Weather and Scientific Evidence Around Various Disasters

Weather and Scientific Evidence Around Various Disasters – Paul Beers and Howard Altschule

GCI Everything Builders Podcast: Episode 71: Weather and Scientific Evidence Around Various Disasters

Listen as, Paul Beers, CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants speaks Howard Altschule, CEO, Certified Consulting Meteorologist at Forensic Weather Consultants, CE Instructor. They will discuss various weather disasters and their scientific evidence.

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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Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Paul Beers, CEO and managing member for GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I’m really excited to have, as our guest, Howard Altschule. And Howard’s the CEO and a certified consulting meteorologist from Forensic Weather Consultants, LLC. Howard, welcome.

Howard: Hey, thank you very much, Paul. I appreciate being on the podcast with you.

Paul: Yeah, it’s gonna be great. So we’ve got a really interesting topic today, which is all about weather and scientific evidence around various disasters. I know hurricanes are obviously on everybody’s mind, but there’s other types of things I think we might talk about as well. But Howard, before we do that, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself, and then we’ll go into the topic.

Howard: Sure. As you mentioned, I’m a certified consulting meteorologist and the CEO and owner of Forensic Weather Consultants. Forensic Weather Consultants is one of the leading weather expert firms in the country where we provide weather data, weather records, meteorological analyses for a specific incident location, written reports that adhere to the federal rules of evidence, affidavits, deposition, testimony, and trial testimony. It’s a lot to digest there, but pretty much we are the go-to people for weather records and finding out what the weather was in regards to some incident or accident insurance claim or lawsuit. We also do some side projects for private corporations or government agencies, but, you know, by and far, we’re expert witnesses in the field of meteorology.

I received my Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York in Albany back in 1995. And I obtained and was granted my certified consulting meteorologist designation, which is the highest designation a consulting meteorologist can get, several years ago at an American Meteorological Society Conference. My company, Forensic Weather Consultants, we have, including myself, five full-time meteorologists, and we’re all working on forensics all around the country. And with all the crazy weather, we’ve been very, very, very busy with many different types of cases, not only from building envelope issues, but to motor vehicle accidents, boat accidents, plane crashes, slip and falls, and everything in-between.

Paul: So, Howard, you’ve…I know the answer to this, but I don’t know that all our listeners do, have you testified as an expert in court before?

Howard: Yes, I’ve testified in court. Let’s see, I testified a few weeks ago in Western New York. And that was my, I believe, 96th trial. So testified live in trial 96 times with about 76 or 77 other deposition testimonies and other matters.

Paul: Wow, that’s a big number.

Howard: Yeah, it is.

Paul: I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m pretty happy to say I’ve testified a lot, but not that much. So, good for you.

Howard: Yeah, it’s very interesting for sure. And the testimonies range in everything from arbitrations to, of course, lawsuits and trials, for the most part, but I’ve also testified in homicide trials, three of those, including a double homicide case, as well as a U.S. Air Force court-martial hearing where I was the expert for the prosecution for the U.S. Air Force and then motor vehicle accident case. So really interesting history of testimony for me.

Paul: Wow. So what’s the difference between a certified consulting meteorologist and just a regular meteorologist, I guess I’d say?

Howard: Sure. Yeah. A certified consulting meteorologist means that you’ve gone through the entire certification process with the American Meteorological Society. And basically, you have to apply, you have to have a minimal number of years of experience, be referred by other meteorologists with letters of recommendation if you would. You then have to take a 25-essay written examination and then also provide a technical research paper explaining your methodology and basically showing the panel of other CCMs that you know what you’re talking about. And then if you pass all that, you’re invited to go and give an oral exam at the annual conference for the AMS where, you know, the whole board can pretty much grill you on all kinds of questions from the way back in college all the way…you know.

And a certified consulting meteorologist basically allows users like you, Paul Beers, and we worked on some cases together, and attorneys and adjusters and insurance carriers and anybody else who is considering hiring us, it gives you confidence that we know what we’re talking about, that we have the scientific and educational background to do a thorough and reliable job, and that we adhere to the best ethical standards possible. So really, anybody, TV person, or someone who has no experience in forensics could look up the weather at the local airport and then just use that, but that’s not the right way to do things. And, you know, we go way beyond that, as you know, and having the CCM tells people that, “Yeah, you know, Howard Altschule knows the right way to do this. And he’s very reliable and you can count on him.” It was something very hard to obtain, but, you know, well worth it, well worth it.

Paul: So, now, you refer to a forensic meteorologist or a forensic…my reference is forensic meteorology report. So talk about the forensic part, what does that mean?

Howard: Basically, you know, if we’re given an incident location that suffered water intrusion or roof damage or something along those lines, we go back and we get numerous types of weather data and weather records from a variety of weather stations, Doppler radar images, surface observations, NOAA reports, storm reports, hourly information, dual-pol radar, and we do an analysis for some time in the past regarding an incident that occurred in the past. But we do that analysis to figure out what the weather conditions were right at the incident location itself. So most people traditionally, adjusters and engineers just use, you know, a NOAA storm report some miles away, or an airport wind observation, which often is very, very different from what occurred at an incident location. So we go back and we get all this data and tell our clients what happens some date and time in the past at a specific incident location. And that’s really what forensic meteorology is.

Paul: So if we take, for example…well, we’ll start, I guess, with a hurricane, what kind of data do you ultimately report? And why should someone do that as opposed to, as you say, looking it up at the local airport or whatnot?

Howard: A lot of times you have localized effects from different banding in hurricanes, different squalls, different downbursts. You can even have some tornadoes on the outer bands in the right front quadrant of a storm that may not get reported at the airport. And quite often, it’s not. Those type of tornadoes are typically, you know, short-lived and only last a few minutes and go over maybe a few miles. And it’s extremely rare that they go over an airport where it might report it. But even the outer bands where there’s a microburst or something like that that affects an incident location, we can track where those bands and where the eyewall and where the wind are over an incident location and based on not only airport wind observations but, you know, in the case, for instance, of Hurricane Irma, you know, we had hundreds of other wind observations from different types of weather stations that we were able to use to extrapolate and determine what was going on at a specific incident location.

Now, for that analysis, we’re also able to look at Doppler radar and see if, you know, any microbursts or downbursts occurred at that incident location that maybe would’ve caused a much higher wind gust, or a much higher windspeed, or a tornado to occur. So I’ll give you an example, and basically, let’s talk about, you know, where you might have a storm report from, you know, 5 miles away, where there was a downburst, or a very high wind event. Even during a hurricane, perhaps, you may not have the outer eyewall go over that property where that wind report was, but it might have gone over the incident location. So, you know, the winds can change speeds very, very drastically over short distances, and that’s what we’ll find out.

Now, in so many of the cases we work on, you know, we see a lot of reports from non-meteorologists that rely on an airport observation or a NOAA report a number of miles away, and many, many times, they miss what was actually occurring at the incident location itself. So we’re able to button all that up and give a site-specific report. There’s been, you know, lots and lots of, you know, issues with storm reports being, you know, not representative of what occurred at the incident location, hailstorms, for instance, where, you know, an $800,000 roof claim at a condo, for instance, was paid by an insurance carrier, and the plaintiff’s attorney hired us to try and get coverage for the rest of the buildings for wind damage. And when we pulled up Doppler radar, we found that that severe thunderstorm never came within 2 miles of the condominium development. So, to this date, the insurance carrier still doesn’t know they paid $800,000 for a hailstorm that never actually went over the property despite what that NOAA storm report said 2 miles away. That’s just the example of a needle in the haystack. We’ll find that out.

Paul: Sounds like they should have gotten a forensic meteorology reporter.

Howard: Yeah, for $1,000, $2,000 to save $800 grand. Yeah, I think that would’ve been money well spent for them. And that’s just one example. There’s so many others I could go into.

Paul: Well, that’s one of the things, you know, that I always do, and it’s one of the reasons that we obviously have worked together is, you know, I wanna know what the conditions are specifically at that site, not some airport 8 miles away and gives you obviously a much better basis for forming any conclusions or opinions or whatever.

Howard: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think, you know, for instance, with the Irma cases we work on, as I mentioned, there’s hundreds of wind observations, you know, peak wind reports around the State of Florida. But on average, you know, we look at probably three, four, five, maybe six different hourly weather stations and extrapolate all this data and prepare hour-by-hour tables of not only windspeeds and wind gusts, but also the directions the winds were coming from at a specific loss location, which I think is very valuable for the work you do and what engineers do, for instance.

Paul: For sure. You mentioned hail, let’s talk about hail a little bit. So if there’s a report of a hail event, you know, wherever it occurs, what kind of information can you provide around a hailstorm?

Howard: Well, we can provide, you know, when the thunderstorm occurred, how strong it was, when exactly it was most intense at the actual, you know, loss location, or incident location, what the largest hail size was at that property, and also what were the windspeeds like, what were the wind gusts like? Did it cause the hail to fall from different angles and different directions? You know, what was the terminal velocity of the hail as it fell to the ground based on the size and the winds? We can, you know, give opinions in our reports and information in our reports that answer all those questions. And it’s very different than, say, a CoreLogic report that’s just an automated algorithm. You know, we see that a lot and we often have a very large difference of opinions with what, you know, some of those automated hail reports show. And even some other meteorologists, there’s, you know, some other CCMs out there, certified consulting meteorologists that, you know, miss some really crucial information that makes or breaks a case.

And, you know, we, we find those needles in haystack, and I think that’s why we get so many repeat clients and referrals because of the attention to detail that we go into to figure out exactly what was going on. You know, Paul, I like to say it’s like a detective, you know, at a homicide. You know, we piece together all the evidence and look for those little clues, except we apply those to, you know, weather and insurance claims and lawsuits. But, you know, we dig deep and examine everything to try and find, you know, those little clues that make or break a case that really tell the truth about what was going on. So, you know, that’s the value we bring.

Paul: Yeah, you mentioned the CoreLogic and the algorithm and whatnot, don’t they have a disclaimer in the fine print that says it could be a 20% variation from whatever they’re reporting?

Howard: Yeah, I know they say, you know, that they’re reporting…

Paul: Something like that.

Howard: Yeah, there’s a disclaimer that says, you know, cannot guarantee that their report is free of errors or emissions. That’s in the fine print at the end. And I recall seeing a CoreLogic wind report in the Rowlett, Texas tornado, for instance. And we were working on a claim, and I think the wind report at this property was like 44 miles per hour, the highest winds on that date. Meanwhile, you know, that actual house that we were researching was part of NOAA’s tornado survey, and they measured it at EF2 tornado strength, so very, very different from what the 44 mile per hour, you know, automated CoreLogic report showed. You know, sometimes they’re fairly accurate, but, you know, sometimes they’re way off. And all users should know that back in, you know, 2017 they upgraded their technology to version 2.0, which they sent a press release out and put on their website. And when they did that, it changed all the hail sizes, not all of them, but it changed most of the hail sizes and dates when those hail events occurred for the same exact incident location.

