topics related to water infiltration, litigation and construction methods related to the building envelope.

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Hello, everyone, this is Paul Beers, welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast. Today, we’re gonna talk about Hurricane Irma. So as this is being recorded, Hurricane Irma had struck Florida earlier this week. And actually, I think today is the first day it’s not on the map as a storm. So Hurricane Irma started out in the way out in the Atlantic Ocean as a tropical disturbance, and it became a very powerful category five hurricane, with winds of 180 miles in a hour. And it hit some of the Caribbean Islands, St. Martin, Barbuda, Tortola, the U.S. Virgin Islands, at that strength. And obviously, it was devastating, and they’re gonna be in for a very, very long recovery.

After that, it went further through the Caribbean, and it got parts of Puerto Rico, not a full hit, but Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republics, Turks and Keykos Islands were badly hit. At this point, I think it was probably a category four. It ended up off the coast of northern Cuba and then it took a right turn, headed for the U.S. So initially, the line when it was three or four days out, was projected to go right up the east coast of Florida, Miami, West Palm Beach, Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, and into South Carolina around Hilton Head, then turning a little bit west and going up inland, still pretty strong and it was projected a category four at that point.

The line moved over a few days, and then the line showed a couple days later going up the west coast of Florida, Naples, Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa, right on up through like Tallahassee and into Atlanta. And, of course, you know, these lines are the best guess and there’s a lot of variability when it’s four or five days out, and the closer it gets the better the predictions are. Ultimately, what happened was it came ashore at… well, it went through the Florida Keys and caused tremendous amount of damage. And then it went ashore again at Marco Island which is southwest Florida through Naples and then inland up through the state of Florida.

When it initially went through Marco Island and Naples, I believe it was a category four still. And as it got further north, up around Tampa, it had diminished because it was over land to about a category one. It continued north into Georgia and Alabama, they had tropical storm force winds in Atlanta, so lots of issues, lots of power outages, things like that. The awareness level of the storm was extremely high, and it just followed a big event in Houston, Hurricane Harvey. And honestly, the people in Florida, they, and rightly so, were very fearful of what could happen. There was a mass exodus, the Keys were evacuated, coastal areas, I think of the entire state of Florida was evacuated, and a lot of people just left because they, you know, were either afraid or just didn’t want to be part of it.

So there was a big exodus, a lot of issue with traffic and finding hotels and things like that. The people that did stay either were, you know, ready to go with impact windows and shutters, or they were boarding up and making their own. So it impacted the entire state of Florida and beyond, and it’s still going on even now with the recovery and the airports are now opening again, but there’s still gas shortages, there’s still power outages. It was a really, really, big event, and I think we’ll see as it plays out over times there’s gonna be a lot of damage and a lot of dollars associated with this.

So now that the storm is done, and, you know, for those that are in the path, either home owners or businesses, what do you do? So, you know, one of the things that you would want to do right away, is assess your property for damage. And what I wanna talk about is something actually that my company, GCI Consultants has done a lot of ever since Hurricane Andrew up until today. We’ve pretty much been involved in every, in the post, in the aftermath of every hurricane from Hurricane Andrew, right on through now in the U.S. and the Caribbean. And what we do, and what needs to be done, not necessarily by us, but by other firms or us, would be an exterior building assessment. And what we’re talking about here is wind, not flood, or what I’m gonna talk about is wind, not flood, touch on flood a little bit at the end.

So with an exterior building assessment, you basically wanna check all the elements of the exterior of the buildings. So, you know, one of the big damage areas of course in wind storms is roofs. So roof is blown off, obviously, you don’t need to assess it, then at that point, you’re in the damage mitigation. But a lot of times there can be damage even if the roof is still pretty much intact or in place. And on a sloped roof, what you’ll see on, you know, a lot of residential buildings, most residential buildings, and also on some commercial buildings, what you’re looking for there is, you know, things that are out of place, such as slipped, loose or missing roof tiles or shingles. If it’s a metal roof if the seams are coming apart, and then you wanna check all the areas where there’s any penetrations or flashings, for instance, if there’s a chimney coming through it or the vent pipes, things like that. Those are usually areas where problems can occur.