So if I ordered, you know, a report for your house, Paul, before they did that upgrade and it said golf ball sized hail, 1.75 inch on June 5th, 2016, the next day after that upgrade occurred, if I ordered the same report for the same date, it might show no hail at your house on that same June 2016 date. And we’ve had a lot where we’ve actually shown that it’s, you know, not reliable and, you know, our methodology is superior and accurate, and that’s just one of, you know, many issues with these automated products. Not all of them. I mean, we have an automated hail report too, but if the case is a large loss or in litigation or we get retained to work on a case, you know, that’s only a small reference point, our automated hail report. We look at the raw data, you know, just to ensure the accuracy of our opinions.

Paul: So I like to play golf. I think I just learned something that the diameter of a golf ball is 1.75 inches.

Howard: There you go. Exactly. Yeah, so we had to figure what was hail and what was a golf ball for those houses on the golf course, right?

Paul: I’ve been on a hurricane inspection before where I went into the condo and, you know, the glass was broken, and I was looking at it and I figured it out pretty quick when I found a golf ball lying on the carpet inside the window…

Howard: That’s right.

Paul: …what caused that wasn’t hail. It wasn’t hail.

Howard: No, not hail. And if there is a claim of…So here’s the interesting thing. A lot of times when we get a claim, you know, we get retained by defense attorneys and insurance carriers also. A lot of times, you know, there’d be a claim for a date of loss when there was not even a thunderstorm anywhere nearby. And they, you know, the other side may be relying on a storm report from 5 miles away of golf ball sized hail. Well, anybody that knows the way thunderstorms are, you know, if you get a supercell thunderstorm, or one of those pop-up thunderstorms in Florida, for instance, you could get hail 5 miles away and it may not even rain at the incident location. So that’s always something that comes up frequently and always very interesting piece of information that, you know, our clients like to know, regardless of whether they’re, you know, on the policyholder side or on the insurance carrier side.

Paul: Yeah, well, I remember I had a tornado claim in Texas and it was a big building, and we went out and we looked at the building and they weren’t showing us a lot of damage. And I got, you know, a site-specific report and the tornado was like two blocks away, which doesn’t really work, does it?

Howard: No, it doesn’t. And I’ll use another South Florida example where, you know, an engineer was looking at the weather report from the airport, and it was a wind damage claim. And he said that a tornado affected the property on this date because here it is on the Weather Underground report from this airport. You know, I think it was Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, FLL. When we got retained, you know, we pulled the raw data from that weather station in addition to Doppler radar, and when we did our analysis, the control tower operator at Fort Lauderdale said waterspout 10 miles east, which means it was 10 miles east of the tower which placed it over the ocean. And when we looked at Doppler radar, we saw this line of showers and weak thunderstorms just sitting stationary and that’s what was producing that waterspout. So, somebody, some engineer interpreted that as…you know, it showed up as tornado on Weather Underground, so they assumed that this tornado also occurred 2 miles away from the airport, which it didn’t. It was over the ocean.

Paul: That’s why he’s an engineer, not a meteorologist probably.

Howard: Yeah, it was an engineer and the historical trend is, or has been, for engineers to rely on…you know, to look on weather data themselves, right? And they’re not meteorologists and they can’t do the site-specific weather analysis. So they just have to rely on the storm reports from, you know, a number of miles away or the airport. To their credit, many, many more engineers, whether they’re working for, you know, plaintiff’s attorneys or insurance carriers, you know, they’re requesting that we get retained to do a weather analysis so that they can use our findings in their reports, or they can use our findings in their calculation of windspeed and pressure and hail size at the property. And it’s what I like to call a well-oiled machine. And, you know, you and I gave a presentation up in Rhode Island a couple years ago, Paul, and we used some of these examples. And I’m happy to say that we’re being retained by many, many more engineering firms who want a more reliable weather data package that they can use so that if they go testify there won’t be any reliability or qualification issues with the court.

Paul: Yeah, no, I mean, also I’ll give you a plug here on that. That’s the only way to really have reliable and credible information. And if you don’t do that, you’re setting yourself up for a big problem if somebody else went and hired a forensic meteorologist and got the right answers and you were incorrect, so you can’t really take a chance on something like that. If you wanna provide accurate testimony and accurate opinions, then you need to have accurate data, obviously.

Howard: Absolutely. And if you don’t have the accurate data and you don’t rely on…you know, if you’re not qualified to give those opinions, a lot of times, or at least sometimes, you know, we’ve seen some engineers in Texas and Florida, unfortunately, get Daubert challenged out of a case successfully. And, you know, we’ve been on the other side of some of those, but it’s real interesting and it’s becoming a more common issue, which I think is why we’re getting called more often to do the weather. People are realizing it’s not a $10,000 invoice that we’re gonna be submitting for this. It’s very, very reasonable and it’s well worth it for them to retain us.

Paul: Yeah, and the big picture, it’s really inconsequential and, you know, the value you get out of it is exponential for what you have to pay for it.

Howard: Yeah, it really is, especially, you know, like bad faith claims. If there ends up being a bad faith lawsuit or something like that, you know, we have our insurance company clients, you know, they wanna avoid that. So, you know, they retain us to find out what was going on. And, you know, we tell it the way it is so they could decide whether they should settle a claim, you know, or defend it.

Paul: One of my favorite statements, “It is what it is.”

Howard: It is what it is. Exactly.

Paul: Yep, yeah. So we’ve talked a lot about wind. So, in a hurricane, wind’s not the only hazard, obviously, there’s storm surge and things like that. You get involved in that aspect of it as well?

Howard: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we’re involved in, you know, tons of cases down in the Florida Keys, we’ve done some in the Miami area, some Hurricane Michael work over by Mexico Beach, Florida, Pensacola, and we’re getting some more cases now from Hurricane Ida, and even some other ones earlier than that. I think we’re getting a Hurricane Sally case coming in today that we’re working on. But you’re right, not just winds, there’s tornadoes that are usually very common in tropical storms or hurricanes, especially in that what we call the right front quadrant or the northeast quadrant. A lot of people like to refer to it as the dirty side of a storm.

And we have, in addition to that, the storm surge, like you mentioned, and we go back and we’ll determine what the storm surge was, or the storm tide at the property. And then also determine what the storm tide levels were, how high was the water at the actual house or building hour by hour, and then compare that with what the windspeeds were hour by hour to see which came first, how strong were the winds before the storm tide, you know, reached the property. And, you know, we don’t just do weather, I mean, like I said, a needle in the haystack is what we, you know, strive to, you know, be perfect with. So we’ll often request, you know, surveys of a property to find out what the NAVD 88 levels are of the property and heights above sea level above NAVD 88 so that we can do those reliable calculations. And, you know, it’s worth its weight in gold. We’ve had some very, very happy clients when they found out what we can do and basically we proved their case.

Paul: So the classic argument in coastal hurricane-prone losses oftentimes is did the wind destroy the house, or was it the storm surge? Because it’s almost always two different insurance companies and, you know, so two different coverages. So are you able to dial it into that level of figuring out what’s going on?

Howard: Oh, absolutely. I know we have…you know, I’ll give a plug for our website, you know, We’ve got sample reports for all these types of cases on our website, including a wind and storm surge case. But yeah, we put together tables in our report that will show the highest sustained winds every hour, the highest wind gust or peak wind speed every hour. And then what the storm tide was, how high was the water every hour? So our clients, you know, can find out exactly side-by-side comparison, apples to apples about what was going on. And it’s really, it’s remarkable, the detail we can get in into by looking at, you know, buoy stations and seaman stations, National Ocean Service reports, high watermark reports from the U.S. Geological Survey, and we combine that with NOAA data.

And just to give you an idea on the accuracy, this is one of the, you know, proud moment I’ve had recently. We were working on a case in the Virgin Islands about a month-and-a-half ago, and we found an error in the National Hurricane Center’s post-tropical cyclone report that is edited and prepared. So we reached out to them, explained why we think there was an error, and they…the thing is that we look a lot of different types of weather data. We look at buoys, buoy observations, seaman station observations, National Ocean Service observations, buoy data, like I mentioned, U.S. Geological Survey, high watermark data. And then we get the survey…like I mentioned earlier to you. We get at the survey for each property if it’s available to see, you know, how high is the cement slab above NAVD 88?

And using that, we can figure out, you know, when the water reached that property. And our hurricane reports calculate hour by hour what the sustained winds were every hour, what the highest windspeeds or wind gusts were every hour, and then also what the storm tide level was every hour at the property. So now you have an apples-to-apples comparison of sustained winds, wind gusts, and what the storm surge or storm tide level was at each specific property. So now you can make, you know, important decisions about what came first. Did the wind come first, or the surge, or the water? Those are questions that we can answer, and we’re involved in a lot of cases where we do that, and our clients are usually thrilled with the attention to detail that we can find and give them with that information.

Paul: Yeah, that’s really cool. I actually didn’t realize that you could do that. So that makes a lot of sense.

Howard: Yeah, and that’s like that needle in the haystack that we were talking about. You know, we’d like to go above and beyond and, you know, find the little fine details that can make or break a case. So, you know, we contact our attorney clients and we say, “Hey, can we have a copy of the survey?” And sometimes they may not even have it, and they’ll go, you know, get it from the building department, give it to us, and then it’s extremely useful. So that’s just an example of what we do with the wind and, you know, versus water storm surge cases.

Paul: So, shifting gears here, last year, there was an event that I had never heard of in Iowa, and I’m gonna try not to mispronounce it, a derecho.

Howard: Yeah, derecho.

Paul: Derecho, close. And like I sort of know now, but I was saying to myself, “What in the heck was that?” I know it had 100-plus mile an hour winds. So what was that all about? I know you’ve worked on some cases there also.

Howard: Yeah, we’re doing a lot of cases in Iowa, and that derecho actually, you know, moved across the Northern Plains there across the Great Lakes down into the Midwest. And basically, a derecho is…you know, well, we have a couple things. We have a small thunderstorm that can produce a downburst or wind damage over maybe a 1 or 2-square-mile area, then you have, for instance, a bow echo, which is an arcing line of precipitation and wind that often has, you know, colder, stronger winds coming down from the upper atmosphere and, you know, crashing to the ground and then pushing that precipitation outward. You know, that can give you a larger area or a larger area of wind damage. And then you have a derecho, which is a much larger-scale wind event. It’s very widespread, it’s long lived. It usually lasts for, you know, over a number of states as a well-organized continuous system. And it just produces, you know, large areas of wind damage and destruction.

Usually, the wind damage swaths extends over 240 miles. So it just gives you an idea of how big an area these derechos can occur. And usually, you need a very unstable atmosphere with, you know, high temperatures, high dew points, very high what we call CAPE, which is convective available potential energy, and you need good dynamics to kick off those thunderstorms. And once you get the perfect ingredients and strong winds aloft, you get these thunderstorms that form. They form into a line, and then they just organize into a derecho and last for many, many hours of 12, 18 hours as they sweep across many states. And in Iowa, they got hit really, really hard, like you said, over 100 mile an hour winds.

So we’re involved in a lot of cases there, where, you know, certain structures were rated up to a certain windspeed. And even if they’re rated up to 125 miles per hour, you know, we find, in some of those instances, that the winds only gusted to 100 miles per hour. So now, you have a…you know, is it a product liability, defective product case, subrogation case? All those things come into play and, you know, knowing what those wind speeds were, even if it’s 100 miles an hour, you know, can be very important to our clients.

Paul: Yeah, 100 mile an hour is pretty good, pretty intense winds.

Howard: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But if you have windows that are rated in a high rise to 125 miles per hour, for instance, or a radio tower, or some sort of structure and it doesn’t get that high and it’s damaged, then that becomes an issue according to what our client say. You know, as you know, we’re not engineers and we don’t pretend to be engineers, or building consultants or experts, so we wouldn’t determine, you know, whether the damage, you know, was caused by those high winds. We would just give the opinions about what the windspeeds were, what the weather conditions were, what the wind gusts were, and then let some, you know, expert determine, you know, should the windows have been sustaining that kind of damage or not? But again, it’s a well-oiled machine like we talked about before. We provide the weather, you provide the building envelope, you know, information and the structural information and the attorneys put that all together, or the insurance carriers put that all together and have a nice case.

Paul: And the argument begins.

Howard: Yeah, exactly. And when you have these really reliable reports that we’ve been discussing, it’s really hard to rebut them. You know, it’s really hard to say no if you’re relying on, you know, solid evidence and, as we say, sound scientific principles in the field of science.

Paul: And that’s a million percent correct. You know, I always say, “Try to overwhelm the other side with the facts.” And, you know, if you’ve got the facts and you’ve got it right, then obviously, you know, that’s gonna present a clear picture and credible picture of what you’re trying to present.

Howard: Even if you’re called to be deposed and right from the get-go, you’re relying on solid data and solid methodology, you’ll be fine. And usually, the person deposing you is going to see that you know what you’re talking about and oftentimes, you know, some decisions are made about, you know, cases after those depositions. So it’s important to know what you’re talking about and have, you know, reliable foundation as they say.

Paul: And conversely, if you don’t have it, you can get burned.

Howard: You can get burned or thrown out of a case. And yeah, that wouldn’t be so good for your credibility.

Paul: Let’s put your expert hat on for a second here, and I know you’ve mentioned, you know, doing the site work and reports and depos. So what does a full-scale expert witness assignment typically look like for you as far as what you need to do and what are the things that happen along the way?

Howard: Well, we often get retained either by a public adjuster or an engineer or an attorney and, you know, they have a date of loss and they need to know what the hail size was on that date of loss at this property. And, you know, we start off by getting lots and lots of different types of weather data, surface observations, airport observations, Mesonet winds readings, then we get Doppler radar images, and incidentally, Paul, we plot each incident location that we’re retained on. We plot it on top of the Doppler radar images that are, you know, taken or processed every one to five minutes or so. And so we’re able to see exactly where the storms moved, if they went over the property, how strong they were.

And not only just, you know, looking at the normal radar, like what you see on TV during the weather, but we have many different radar products like base velocity, which shows us winds. We have differential reflectivity that shows us shapes and hail in a thunderstorm. We have correlation coefficient that those radar images are color coded, and, you know, they show us what’s up in the atmosphere. Is it all correlated together like rain and just rain, or if it shows us a different value within a certain threshold, it may be showing that there’s an area of hail or debris in a tornado that shows up on correlation coefficient. So all of this information and then looking at the structure of the thunderstorm, you know, from the ground up to 50,000 feet, using that with all the research we’ve learned and, you know, established papers and etc., as well as storm reports at the grounds, we’ll give an opinion about what the hail size was.

Now, there’s also a lot of research that shows the majority of storm reports, whether they’re hail or winds, don’t get reported to the national weather service, right? Not everybody, or i’d say the majority of people don’t go out, measure the hail, and then call the National Weather Service, or if they do, they wait for the storm to end so they don’t get, you know, clobbered on the head with hail. And by the time they get out there, it already started melting a lot of times. And that has implications because the hail still may have hit the roof at 1.75 inch. But by the time someone maybe got out and measured it, either it wasn’t reported to the National Weather Service or the closest report was, you know, 2 miles away, like that example I used earlier, or maybe it started melting and, you know, they estimated the hail size.

So we’ll go and do the research and then answer those questions about, “All right, how large was the hail at the property?” And it’s based on, you know, science and evidence and meteorology, and that’s crucial for those types of cases. Once we report back to you or our client with our findings, in addition to, you know, what the windspeeds were in that same thunderstorm, was the hail coming from different angles, a lot of times we’re asked to prepare what we call a federal rule 26 type report, which basically follows the guidelines of federal court. So our expert reports are in admissible format and everything’s relied upon and lined up the way it should be for use in those types of cases, and then those reports are usually given to engineers, or the other side, or exchanged to whatever party it may be. And that’s kind of the way we do these analyses for each case. And that could be applied to hurricane cases, wind cases, rainfall cases, flooding cases, you know, wildfires, all kinds of different things.

Paul: Have you ever been subjected to a Daubert challenge?

Howard: I have, a few times, I think three out of…get this, I think 3 times out of 7,000 cases that I’ve worked on, and never successful. You know, I found that a lot of the times, you know, unfortunately, it was an attorney’s last ditch effort to try and get me removed from the case because they knew their, you know, case was in trouble. And you know, when the judge denied the motion, the case is settled almost within a couple days for a very, very, very large sum.

Paul: Yeah. So Daubert is now the standard for experts in Florida on all cases, not just federal court. So Daubert challenges are flying all over the place now and…

Howard: Yeah, some engineers, unfortunately, you know, there’s some, you know, reputable ones that are well-known, they’ve gotten, you know, thrown out just recently on Daubert challenge. And I know that because, you know, we were involved in that case and, you know, there was an engineer playing meteorologist and they had their facts all messed up. One said a tornado affected a property, except the tornado was like 3 miles away from the house. And the tornado itself was only, you know, 100 yards wide. So it would have to be a 3-mile wide tornado for it to affect the house. And this was in the engineer’s own report talking about radar and all these things. So that, unfortunately, didn’t end up well for him.

Paul: Well, probably deserved it if you’re putting incorrect information in. Yeah, I’ve had the Daubert thing myself and it’s actually a feather in your cap when you go through it successfully. It’s kind of like a, you know, validation that you did things right. I had a competitor recently bragging that his company had never been Daubert challenged thinking that was good and it’s really not. You know, you wanna be battle-tested and it’s just part of the process. Nothing to be ashamed of if you get Daubert challenged, not if you get kicked out, there’s some shame involved there I think.

Howard: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there is. But yeah, to be Daubert challenged, yeah, like you said, it’s a feather in the cap, and it means that the judges agree that you did the right kind of job and the right kind of methodology and that a jury should be hearing what you have to say. That’s really what it comes down to. You know, the judges, they call it the gatekeeper. And as long as we, as experts, can explain what was going on and we’re qualified to explain what was going on, we used the right methodology and the right types of data, then we’re deemed qualified to tell a jury or the court what our opinions are, and then they can make a decision about whether if there’s coverage or not coverage, whatever they do in the jury box for civil cases.

Paul: Yeah, so, I mean, you’ve gotta basically dot all your Is and cross all your Ts. And if you’re working on a weather event, that’s the reason you would want to get obviously a site-specific meteorological report by somebody who’s qualified so that, you know, you do get that correct.

Howard: Yeah, it’s so important. You could have a $1.5 million hail claim just to fall apart. Even if there was hail, it would fall apart if you don’t have the right experts or the right information. And that $800,000 hail claim I spoke with you about earlier, that’s just one of many cases that we’ve had where, you know, we’ve proven that there wasn’t any hail. And it happens in the Southern Mississippi Valley as well, where there’ll be a date of loss for, you know, a government complex of buildings and the date of loss, there was no hail. So then in a case we’re working on then, they submitted a new date of loss, and we were asked to go research that, no hail. Then they did it again, different date of loss. There were showers and thunderstorms but, you know, quarter-sized hail, 0.25 inch. You know, according to the engineers, not enough to do damage to those government buildings. I don’t know where that case is now, but, you know, it just shows you the value. You know, we were told that we saved them, so far, $8 million.

Paul: Wow. Yeah, if you’re gonna have a hail claim, you probably need to have hail, right?

Howard: You need to have hail, yeah. And I can’t stress how important it is not to just rely on a storm report, you know, from NOAA, you know, 3 miles away, or the Severe Weather Database Inventory, which a lot of people get confused with. They see these hail algorithms and markers that say, you know, “1.75-inch hail, you know, 2 miles from the property,” and they don’t realize that that’s just an algorithm for what’s being measured aloft and it could have false alarms. It often does have false alarms. But they use that as evidence to show that there was hail, and a lot of times they’re dead wrong.

Paul: Yeah, really interesting. Well, Howard, thank you so much for coming on today. Really interesting to catch up and talk about how important it is to get good information around weather events.

Howard: Yeah, it’s my pleasure. And, you know, I guess in closing, every good expert should work for either, both sides, the plaintiffs and defense. And that’s what we do. We often get called by both sides of the same case. So I think that’s a feather in our cap as well, that’s something all professionals should hang their hat on and be happy about. So we’re happy to provide this service and just tell what the weather was, as I say.

Paul: So if somebody wants to get a hold of you or hire you or your company, how would they go about doing that?

Howard: Give us a call. Our office number is 518-862-1800. Again, 518-862-1800, or send us an email,, or just go to our webpage and it has all the information right there, or they could call you, Paul, and you could give them our information.

Paul: They could.

Howard: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. Yeah, we always enjoy working with you. You know, it’s nice to have different professionals working on the same case. You know, it always works out good and you’re always a great person to work with. So we appreciate…

Paul: Likewise, likewise.

Howard: We appreciate the work. Yeah, thank you.

Paul: Yeah, thanks again for coming on. And I’d also like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today. And if you want more information about our company, GCI Consultants, you can find it on our website at, or you can give us a call at 877-740-9990. Thank you once again. I look forward to talking with everyone next time on “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. And this is Paul Beers saying so long.



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The State of Stucco

The State of Stucco – Bret Taylor and Robert Koning

GCI Everything Builders Podcast: Episode 70: State of Stucco

In this episode, Bret Taylor, Professional Engineer, and Sr. Consultant for GCI Consultants talks Robert Koning Director of Contractors Institute, Stucco Institute, Building Officials Institute, and he’s also the developer of the Sealed Cladding System. They’ll discuss the state of stucco, the history of the Stucco industry, and the future that lies ahead for stucco.

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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Bret: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Bret Taylor, professional engineer, senior consultant, too, for GCI Consultants. I’ll be your host today, and I’m excited to have with us Robert Koning who is the director of the Contractors Institute, Stucco Institute, Building Officials Institute, and he’s also the developer of the Sealed Cladding System. And he’s a consultant in the construction defect industry as well.