And then also you would wanna check around the whole perimeter of the roof. So where the roof meets the eave of that property, and there’s usually a flashing there, and of course that’s where the tiles, shingles, metal roofing and whatever interfaces and then the, you know the eave itself. So, the sopphet or what’s underneath the eave. So those are all areas that you need to check and you’re looking for things that are out of plane, or they look broken or whatnot. I wanna really stress here, I’m gonna say it’s a few times as we do this, probably not a good idea for you to climb a ladder on your own roof and start walking around, especially if you don’t know the condition, it can be really dangerous. If you do that, you need to be tied off to safety ropes. Every storm, sadly, has people that are badly injured or killed, you know, after the storm trying to do the recovery or assessment or whatnot. So be very, very careful if you do this, and probably better if you hire a professional which would be covered typically by a homeowners Wind Insurance Policy if you get into making a claim.

So the other type of roof that’s very prevalent, and more so on commercial buildings and on residential although some residential possibly are flat roofs. And flat roofs are typically affected by what we call wind uplifts. So as the wind goes over the top of the roof, it tries to pull it off the building, similar to how an airplane wing achieves lift. So what you wanna check for there, again so you’re gonna have a roof covering, which is either gonna be a membrane of some sort or a built-up roof which will have, you know, various layers of materials. So you wanna check the whole roof and make sure it’s still firmly attached and there’s not areas that are, have buckles or bubbles or, you know, visible imperfections.

You also wanna check for moisture. No moisture has gotten into the roof and cause it to, you know, been absorbed in the insulation. Usually, that’s squishy when you’re walking over it. In addition the flat roofs. There’s lots of terminations and flashings you might have, mechanical equipment on the roof you might have, you know, various vents and pipe penetrations, you’ve got perimeters which are either a flashing that terminates a roofing material with an exterior wall, or a parapet wall which is a small wall that goes around the top of the roof, and the roof would then terminate with a flashing into the parapet wall. A parapet wall usually has a cover cap on it that’s a metal flashing. All that stuff is vulnerable to being damaged or removed by high winds. So everything needs to be checked. Again, probably a good idea to have a professional do this, but, you know, it’s a little safer walking around on a flat roof than a sloped roof. This is something that should definitely be checked.

So once we get off the roof, the rest of the building, obviously, is the exterior walls. And windows and on the exterior walls, you know, the obvious things are the removal of cladding, where part of the wall actually comes off. But beyond that, the more discrete damages that you would look for would be cracks, voids in the wall system itself that weren’t there before the storm, any of the wall materials that are out of plane. So if you look up the wall and it’s not straight anymore than that’s an indication that something has happened where maybe fasteners have come loose or the part of the wall is become partially dislodged but not come off the building.

Sealant failure, anywhere you’ve got caulk joints. You know there’s a lot of movement in a hurricane which is intended by design, but that can cause sealants to sail and coatings. Impact damages, things being blown into the wall. And then of course, on the inside, if you see water entry, that’s an indication also that there may be problems on the outside. So the other area is windows, doors, and glass and, you know. So again, obviously, if the window’s been blown out that doesn’t really need an assessment. But a lot of times the damage can be more discrete, and we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of buildings where the windows and doors are intact, but they are in fact damaged, and ultimately they need to be replaced.

So things that we look for there is we look for broken glass, obviously, broken or cracked glass. We look for impact damage. We look for damage to the frame itself, so the frame can be deflected, which means it’s bent. And again, this can be discrete. I mean if it’s deflected, it could be a quarter inch out of plane from top to bottom, well that’s damage. It’s weaker than it was before the storm, and it’s not gonna be as strong for the next storm.

Frame displacement is another one where the window frame pieces come together, and that join is actually loose. Frame movement is another item that we look for, where maybe the fasteners have loosened up, and the frame has actually moved around in the wall, and it’s not as securely attached as it was before. Frame separation where the framing members are actually coming apart where they meet, usually at the corners. Sometimes the glass, the way it’s been set has lost its seal, so it may be loose in the frame, or if it has a gasket, the gasket may have become damaged or pulled in behind the frame. And that’s actually a dangerous condition because once the frame is actually, the glass is actually touching the frame, it’s very susceptible to breakage later on.

Hardware damage is another thing. So locks and wheels and things like that are put under a lot of stress when they interact with the loads of a hurricane, and that obviously affects operability which is, you know, how the door opens and closes. We’ve got water and air infiltration. A lot of times after storms, windows will be whistling where they weren’t before because the weather stripping and sealants have created voids for the air to come through when it’s windy, and a lot of times this causes water leakage. Sometimes, water leakage during a hurricane is a onetime event, but a lot of times this damage from the wind will cause further leakage in just normal weather, you know, wind-driven thunder storms, things like that.