Today, our topic is going to be the state of stucco. So, Bob, start off. And I’d like you to tell our audience a little bit about yourself, and then we can jump right into the state of stucco.

Robert: Well, Bret, I want to thank you for this opportunity to join in this podcast and be part of it. My history throughout my entire adult life in construction, I’ve really done nothing but that, has been involved in the roofing, waterproof, stucco, and plastering industry. That’s been my main forte. Today, my practice is pretty much limited to education and training at the Contractors Institute, and, as you said, the Stucco Institute, and the Building Officials Institute. We provide examination preparation and continuing education courses for the construction industry.

Historically, the stucco industry, as I was part of, that’s how I got into construction back when I was, after school, 16 years old, at a plaster mixer, and have never really gotten out of the stucco and cement-plastering trade. Still in it today, to a limited degree. But historically, we plastered these houses, we stuccoed these houses. It was a different process then, and we had no problems. Then, [inaudible 00:01:59] 2000, through some changes in the industry, or, should I say, some application of interpretations in the industry, we changed things, and then problems began, and are abundant today, for a myriad of reasons, some of them related to stucco, but most often, they are not.

Bret: Okay, excellent. Well, that’s an amazing life accomplishment you’ve got there with all the different institutes and your experience. I’m sure everybody is looking forward to hearing from you today. So, let’s get right into it. Let’s start with a brief history of stucco, just like you were mentioning earlier. About what year did you start, Bob, in stuccoing?

Robert: I started in stuccoing back in the late ’60s, when I began. And as I said, still in it today.

Bret: Well, that’s a good long time. And I’m going to take this opportunity to point out, too, that you were stuccoing in the ’60s. It was occurring before then as well. Stucco has been a viable cladding system in Florida, but…Florida since then, and before then, and continues to be so. And I think what we’re going to get into today is some of the items that we’ll cover. Some of the problems that have come up, like you said. Those don’t necessarily mean that stucco is a bad thing. It is viable. And if done properly, it can continue to be viable.

Robert: That’s absolutely true. When I started in this, I had the honor of being trained by a lot of old-time workers that were in the field. Today, we have the blessing of a lot of men and women working in the field. When I began my career, as you can imagine, it was largely men. There were a few women, but our workforce has expanded, thank God, and we have a lot of new talent.

But the old guard, so, I’ll just simply refer to them as “the old guard,” that trained me, all of their lessons were from trial and error what did and did not work. And the stucco or cement-plastering industry evolved to form a viable cladding that just performed flawlessly. Things were somewhat different then, when we started this originally. The houses inside were rock lath. I began my practice at the era of rock lath. Before that, it was wooden lath strips. But when I got in, it was three-eighths rock lath. And then we would come in and we would brown coat, which is a gypsum plaster. And we would take rods and straighten the wall out. And then we would go outside. The brown coat had to dry, so we moved outside. And we would scratch any of the wire around the house with metal lath. Then, that metal lath was not galvanized. It was plain black, with an asphalt coating sprayed on it, which, what we today refer to as interior lath. So, it was black lath. There was no rib lath then. It had been nailed on the wall by the plasterers, us. And we used interior nails, which were not galvanized, blue lath nails. And the pattern then was you spread your hand out, and you had to have a nail. If you put a nail on your thumb, then you had to touch it with the top of your pinky. That was about the spacing each way, on center. Of course, the back sheathing was either diagonal re-sawn 1 by 10, or plywood. And then it was covered with felt.

We hand-nailed that on, and then we scratched it, the plasters, then. I can remember my uncle telling me when I first learned to use a Hawken trowel, they would put the mud, the cement, on the board, so, mud boards. And we’d make a ring in the middle of it, put a little water in, and mix it with your Hawken trowel on the board, so that it was a looser consistency or viscosity. My uncle wanted it…all the old plasterers wanted it that way, because when you scratched it, you took that cement, and you used an up-down-up motion with your trowel. And he wanted to see that that cement was so fluid that it would push in through the lath and, to the degree it could, behind the lath. And you would form, like, a little river on the toe of your trowel, the toe being the front end, the heel being the back end. That way, he knew that it was completely fluid, and you were putting a coat on the wall that completely enveloped the lath.

His reasoning, I asked him why we had to loosen that mud up, was very simple. He said, I’ll never forget it, “Boy, you can’t have any pockets behind this. If you have pockets behind this, you’re going to have air. And when you get air behind it, in Florida, it’s got salts in it, and it’s gonna corrode the lath. So there can be no space behind that plaster and that lath.” And as for the nailing patterns, I asked him, “Why are we nailing it with this pattern?” Even back then, they knew. He knew. Because in storms, that suction pressure will pop that stucco. It’ll crack it if you don’t nail it at that frequency. So, that was the extent that was told to me.

Then we scratched that. And then we would leave the job, and we would come back a week or so later. And now, it was time to put the white coat inside of the house, which was simply lime and sand. So, you’d scrap the brown coat down, and now, you put a thin coat of lime and sand in over the gypsum plaster. And then you moved outside and put your second coat on the wall, and densified it. Then, we always densified the second coat of plaster. And that’s just with a float with a open cell, like a green…today, they’re green, but it’s an open cell. And you dipped it in the water and you rubbed it. Most of them were then sand-finished. You used a white float and you would sand finish it like you did on the inside.

Then, all of the corners were rodded. In other words, we didn’t use any beads. You’d hold a straight edge, and you rodded that. People who don’t know what that is today can go to the Stucco Institute. We have all the photos and the materials there.

And then, all consideration was given to the painting contractor. We had V tools, and we cut a little V around all of the openings. And you used a paintbrush, like a chip brush today, a cheap throwaway. And you would wet it. And you would go down that V cut, to soften the edge, so that the painter could use a spatula. And you cleaned the shoulder of whatever it was touching, so that when the painting contractor got there, he simply had to just rub a brush up and down it, or a rag. And he had a good bite, or a good shoulder, to seal on from whatever the penetration was, pipe, or a brick molding, or whatever. And the other side of the V, which was in the plaster body, had a soft edge so that his spatula would go down.

And the painters then would seal and apply the coating, by roller, to the proper mil thickness. They would brush all of these V tools, then put their sealant in. And then they would roll the first prime coat. And they would roll the second coat, at 2 mil thicknesses of about a minimum of 12, even back then. And they gauged that by the amount of coverage of the paint. And we ended up with a face barrier system that performed absolutely perfectly. The goal of that system then was to ensure that no bulk water, of course, and no vapor penetrated through that, that would get in behind your system, where the felt might wrinkle when the cement touched it.

And that system failed. I mean, that system never failed. It was flawless. And it was the one in the Miami code since I’ve been following the code. Someone told me it went in in 1932, but it certainly was in in the ’50s, all the way up until 2010, when it got removed by the Florida Building Commission, with the simple premise they’re trying to minimize the codes. And our reference codes today, which are the 926 and the 1063, have provisions “unless otherwise specified.” So it would allow people to continue following that protocol because of the “otherwise specified” provision in the referenced ASTM documents.

But that got lost along the way, and we started putting systems on for drain plane systems. And as my mother used to say, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant. You either are or you aren’t.” The same is true here. Either you have a functional drain plane system or you have a face barrier system. You can’t have a little bit of both. It doesn’t work that way. And so, we’ve got into some problems in the industry in that respect, along with some diminishing of other aspects, such as roofing, and painting, and sealants, and soffit, and fascia, which we’ll talk about later.

So, I guess, what I would say is that there was a complete lack of understanding [inaudible 00:12:04] 2000 and a transition after hurricane Andrew, when the engineers, rightfully so, became involved in designing load pass. There were people that looked at this then standard, the ASTM 926 and 1063, which are an application standard written by plasterers, out in the Midwest, for plasterers in the Midwest when you’re using three-coat stucco with a colored application finish over open frame. And they read that, and a lot of people just didn’t understand the difference, so they just said, “Well, hey, this is the way it should be put on. Let’s adapt to this.” And failures started. And they still are abundant today.

Bret: Yeah. That was a great description of how stucco is installed. And I was visualizing it the entire way. And as I was visualizing that, I was thinking about the different areas that could be done improperly, that would allow that, you know, face sealed system to not perform, as you mentioned. And then, can’t be a little bit pregnant. Once you in some way compromise your failed sealed system, and you’re going to have water coming behind the system and you’re going to compromise your overall integrity. Let’s talk about some of the areas that could fail. So, you were talking about scoring around the openings. Let’s talk about some of the areas that, if done improperly, could let water behind the system.

Robert: Well, I’m just going to call it the big three. That is, of course, the thickness of the coating itself that we put on the outside and the accessories. The two biggest failure points in accessories are plastic, or vinyl, or metal, corner beads on the outside corners, and control joints. Those are the big-ticket items. Remember, what we’re trying to do here… If you think of this, and we have data loggers, and tests, and data at the Stucco Institute, voluminous materials you can download free, but the concept is relatively simple, Bret. The ASTM documents are very, very good documents. And they were written for an arid region and a lower wind speed. So, if you take, first off, the first component in that is metal lath over a wood-frame wall. We’ll talk about over block later, but it’s a lot simpler over the block. But over a wood-framed wall, and you’re in an arid region, why… It’s open framing first, of all? And in some of our training materials, we show the National Weather Service data. So, you’re in, let’s say, Las Vegas or Nevada. And it’s 102 degrees average in August, you know? And the outside relative humidity is about 28%, and the rainfall for the month of August is 0.60 inches, less than an inch. And the inside relative humidity in the house is tried to be maintained up around 50% and about 75%.

So, if you just take simple diffusion pressure and you do this concept, you have this wall. And this wall gets wet. It’s three-coat stucco, and then the final coat is colored cement. That wall gets wet. First of all, the wall itself in a rain shower in Nevada is going to shield, I mean, just simply resist the bulk of the water. It’s going to run down the wall. A minuscule fraction of that amount of water is going to get through cracks and separations. And it’s going to migrate down behind the system, and it comes out the bottom weep screed at the crack. People don’t always understand that that weep screed has holes in it. They think those are for water drainage. They are not. Those holes lock the plaster in. It simply weeps. Remember, it’s a weep screed, not a drain screed. It weeps the minuscule amount of water that got through at the crack along the bottom. Before, we had vinyl, plastic as most people call them. They’re a plastic-based material. Before we had that, and we had metal, we had to wax the top of those flanges so that the lime wouldn’t bind into that and block that ability to drain at that crack.

So, this standard was written, again, with using lime, and sand, and cement. There was no pre-mixed type X then. So, the water would be shielded by the wall, and some would get through. The vapor never really wants to permeate through. And the reason of that is the relative humidity is lower outside than it is inside. So, when the rainstorm stops, immediately, you go back to 102 degrees. You’re back to 30% relative humidity, and the wall dries to the outside very, very rapidly. So it’s really hard to get any long-term or chronic moisture problems in a wall out there. It gets wet, it’s very incidental. Everything is trying to dry to the outside, and drying to the outside.

Now, if you move that scenario to Orlando, Florida, where the average August temperature is 94 degrees, the relative humidity is 86%, and the average rainfall is 7.5 inches, as opposed to a half an inch, now, you are just simply flooding that wall with water on a fairly constant basis. The outside humidity, of course, is above 90%, and it was 100% when it rains. The inside is being maintained about 55%, so all of the water and all of the vapor have a diffusion pressure to move inward.

So, let’s assume that the rain stops, and the relative humidity stays in the 90s for a while. It might get back down to the 80s. But it stays high. And now, all that vapor does not dry to the outside. It is pushing to the interior. There was a time when we used felt, and we had laps on the felt. And that vapor could migrate through, and then it would encumber either wood planking or it would it would hit a plywood sheathing with a perm of about 12 grams, perm rating is about 12 grams, and could pass through and be dehumidified into the system. Before air conditioning, the inside and outside were stable, so you didn’t have any difference in diffusion pressure.

So, now we’re moving. Well, with the advent of OSB and house wrap. The house wrap, at least, Tyvek, normal house wrap, the perm rating is in it’s 50 grams. Even stucco wrap is around 20 grams. That vapor moves through the house wrap, and now it encounters the OSB in its movement inward. Well, the OSB perm rating is 0 grams to 1 gram and has a silicone coating on it. And so, it stops there. And it just remains there behind the stucco system in mass. And then at nighttime, when we have the radiant loss to the nighttime black sky, the wall cools below the condensing temperature by about 10:00 at night and that vapor condenses behind our system. And then, we keep that cyclical.

We painted the house with the outside, with paints. We measured 74 houses in a recent study. The average mil thickness was 3 mil. Remember, and it should be 12 mil. So, the vapor passes right through, but now there’s no returning force. There’s no difference in diffusion that’s trying to get it to dry out. It’s still wanting to go to the interior of the house. And to make matters worse, we have a weep screed down at the bottom, and we’ve painted the crack. I mean, you can’t let the water out now, because this stucco system, as it’s contemplated in 926, well, everybody understands, was never meant to be painted. You have to do other accommodations with your termination point. So, now, we have the wetting, continual elevated relative humidity, behind the stucco system, behind the Tyvek, the Typar, and now we get fungal growth. And once we initiate that, we have problems. So, that’s a first, huge problem.

Second problem we have is the attachment of the lath. The standard was written in a low wind speed region, where straight-line winds then were 90 mph. And they said in the standard, to put the studs, excuse me, to put the fasteners of the metal lath 7 inches vertically up the studs, which are spaced 16 inches horizontally on center. And that’s fine. That works well. We don’t fail in withdrawal. But what happens in a higher-wind region, where the wind speed is over 115 mph Vult, or the wall pressure is in excess of about 28 pounds? Then, what happens is the fasteners don’t fail and withdraw. The stucco literally, in between that 16-inch space, bows outward from suction forces, and cracks.

If you think about it, if you, in a high-wind region, and you space 16 inches horizontally on a 8-foot-high wall, that’s, all of that area, I think it’s over 10 square feet, all of that area is now with no fasteners. It’s unrestrained. And so, you can see the flexure of the stucco is great, and that’s why we get a lot of cracking. We didn’t have that in Miami-Dade, and the reason is Miami-Dade always required two fasteners per square foot. Which means you have to put a row in between the vertical framing members.

One of the misunderstandings, fundamentally, of the text is why is it on the vertical studs? And why is that important? Because the standard was written for open framing. Where else are you going to put the fasteners, in open air? There’s no other choice. Even when the standard talks about sheathing, it’s talking about non-structural sheathing, such as Styrofoam, or Homasote, or asphalt-impregnated sheathing, or thermal ply. Any of those, that is done everywhere in the United States, except here in this high-wind region area.

So, now you understand, if you take those two precepts, you understand, over open framing, why the standard says, “In between the studs, you have to tie the lath of the wire with tie wire. You have to tie the lath, so, the metal lath, with wire, 9 inches in between the studs.” But, one sheet to another of metal lath, and it’s not over a vertical framing member, like in between the two, you have to lace wire in between the two sheets. Well, of course, if you didn’t do that, when you ran your trowel of mud up the wall to scratch it, your hand would simply go into the middle of the wall cavity. It makes perfect sense when you understand why those things were written. For instance, the increase in nail length to accommodate the sheathing thickness. Well, of course, let’s assume that we’re in Arizona. I show one in class that was actually done just a year or so ago in Arizona. And there’s three-quarter inch Styrofoam put on the outside of the studs. Well, if you didn’t…and there is nothing else, so you had to nail the lath through the Styrofoam and into the stud. If you didn’t allow for this, add the thickness of that Styrofoam to the required length of the fastener, well, the stucco wall would fall off. Of course, you have to do that.

But here in our high-wind region, and around the Gulf Coast, and in Texas, and, you know, up the East Coast to a degree, we require structural sheathing on the outside of the wall. Literally, a structural sheathing, a rated, with a stamp, for structural capability. And meaning, it has withdrawal value. When you cover the wall with a structural panel, the whole wall is the framing member. So you don’t have to go find those studs. For instance, the roofer doesn’t lay his shingle down and then say, “Okay, I’m going to increase my nails. And I’m only going to put the nails through the sheathing and into the top of the trusses, and I’m not going to nail in between the two.” You see the fallacy of that. So, those things, that cracking, has led to a problem because of the weakness in our fastening patterns.

Then, the accessories are a problem. The plastic corner beads were originally made for block. They weren’t made to go on stucco. You have to fully encapsulate them with plaster. And it’s hard to do that. On a block wall, it’s not as hard because it’s right tight against the block corner. In other words, the thickness of the bead itself, if it’s pushed tight against the wall, forms the ground for the thickness of the stucco. But when you move those up on a framed wall, and you’re trying to bump those out seven eighths of an inch, which people do, not interpreting the standard correctly, and that is three quarters, and the standards say that, now you have huge pockets behind that. You can’t get them full. And then the beads crack at the corners. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Sacrificial. And the water gets in that cavity and fills up and just, it’s caused billions of dollars of damage.

The control joints, likewise, have to be integrated properly. And it would take more time than we have to discuss the different ways to accomplish that. But, sufficient to say that recent tests by two agencies tested the corner bead every way, excuse me, the control joints every way you could install them, attached, not attached, tied, attached one side and tied on the other, behind the metal lath, on top of the metal lath. Every way. And there was no meaningful or measurable difference in the crack patterns, regardless of how they were put on, including the panels that had no control joints at all. So, people don’t have, a lost a concept of what these control joints meant to us in the industries, and why they were used. Especially over concrete block.

We’ll shift now to a block wall. Remember, the standard is for colored cement. And that’s always an eighth of an inch, the final coat. It’s not part of the system, it’s the color coat. The standard says so. So, if you were to put an eighth of an inch color coat directly over block, when it dried, you would see every horizontal block joint, and every lenle [SP], and every downpour. Because, unless that colored stucco dries at the same identical rate by suction, then the…what dries quicker dries lighter. So, we have to put a base coat over a block wall. And that base coat has to provide a uniform suction for the color coat. So we require, over block, a three-eighths basecoat, leveled out, densified. And we let that cure, so that when we put the color coat over it, all the suction is uniform into that three-eighths base coat, and you’ll have a nice pleasing color all down the wall.

Now, we can’t do that without that base coat. Now, if you think of the second problem with the base coat, and go back in time. We were actually using cement and lime. And then…we would use white cement and lime, and use buff if you wanted a light cream color. If you wanted darker, we would use a half a bag of white cement and a half a bag of gray cement. You could mix that. So, you could change your base. You could change your color coat to whatever you wanted.

So, now, think of this. Go back to the base coat. And we’re applying gray cement, and sand, and lime. And I’m in the middle of the wall, and I’m what we call “running tops.” I am up on sawhorses at the top of the 8-foot wall, bringing it down to 4 foot. And my key mud runner is working beside me, and he’s running the bottoms. But he has to be over to the left, because I’m standing on sawhorse or scaffold here. So, there’s a zigzag in the wall. We run out a base coat. The labor brings a new batch from a new mixer load and then mixes it. And we start running it on. And we don’t see any difference with our eyes, but the mix had been mixed five minutes longer, and the lime began to air and train and he used a few shovels more sand. What we don’t see is the fact that we’ve changed the suction properties of the base, by that air and training of the lime in that change of the sand. It’s minuscule. You don’t see it at this point. But when you run the color coat over it, you’ll see that Z type change in color in the wall.

So, to alleviate that, we put these control joints right down the wall. They control the thickness, and they control the density for the color coat curing. And we fill those in. And the reason of their 144-square-foot placement is because if you take 144, the beads were originally half-inch thick, and you multiply 144 square feet times a half divided by 12, the answer is 6 cubic feet. That’s the size of a standard stucco mixer. So, that one mixer load would fill the area of 144 square feet. And the next mixer load would go into the adjacent one. And when there’s a vertical break, you won’t see if there’s a slight minuscule change in color. You only see that if they’re blended.

So, by then extending those up into the frame wall, which serves the same purpose for controlling those areas, if they’re not integrated properly, hence, the paper is put over their flanges, and the flange and the metal lath do not become one by pushing the mud through them, then the water that gets in along their vertical crack line will go right behind the paper, and that’s the worst place to have it.

So, those are the big three right there. First of all, the lack of the required face barrier. If you’re going to paint it, you have to coat it. You don’t get to just spritz some things on and change the color. Number two, you have to anchor the sheet correctly. And that requires at least two fasteners per square foot. It always has. And then, accessories should be considered on residential homes with 8-foot-high wall. The vertical ones should be eliminated. Most consultants agree on that. If you don’t, you can put them in. But you have to make sure they are put in carefully and correctly. And corner beads should not be used. You should rod the corners with a, we call it a stick. It’s a magnesium L-shaped piece of metal. It’s just a straight edge. And one person holds it, and the other builds the corner so that the corner is solid cement. If you do those things, you eliminate, you know, a lot of the problems we’re having.

To just expand quickly on that, the stucco contractor is faced with a dilemma. We have a lot of problems where the soffits are being run and they’re not pitched back uphill. You know, when I started in the trade, all of the overhangs were 2 feet. Now, we’ve moved them back, you know, to a foot, 6 inches. The wall gets a lot more water that way. But what also happens is that the soffit, when we change from a square cut fascia to a plumb cut fascia, meaning it’s vertical up and down for the ease of putting gutters. The water runs down that face, comes off the roof in mask, runs down the face, turns, because the old fascia we used in wood, we made sure that stuck down at least three-quarters of an inch. The new fascia is just an L shape, and it wraps around. The water will run literally back the soffit, if the soffit is not tilted upwards towards the wall, and get behind the stucco.