Scratched glass is another thing to look for. That would typically, only occur if you have impact damage. But again, with windows, sliding glass doors, exterior doors, thick glass, all these things need to be carefully inspected because they may look fine, they may even operate okay. But if they get this discrete damage, they’re not gonna do as well the next time around. The other thing to look for on buildings is water proofing issues. So we’re talking about here is like balconies on high-rise buildings, decks, pedestrian type areas with living space below. You know, it could be swimming pools with a parking garage underneath or a pool on the roof, or you know, just we call them amenity decks where they have, you know, basically, where people can go outside and there’s occupied space or garages or things like that below.

Planters that have vegetation and things in them, those can be susceptible to a lot of movement during the storm also, and suddenly they’re leaking where they weren’t. And unfortunately, those are really hard to assess because typically when you do have leaks in decks and planters and things like that, you’ve got to remove materials, pavers, or concrete toppings to actually see what’s going on underneath. But that’s another area. And usually, the indication of the problems there is where you do have water entry into the building and adjacent to these areas.

So those are all the things that need to be checked. You can do it yourself, probably a good idea to hire a professional. If you’re making an insurance claim, don’t leave it up to the Insurance Company because they may not give you a fair assessment. You would definitely wanna hire a professional firm to inspect it. And if you’re having trouble with the Insurance Company, you may wanna consider hiring, even hiring an attorney or a Public Adjuster. We work with a lot of attorneys and Public Adjusters on these claims where, you know, the insurance settlement probably isn’t what it should be and they help ultimately to get things, make things right with the Insurance Company.

So the other thing I wanna talk about is, if you do have damage, it’s really important that you mitigate the damage. And as far as insurance policies go, that’s one of the things that they require. Now you’ve got to make a reasonable attempt to mitigate the damage. If it’s unsafe or if you’re physically incapable of doing this, or if you don’t have the money, then obviously, you know, that’s something that’s beyond reasonable. But, you know, here’s some tips for mitigating.

So number one again is stay safe. Do not go into any unsafe areas, don’t climb on the roof unless you have a proper ladder, safety lines and the area is secure. If you’ve got things like broken glass, you need to be very careful with that. And again, there’s always unnecessary injuries and deaths after every hurricane associated with people assessing or trying to repair property damage. Take lots of pictures and video of any damage. It can really be useful later with the insurance claims and you can never have too many, so more is better here and try to get everything very well documented. Then try to mitigate the damage.

As I talked about, Insurance Policies require this and if it’s dangerous or you’re not physically capable, don’t try to do it. Hire a professional to do it if you have the money. But, you know, things like covering roofs with tarps, you see the blue tarps all over roofs after every storm to prevent further water entry. And water entry is usually the big thing with mitigating damage. If you’ve got damaged window openings, board them up. If the windows are now leaking where they weren’t before, you might wanna put towels down in the window sill. And, of course, you know this is a time where you should notify your Insurance Company to start the claims process.

Get help from qualified professionals. Be careful about relying on advice from contractors unless you know them well, and they have a good reputation. If you do hire contractors, make sure they’re licensed and insured. Ask for a copy of their license, and also a copy of their insurance certificate. They should be pulling a building permit with the building department. You know, this takes a little extra time, but this all verifies the legitimacy of who you’re working with. You know, there’s a lot of out-of-town, we call “gypsy contractors”. You know, they’re gonna come in, they’re gonna do some work, you’re gonna pay them and they’re gonna be gone, you’re never gonna see them again. So you really wanna deal with somebody reputable even if it takes longer.

And if you ask a contractor for their license or their insurance certificate or if they’re pulling a building permit and they don’t wanna do any of that, don’t hire them, get somebody else. It’s really important and it’s very, very tempting to, you know, push the easy button and have somebody come in and take care of some. So maybe really personable and wonderful and seem like they know what they’re talking about, but they need to be licensed, insured and they need to pull permits.

Any money that you spend related to assessment and repairs, recovery, temporary housing, any other expenditures that you would not have had, had there not been the storm, you need to keep receipts for everything. And again, you know, the insurance company, just need to be careful with them. If you don’t feel like they’re treating you fairly, hire an attorney or a Public Adjuster that specializes in insurance claims. And I said, you know, my company, GCI Consultants works with a lot of them, so we see what goes on with this. Not to say that the insurance companies won’t treat you fairly, but, you know, it happens and you need to be careful with this.