Additionally, the edge metal, if it’s not bent by the roofer when he’s put on, in a sheet metal break… Remember, that when you go to the store, any roofing supply or big-box store, and you buy it, it’s at 90 degrees. It’s meant to go onto a square-cut fascia, not a plumb cut. If you put that metal on a plumb cut, you have to put it in a break and change the flange angle. If you don’t do that, the metal creeps back up, forms a flat spot on the shingles, and this is ubiquitous. There are class action lawsuits all over this. The water then gets on the shingle and travels laterally instead of continuing off the roof, leaks, goes in behind the subfascia, to the bottom of the soffit, runs back to the wall, goes behind the stucco. So, those problems abound. And they are probably at least a third of all problems we see are related to the soffit or the roof. And we’ll include in that the 4 by 6, what we normally say is a kickout flashing. That intersection of a horizontal soffit and fascia into a vertical wall that’s higher, builders have said, in desperate futility, to say, “I’m going to slide a piece of waterproofing membrane in between where that fascia hits that wall.” All’s you’re doing is moving the rot area down 18 inches. You solve nothing in doing that. That interface has to be water tight.

And the problems almost exclusively are in the 4 by 6. To the point that we’re developing a newsletter now to just remind roofers, “This is how you’re supposed to make a transition…” Let’s call it a kick out. Most people will recognize that. “…with tongs that hooks on, that will be water tight.” If you don’t do that, if you just use the metal over the top, it’s going to leak and it’s going to rot the wood behind it. And we know that. We’ve known that in the roofing industry for decades. And yet it still is not done. And when you see it done… Literally a six grader could do it. It’s not difficult. But if it’s not shown, you don’t know. And that’s, of course, probably the biggest, is a lack of vocational training in our industry.

Bret: Absolutely, Bob. And I could listen to you talk about this for hours. There’s so much in what you said. There’s a lot of detail. And, of course, the devil is in detail. And you were covering this at, kind of a… Some locations are very specific descriptions, some areas were the 30,000-foot view. Which I find, you know, very interesting. Hopefully, people are following along with some of that. We could kind of break this whole conversation into probably several different podcasts.

Robert: Right.

Bret: But you’re right. I mean, it comes down to some of the basics, which are attention to detail, proper installation, and some of the key points you focused on were the paint, the proper attachment of lath, and the proper installation and use of accessories. In other words, just because they exist doesn’t mean you should be using them in certain locations.

Robert: And we did, Bret. We put all these details, non-proprietary, in CAD files that you can download at the Stucco Institute, free. Now, the Sealed Cladding System. We went in to the laboratory, the accredited laboratory, and got all the ASTM 330, 331, and the E74 test done on the models, and got a Florida product approval. And people say to me, when they use it, they love it, “Well, thank you for inventing this.” I didn’t invent that. That system is identical…it is the Miami-Dade protocol that was in the Miami-Dade code, that was, let’s just say erroneously, for not valid reasons, taken out. So I just redid the Miami-Dade code, which I had plastered under all my life, and took it into a laboratory and got it.

And although that does mention materials, I don’t want to mention any materials by brand name, you’re free to substitute. You can use any… For instance, your waterproofing coating. You could use Behr, you could use Color Wheel, you could use Sherwin-Williams, you could use Drylok. You can use whatever you want, as long as the properties of the waterproofing are met and they’re online. You know, you do, as an engineer and architect does, approve equals. Just substitute whatever you want. And it’s any brand of type S mortar. So, the CAD details are there, including the roofing and the flashing details, so that you don’t get lost. There is a place you can go, at least in our estimation, “These are the old details at work. Here they are. They’re free.”

Bret: That’s good to know. And like you said, these are time-tested. And for whatever reason, we went astray for a while. And it looks like we’re going to try to pull people back towards what’s going to work. And we also have to focus in on the fact that, you know, proper application of your coating, which is what we’re talking about here, face sealed system, is key. You know, you can’t put down 3 mils and expect it to work over the long term.

Robert: Right.

Bret: And then the other piece of that is the maintenance. I mean, yeah, we have coatings on there specified at 12 mils. That should get you a pretty decent life. But in Florida, after several years of the heat and the intensity of the sun, you know, you still need to recoat your system after five, seven, you know, or so years, depending on the product that you used.

Robert: That is correct. It’s very important that you realize that in Florida, with a face barrier system, any crack over a hairline needs to be addressed, you know? It’s not like where we see all these crack gauges and comparisons that were written for colored stucco, what is and what is not acceptable in the width of a crack and the number of cracks on a system that’s going to be subject to rainfall amounts of six tenths of an inch a month, and has an outside relative humidity of 30%. You cannot apply that same thought process to Florida, with a rainfall of 7.5 inches in that same month, and an average outside relative humidity of 85% and inside of 55%. Those cracks will let more water in than the system can manage, and the results could be disastrous.

So I tell my homeowners, “Look, after every high-wind event, walk around your house, use a binoculars, or a monocular, or anything, and look carefully. If you have any cracks, or you see a crack, get your painter up, or you get up on a ladder, and simply brush some replenishing coating in there to bridge that. Hairline’s okay, because they’ll close up. But you can’t allow eighth-inch cracks in the stucco system and survive in Florida.

Bret: Even a minor amount of water intrusion can add up over time, and then… Kind of pulling this back a little bit and help people understand better, the concept of vapor drive is it’s going to go from hot to cold, high humidity, to low humidity. So, the water in the air will drive through a wall. Then, depending on the perm rating of that wall construction, it will drive it into your home. That’s why you have to continually provide dehumidification of the interior of your house. If you don’t, the humidity will build up on the inside, and you’ll have mold and mildew issues, so…

Robert: That’s correct.

Bret: That’s why if you go outside and look at your HVAC condenser, typically, there’ll be a pipe near there that will be dripping water constantly. That’s the water being pulled out of your home. And that water comes in through opening doors and windows, but also through vapor drive. So, if you do have that hairline crack in your stucco and/or your paint, that vapor drive will occur. And if you allow it to continue over a long enough period of time, you’re going to degrade your cladding. So, another kind of analogy to put out there for people is, if you’ve ever seen petrified wood that was pulled out of a lake or a river, if the wood is underwater and has no access to oxygen, it can’t rot. Similar sort of concept. If you don’t let water affect your stucco, and the lath that’s embedded into your stucco, then you shouldn’t have any corrosion issues, as long as it was installed properly. So it’s really key to maintain that coating over time, and/or, you know, the cladding and coating in general.

Robert: That’s so true. Every word is true. We took a building. I had a request from several engineers, friends of mine. And they were across the nation. And they just were confused, dumbfounded of this old methodology. “What do you mean you didn’t put control joints in, and what do you mean you didn’t put weep screeds in, and you went from block…” excuse me, “wooden frame, and brought the metal lath right down over the block, and stub nailed it in and had one continuous coat? Why, that’ll crack, and you have no crack relief.” So, finally, I said, “Well, you know what? I’ve got a building I did 35 years ago. It’s in a coastal region. I have photographs here of it being stuccoed 35 years ago. It’s with black ungalvanized metal lath, was attached with standard staples. There are no control joints in it. There is no horizontal weep screeds in it. It’s one continuous coat of stucco from top to bottom. And, just like the Miami-Dade protocol, the thickness over wood is a half an inch. It’s not three quarters, it’s not seven-eighths, it’s a half an inch. And I did it 35 years ago. And it has been painted, in that 35 years, twice. So, let’s go cut it open.”

And we did. And I put it all online, 35-year-old stucco system, performing perfectly, with no control joints, no weep screeds, and only a half an inch thick with ungalvanized metal lath. So, we cut it, and all the photos are online. I told the guys, “You tell me where you want it cut.” And we’d cut it and look at it. And, Bret, it looked like the day that I put it on 35 years ago. We took the photos and said, “It looks identical. There’s no rust, there’s no nothing.” But, the first time when we coated it after we stuccoed it, we properly sealed around all of the penetrations, and we rolled. Nothing special. We just followed the instructions on the can, to the required coverage per square foot. Which is generally, you’re going to get about 100 square foot, 90 square foot, out of a gallon. And you do that two times. And that’s what we did. And it’s remained flawless.

So, as you know, as an engineer, more so than I, you know, things are predictable. Stucco, plaster, and cement behaves the same way if it’s done the same way. So why would it behave this way on this building and a different way on a different building? And that’s because of the coating and the details that were not done on the other building. Moisture passing through the system and condensing behind it is not good, as you just pointed out.

Bret: Right. Yeah, maintenance, design. Installation is obviously potentially an issue in any construction. But certainly, proper integration is key. Maintenance is key. It all works together. There is no one thing that’s the problem. And I think that’s a pretty good segue right now. I wanted to talk a little bit about, in the last five or so years, there has been some stucco litigation that has occurred. And I wanted you to touch on that a little bit. Because, in my mind, I think it may be the easiest thing to see as an issue, was the stucco being the problem. And I know that’s not the case. I think it’s a combination of all the things we’ve mentioned that, for whatever reason, just weren’t working, and someone wanted to point the blame towards stucco. Can you address that?

Robert: Sure. And you hit the nail right on the head. Somebody had to point their finger. Now, if you look at the reasoning behind that, 40 years ago, 30 years ago, if you called an engineer out and you said, “I have this problem,” the engineer would set up diagnostic protocols and say, “Okay, we think this is it. This is our hypothesis. We think this window is leaking.” They would set up protocols to test the window. They would find a leak. Then they would install a repair protocol, do that, and then retest it, and validate it, and say, “Okay, look. Although, it may not be happening, we’re going to extrapolate that to these other windows or this other condition, and let’s just get it fixed.” The goal was to get it fixed.

In today’s litigious societies, there are evaluations that are being done, not to analyze or determine what is the problem and what is the solution to fix it. It is strictly, “How do we document the largest potential violation, whether or not those violations are in any way related to what the alleged harm is, so that we can proffer the greatest amount of damages?” From the legal side, there is a percentage that goes to the legal team, so the higher the recovery, or damages, the more they make. And the ease for the person doing the evaluation is cut and paste, cut and paste, and charging the fee. Then they get money on the, what we call a back end of that, when there’s expert witness. When the defense, the contractor, and the stucco contractor’s attorney has to depose them, they charge huge fees for that. And that’s just part of the process.

But the people that involved is sometimes concerning. A lot of these lawsuits are born from a violation of Florida statute 553, that says, “If anybody violates the building code, then you have, any person injured by that basically has a right to sue that person in court, whether there’s privity or not.” The old way, the owner couldn’t sue the stucco contractor, because he had no privity. He had to sue the contractor, and the contractor would then enjoin. And that’s still done today. But this gives an owner a direct route at anybody if they violated the code. That’s only done, to my knowledge, in Florida. None of the other states do that.

So, here’s what happens. Well, if we can say the stucco is installed improperly, according to a reference standard, even though that reference standard may be interpreted different ways by different people, and even though it may allow that by its provisions of “unless otherwise specified,” I’ll go ahead and state it as a violation, and it has to come off. Well, wait a minute. What about the paint? Okay, why don’t we sue, and the painter? Well, remember, they’re suing under 553, a violation of the code. Guess what word doesn’t exist in the code? “Paint.” There is no requirements. You can get a CO on a block wall with no paint. You can just get a CO on bare blocks.

So, they can’t bring that person in. And if you think of the stucco over the frame, most insurance companies, well, all insurance companies say, to contractors, “We’re not going to pay for work you did incorrectly.” So, one would think, “Well, if the stucco man put the stucco on incorrectly, the insurance isn’t going to provide any money.” But there’s what’s called a rip and tear doctrine. If we can say that the stucco damaged something else, and we have to now remove the stucco to fix what was damaged, then the insurance company has to cover it. It’s called a rip and tear doctrine. So, now, we’ll challenge the spacing on the sheathing, we’ll challenge the ability of the staples to hold, now that the water has been in there, so that we invoke the insurance coverage.

Now, ironically, if you think of this… And I want to say this so that… I don’t want to mention anything specific. But let’s say that I am a builder and I am sued by somebody who said my stucco was bad, my weather wrap was bad, my flashing is bad, my windows were installed incorrectly, so on and so forth. And so, I’m sued for that. Well, what my attorney will do, my insurance company, will simply enjoin those other subs. And so, let’s say we have five subs. Each one of those attorneys for those five subs knows that even if they had a crystal ball, and could guarantee that they would win on a jury verdict, even if that were true, they’re going to go out of pocket probably at least $15,000. The insurance company is going to have to pay the lawyer, they’re going to have to attend the depositions, they’re going to have to pay for the transcription of the depositions. Then they’re going to have to go to court and be part of the process and get the verdict. So, even if that verdict was guaranteed to come back “not guilty” for the stucco guy, the out-of-pocket expenses to the insurance is at least $15,000. So, and that’s true for every sub.

So now, as a builder, I have five subs. I’m looking at the owner, who says this is $60,000 in damages. So, I go to my five subs and I said, “Look, it is going to cost you $15,000 to get out of this. I mean, it’s going to take you $15,000 to defend this, even if you get out ‘not guilty.’ So, look. Why don’t I take the risk out of it? You give me $10,000 and I’ll let you out.” So, I go gather up $50,000 from my subs. And now I go back to the plaintiff’s lawyer and I say, “Listen, you say it’s $60,000. Our experts say, ‘No, no, no. It’s not $5,000 worth of damage.'” And we banter back and forth. Then I say, “Look, I’ll give you $40,000 and you walk today.” So, they take the $40,000, and I just collected $50,000, and sometimes, $60,000 and $70,000. I make $10,000 or $15,000 off of the deal. So, it’s not really a big heartburn to me as the builder.

So, that has been happening. And the problem is the insurance companies now have started raising the rates, and the cost of construction is going higher because of it. Some of them aren’t even going to ensure the stucco contractors and the house wrap contractors. So it’s, the mess that that created, we’re now dealing with in a higher construction cost. So people now are saying, “Hey, let’s stop playing this game. Let’s find out what’s really wrong, and let’s get it corrected.” And many builders now are sitting up and taking heed and taking a proactive stance, to say, “Look, we don’t care what your expert says. This is what we’ll do to your house, and we’ll do it free of charge.” And most people will take that, because it really will correct their problems in most all cases, if they just properly clean, prep, and coat the building, and seal it up again. It’s really a “no harm, no foul,” in many cases.

Bret: Well, Bob, that’s a great segue into the last question, which is, what do you recommend we do as an industry to help improve the conditions on the ground for everybody? But, obviously, to promote stucco, which is, you know, it’s kind of a icon of Florida, I think. I love the material. I like the way it looks. It feels good, you know, it provides soundproofing, looks good. So what can we do as an industry to help get us past this time, and improve the quality of stucco?

Robert: Well, if you would’ve talked to me three months ago, I’d have probably given you a different answer. And the reason is simple, that our legislature just passed a law repealing all of the local competency card categories, in 2023. That’s the final date. So that means that we are heading to a date when there will be no requirement for a stucco contractor to be licensed, or a tile setter, or a framer, or a trim carpenter, or any of those trades. They will be able to work without licensure. And that’s going to present another level of problems that are going to be coming at us because of that.

So, the answer would be to, “Look, let’s get better training to the workforce.” Let’s do that. Let’s work with vocational education, which I think everybody’s on board now, “Hey, we need to reinstate this in our schools.” But, you know, you can go to almost any school and find a plumbing, an electrical, or a mechanical course. Those are what we call easy-peasy there. But where do you go to learn to be a block mason? Where do you go to learn to be a stucco contractor? So, we need to figure out a way to get these in the vocational schools, number one. Number two, we have to increase the licensure requirements. Let’s increase the requirements to get a stucco contractor’s license. Let’s develop a real and accurate competency test, so that they know how to put these systems on, and understand weatherproofing and waterproofing as a whole, rather than just their little segment. So, we need to increase that.

So, that’s all we can really do, unless there was some major change to where insurance, let’s say, were no longer, they’ve talked about this, no longer to become a requirement for subcontracting trades. Well, now a builder is going to say… Not all builders do this, so don’t I want this card blank, but some builders only look at the bottom-line price they get. And whatever is the best price is what they’re going to take. They rely on the fact that that subcontractor has insurance, and they make them sign an indemnity agreement in their contract, to indemnify them, so they really have no exposure. If that were removed, and subcontractors were not required to be insured by law, then the contractor might say, “Listen, it’s not a matter of money. I want to know that you do your job right, and when you leave my job, I don’t have to worry about suits.” So, from my classroom teaching, those are the three variables that we get. Increase the training in vo-tech, increase the minimum criteria to get the license, and thirdly, eliminate the requirement for subcontractors to be protecting or indemnifying the general contractor. Let the general contractor carry his or her own insurance, and let them negotiate and find the best subs. I don’t know if that’s the answer, Bret, but that’s what I hear from the people in class the most.

Bret: Sounds like a good start to me. And I want to kind of go back and circle back to what you said earlier as well. You know, the recommendation would be, I think, what we can do today on the ground is make sure you pay attention to the devil’s in the details, because it is. Make sure you detail around your penetrations through your wall properly, so that you can apply a proper sealant bead. Apply the proper mil thickness of your coating. Make sure your accessories are installed properly as well. But, basically, just focus on quality workmanship. But key in Florida is, ultimately, for Sealed Cladding System, you have to do the sealant and paint properly, otherwise you’re going to have areas that are going to be compromised because cracks open up in different areas, whether it’s accessories or in the stucco itself, and that’s going to allow bulk water to come behind your system.

Robert: Very well said.

Bret: So, Bob, wow, this has been really a great talk today. I appreciate you being here. In closing, I want to thank everybody else for listening today to our podcast. Bob, if the listeners want to reach out to you and your team, what’s your website address, and what’s the best way for them to contact you?

Robert: You can reach me at the Just click “Instructors,” and my picture and email is there. Or is the same. Or I have a direct email. It’s That’ll come directly to me.

Bret: Okay. Thank you, Bob. We’d also like to invite the listeners to take a further look at GCI Consultant Services at our website, which is You can also reach us at 877-740-9990, and we can discuss any of your building envelope needs. Want to thank everybody else again. Look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.


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FIU Wall of Wind Research Facility: Environmental Effects on Buildings

Professors FIU – Amal Elawady, Ioannis Zisis, Seung-Jae-Lee

GCI Podcast Episode 69 Exterior Building Performance During Hurricanes

In this episode, Chris Matthews, President and Principal for GCI Consultants talks with staff members from FIU , starting with, Ioannis Zisis from FIU who is an Associate Professor, Dept. of Civil & Environ. Engineering. They’ll discuss the Wall of Wind and research on curtain walls, and simulation of damage from water-ingress.

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.

*** Subscribe to the show and leave us a Review on ITunes!

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Chris: Welcome, everyone, to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, president and principal for GCI Consultants, and I’m your host today. I’m really excited about our guests today. We have multiple guests from FIU, professors who will be talking to us about the Wall of Wind and other research projects that they do there on exterior building performance during hurricanes. So we’ve got Ioannis, Amal, and SJ, and I’ll let you guys introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what you do at FIU, and looking forward to our conversation.

Ioannis: Great. Thank you. It’s Ioannis. This is from FIU. I’m an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and I’m also the co-director of the Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research, which is part of the Extreme Events Institute, also at FIU. Amal?

Amal: Hi. This is Amal Elawady. Thank you again for the invitation. I am assistant professor of Civil Engineering Department at FIU. I’m also a member of the Wall of Wind team and Extreme Events Institute. And my area of research and teaching is related to wind and structure interactions in general. SJ? Thank you.

SJ: Yeah. This is Seung Jae Lee. Typically go by SJ. First of all, thank you for your invitation. So I’m currently associate professor in the same department, Civil and Environmental Engineering at FIU, and I researcher at the Wall of Wind testing facility at FIU, and also NSF with IUCRC center with Ioannis and Amal. I studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and moved to Miami in 2014. And I mostly work on the [inaudible 00:02:05] in various areas, in civil engineering, including structural engineering and geo-mechanics.

So, before coming to U.S., I briefly worked at LG Chemical in Korea, I’m not sure if you know about that company, as a professor and research engineer. Now I think they changed the name to LG Houses. So then I learned a lot about the details, how the facade is designed, tested, manufactured, and installed. So, here at FIU, I’m currently working on a facade project with Amal and Dr. Chowdhury. He is not present here today, but he’s the director of the Wall of Wind engine, the testing facility. So I look forward to talking about those projects more in this podcast, and so I hope this is not much introduction.

Chris: Great. Well, thank you, all, for agreeing to talk to us today. I think if you know a little bit about what we do, we at GCI are out inspecting buildings all the time for the effects of actual hurricanes on those buildings. So I’m super excited to talk to you guys today and learn more about the research work you’re doing. So, can you just give us a little general background on the Wall of Wind, some of the work you guys do there, and why it’s important to the industry?

Ioannis: Absolutely. So, our program, the Wind Engineering program, I think is a legacy of Hurricane Andrew. At FIU, we started with International Hurricane Research Center, IHRC, following that tragic event 20 plus years ago. So, one of the laboratories under the National Hurricane Research Center is the Wind Engineering group.

We went through different iterations of the facility. At the very beginning, there were, like, two portable system with two fans back in 2005, if I’m not mistaken. That was very challenging, but very interesting. Also, we carried out some research using that portable system, dazzling engines and very loud, very useful, also. And then that got us excited. We also managed to secure some more funding, and we upgraded the system to the six-fan system, which was much more capable, obviously. We could test larger specimens and go higher wind speed.

Finally, precisely 20 years from 1992 when Hurricane Andrew happened, we inaugurated the current version of the Wall of Wind, the 12-fan system. Major upgrade there. We have 12 fans, electric systems of 700 horsepower each, were capable to generate up to 157 miles per hour wind speed, which is approximately equivalent to a hurricane 5 category. We have a flow management system to, kind of, like, treat the flow before it reaches the turntable, the specimens, the model that we test. So we try to scientifically simulate the flow field, what we call the atmospheric boundary layer.