And a good resource for finding a Public Adjuster or an attorney that specializes in this is the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. And their website is We’ve got all this information by the way on our website, We have a lot of information about hurricanes, damage, and recovery. The mitigation tips I just gave you. There’s a piece on that, that’s got all the bullet points with everything I’ve just talked about. We’re also publishing an assessment guide on how to assess buildings. So again, our website, has a good resource as well.

What I didn’t really talk about, which is not obviously wind-related, is flood damage and there were some areas that were badly affected. Northeast Florida, Jacksonville area, in particular, comes to mind, and from storm surge. And flood damage from rising ground water typically is not covered by home owners or wind insurance policies. So you would need to have purchased a separate flood insurance policy for coverage. The same scenarios for mitigating wind damages applies to flood damage. You know, try to get things dried out, and just make things mitigate it as best you can. And again, take lots and lots of pictures.

So the last thing I wanna talk about is, what about the next one? So, you know, people are listening to this that drove all over the place for a week, running from the storm east… to the west. I have a friend that went to the west coast of Florida to be safe when the line was going up the east coast and then had to drive back to the east coast when the line went to the west coast. It’s a big hassle. So what can you do to avoid that? Well, the one thing you can do, which I’ve done with my house is basically make it hurricane resistant. I’ve got impact windows, the whole roof, there’s house everything was built to the new code so it’s very wind resistant and when a storm comes, nobody has to leave. It’s safe there and if you… and I’m not in a flood plain.

So very important if you are in a flood area you do need to evacuate. But what you can do is upgrade your property, and I’m not going to kid you, it’s expensive and this is for business, this is a tip for businesses and/or home owners. But if you can stay in your property, be safe, be confident, its way better than having to evacuate or buying lumber maybe at inflated prices and trying to build shutters as the storm is approaching. And people that are listening to this that did this, know exactly what I’m talking about. So to avoid that next time, the best thing to do is to start working on it now. I had actually done my upgrades to my windows two years ago.

So last year, I think it was Hurricane Matthew came, I was on an overseas trip. I was actually hiking in Morocco. And I didn’t have any concerns about my property. You know, and that’s another issue if you’re an absentee property owner because it was ready. You know, with impact windows and doors, just as long as everything’s closed and locked, no further preparations are necessary. So it’s concerning when a big storm’s approaching, but when you don’t have to hassle with trying to put shutters up or get it boarded up or whatnot, I can tell you from personal experience it’s a huge relief. And Matthew, of course, my house is in Pamagge Gardens Florida, and Matthew just brushed by, wasn’t really a big issue, in fact, it only did, real wind damage that I’ve seen in Daytona Beach.

But, you know, that was last year, and then here we go again this year with Irma and Irma was a really, really scary looking storm and it scared everybody in the entire state because at one point that projected, the line, the projected path, was probably over your house or your building. I know it was in my house, right over it. And again, I was ready, and I didn’t have to do anything, and it was just such a really good piece of mind and good way to go. So that’s something to think about.

It’s not inexpensive, I’m not gonna kid you, it’s very expensive to replace your windows or to put permanent shutters on your house. And it seems like, you know, you’re spending a lot of money, but if you’re a property owner in a hurricane prone area, gulf coast, or Atlantic Coast of the U.S. or the Caribbean for that matter, you live where hurricanes come, and if you live in a hurricane prone area, you probably should protect your property to be able to resist the effects of a hurricane because the reality is it’s not if one’s gonna come, it’s when. And Irma this time really got some areas that had not had a big impact or a big scare in a long time. The Tampa Bay area had not had a… hadn’t had a major storm I think since the twenties or thirties. And this thing, you know, ultimately, thankfully it wasn’t super strong when it went through there, but everybody really got their attention and I know it scared them a lot.

So here we are, the storm’s over, I’m certain there’s building damage throughout the entire state of Florida and probably even points north. So hopefully, these tips will help, that the key thing here again is be safe. And I’ve given you some resources to look at as far as if you need help with a claim the and our website has a lot of good information. So good luck everybody and hopefully we won’t be having this conversation again for quite some time.

So this is Paul Beer, saying so long, everybody. Thank you again, for listening to the Everything Building Envelope podcast, and good luck and stay safe.