The unique advantage of the Wall of Wind is obviously the size. It’s the largest academic-based facility, like large wind tunnel, you may call it. And we can do testing at different scales, starting from a small scale that you see in a typical wind tunnel, 1 to 200, 1 to 100, but we can go up to full scale, 1 to 1. We can test smaller structures or building components at full scale, and we can also do that as high Reynolds number. This is another scientific term, but it’s very important. So we can go up to, as I said, 157 miles per hour at full scale, which is very important.

On top of that, we can introduce wind-driven rain into the flow. We have some sprinklers on the front of the fans, and we can scientifically do that and study the rain impact on the models that we test. So, again, we have the 12 fans. There is a building that houses the Wall of Wind. We have a staging area where we can prepare for the test. That’s where we use, you know, the instrument, the models, and then we move them to the turntable to test them.

We can do also destructive testing. That’s another major advantage. It’s an open-jet facility. We remove all the instrumentation, obviously. We don’t want to damage the instruments. And we can go up to maximum wind speed and see how the different models perform at full scale, as I said, like structure, and see what is the impact of this extreme wind on different buildings or different building components.

At the moment, we have projects that are funded by federal grants, by state agencies, and also private industry. And let’s not forget that this is FIU, Florida International University, so our focus is also educating our students. And Wall of Wind plays a major role in that. We have different courses in wind engineering, and both our undergraduate and graduate students are exposed to this research. We bring them to the lab and show them the type of work that we do.

We’re always, like, you know, current with, you know, what is happening, and they know, not only from a research perspective, but also practical perspective, what wind engineering is about, how the work that we do in the lab ends up in the building code, or wind standard, ASCE standard. So this is very beneficial for our students as well.

And so, I guess, as a closing statement, you know, in your question, with the research we do at the Wall of Wind, we try to quantify and communicate the hurricane risks and losses, and at the same time, we want also to mitigate the impact. So we do a lot of, like, research related to mitigation. And, obviously, sustainability is another big word, or research [inaudible 00:08:18] in our research agenda, and all these different things apply on different types of, like, residential buildings, commercial buildings, infrastructure, power lines, all different kind of things.

Chris: So, a lot of what we do involves water leakage and wind damage, kind of, the combination of that as you guys are doing when you’re introducing water into your testing. I was curious, can you give us another example that someone who’s not a professor like me could understand? Are you introducing the water before there’s damage from the wind, as the wind is damage…how does the water play into some of your investigations of the wind effect?

Ioannis: Yeah. That’s a very good question. We do both, actually. So, wind comes with rain, obviously, and that’s what we do in the lab. That’s what we try to simulate. So, when we turn on the fans, and if it is a wind-driven rain type of project, we’re gonna introduce also the rain component to the flow.

Now, how do we carry out the test? Depends on the application. So, I can talk about one of my projects, and I guess Amal and SJ will talk a lot more about the facade project that they did recently. But I think I completed that project about, like, two years ago. It was collaboration between FIU and Florida Tech colleague that we have there, Jean-Paul Pinelli, Prof. Pinelli. And our focus was interior damage.

So, specific to your question, in this case, we simulated the damage ahead of time, or different damage scenarios on low-rise buildings, the typical low-rise residential structures, and we assume that we have a broken window, or a portion of the roof is missing. And then we introduce the rain component and we wanted to see how the water is distributed on the interior compartments of our model. We had different rooms. So, depending on the damage scenario or the damage level, we could quantify the level of damage on the interior of the building due to water intrusion. So that was one example.

In other cases, we do like the model is intact, but we have a strong wind. Damage might happen. We add the water component and see what happens, you know. And it could be related to, I don’t know, like, shutters, or it could be, like, sliding doors. We have done some projects. Or a roofing element, and we want to see how much water goes inside this house during strong wind event and after the damage is initiated.

Chris: Okay. Interesting. Yeah. So, we’re, kind of, doing that on a very rudimentary scale in the field when we’re investigating some of these buildings that have been affected by wind, and we’re water-testing afterward because lots of times, we get reports from the building occupants that something that wasn’t leaking prior to the storm and doesn’t exhibit a lot of visible evidence of damage is now leaking during regular thunderstorms, that kind of thing.

Ioannis: Yeah. We got similar feedback from different partners, industry partners, I would say, and that is basically the reason we started doing research in that field. And Amal and SJ, they did that project, and they’re gonna have a lot more to share, I guess.

Chris: Okay. All right. Well, and maybe that leads us into the project that you guys worked on, Amal and SJ. Can you tell us something about that?

Amal: Yeah. Thank you for the great introduction. I think it will make my talk easier. So, basically, this project was funded by WHIP Center, IGSU WHIP Center, which is a collaboration between industry, NSF, National Science Foundation, and academic institutions. FIU, and Texas Tech, and FIT are part of the center. So we have a site at FIU basically. So the industry partners were interested to see how the facade, like certain types of curtain wall systems are behaving against wind and wind-driven rain.

The interests are coming from industry like manufacturer, like Permasteelisa, and also insurance companies because they wanted to see, like, the projections of, like, insurance change, for example, after a hurricane or water intrusion. Sometimes it’s all about water intrusion, not the damage of the facade itself. So there was, like, a high interest in that project from our industry partners.

And we worked with the manufacturer in the group, which is Permasteelisa, to design, like, a full-scale specimen representing two types of facade. They provide us with a single-sin facade and a double-skin facade. Thanks to the large section of the wall point, we were able to test full-scale model. So we didn’t reduce the specimen or scale it down at any point. We used, like, a full-scale model of our specimen. We created, like, a small room from that facade system. The dimensions…SJ, you can correct me if I’m wrong, it was, like, around 16 by 18 length and width, was about, like, 12 sheets high?

SJ: Yeah. So 12 and 6.

Amal: Okay. And with the single-skin facade, we tested two different configurations, one representing a small facade with no protrusion element, and the other one we wanted to mimic the case where we have shading devices which the industry use or for architectural reasons.

Chris: Sun shade on the exterior of the curtain wall?

Amal: No. We were collaborating. Like, I was taking care of the experimental part, and SJ was taking care of the numerical simulation. So, basically, there was two methods used in that project. We wanted to assess the specimen experimentally and then try to simulate the same experiment in, like, using numerical simulation, and then we can extend that to, like, a perimeter study. I will let SJ talk more about the numerical part. So, I was just trying to give an overview of the experiment.

So, for the single-skin facade, as I said, we likely tested a small surface, and another surface was vertical [inaudible 00:14:46] or vertical shading device to see how…the main objective basically was how the additional testing is important from a [inaudible 00:14:55] point of view and architectural point of view, but how it would impact the performance of the structure, how the vibration would be different. And is there any correlation between wind-induced vibrations and water intrusion?

So we applied, like, wind-driven rain, like what Ioannis was mentioning, to see at different wind speed, in different wind directions, to see how they are correlated, both wind-induced vibration and wind-driven rain for both cases, the flat surface and the surface with shading device. SJ, do you want to talk a bit about the numerical part?

SJ: Right. Thank you, Amal. So, I’m collaborating with Amal on this project. So, definitely, the framework, we like to develop this kind of integrated, experimental and numerical analysis framework for the facade system. So, definitely, one of the objective would be to inform design standard for curtain wall or facade industry regarding the wind-induced resonant vibration of the facade system. So, ASCE 7 standard says structures with natural frequencies above 1 hertz do not need to be analyzed for wind-induced dynamic effects.

So this criterion was originally developed with a typical building size in mind, but this has been often viewed by some practitioners as also applicable to building facades which are much smaller and steeper. So, it was reported that many facades failed because of the wind-induced resonant vibrations, and definitely their natural frequencies are clearly above 1 hertz because it’s smaller and steeper. So building facades, so the 1 hertz criterion can be misleading.

So, what we are doing is, Amal is responsible for the experiment testing at the Wall of Wind, and we use that experiment data to calibrate the numerical model we developed using finite element methods. So, well, [inaudible 00:17:02] method, every continuous system is discretized into a smaller, so called the finite element, and then we just mathematically model that system into a set of linear equation and solve that in computer. And the beauty of this approach is we can do some parametric studies without any further experiment at the Wall of Wind.

So we calibrate the model based on the acceleration and strain data we obtained at the Wall of Wind, and then we just make the system to be calibrated based on data such that it can perform as observed is at the Wall of Wind experiment facility. And then we just do some kind of parametric studies like different wind direction, different wind speed.

And, also, we just change some properties like change the size of the frames, and also change the thickness of glass, and also change the properties of the silicon glazing, and so on and so forth, and then we can study the wind-induced vibration of the different systems in the computer by changing those parameters. So that is the beauty of this approach.

So, we definitely want to investigate the interrelation between the wind-induced resonant vibration and the water intrusion, because water intrusion is actually the real problem in many cases, so that the damage is interior and utility inside the building. So, definitely with more wind-induced vibration, and it is likely to have more water intrusion inside the building. So we try to better understand the correlation between these two phenomena. So that is definitely one thing.

And, also, I work with Dr. Chowdhury, but this is kind of related project. But we also use the same specimen with focus on the upper part in the facade system. So often, you know, the facade system has the upper part, like window, even for the curtain wall. But the main thing here is often that the upper parts just fail because of fatigue in the hardware.

So that is caused by often different natural frequencies between the upper part and the main facade. So that is affecting the hardware, and that causes the fatigue failure. So we also try to look at failure mechanism through this kind of integrate experimental and numerical analysis framework.

Chris: And you assess that further through your modeling program? Or, did you actually test different hardware in the Wall of Wind, or was that more through the modeling program?

SJ: So, we first need to do the testing. So we already test it, and then we saw the dynamic behavior of the upper part. We put the sensors, accelerometers, and the strain gauges, and then we cut the data, and then we calibrate our numerical model with upper part so it can behave the same as we observed in the experiment facility based on the acceleration and the strain gauge.

And then we can better understand the mechanism of the failure. So we indeed saw some different frequencies between natural frequencies of the upper part and the main facade system, and we believe that is somehow affecting the fatigue failure mechanism of the hardware.

Chris: Interesting. As I had mentioned, you know, we’re out looking at these failures in the real world after the hurricane, and I don’t think that that concept has even been considered at the point in the process that we are. Because all the discussion is buffeting winds, opening joint, those kinds of things, but it’s not this vibration component that you’re investigating.

SJ: Vibration is a big issue. Yeah. Definitely. So we are seeing some limited number of research in this topic, and hopefully we can contribute to the body of knowledge.

Chris: Great. Well, and, as you said, ultimately from the industry standpoint, it’s the mitigation factors. Once you guys understand better how to make these systems perform better, then we in the industry can respond to that and design accordingly.

SJ: Sure. Yeah. Definitely. In academia, we first start with understanding characterization, and then investigation will be followed, for sure, yes. So, Amal, I think you want to say something.

Amal: No. I was [inaudible 00:21:47] and, yeah, having an industry partner in that project, collaborating with us, helping us with the installation and, you know, specimen design, like, it was essential, actually, because we didn’t want to change anything that happens in reality, in the real life there in the site from what we were testing. So we wanted to be, like, very accurate, replicating, like, a real-case scenario and test so we can really form a meaningful result. So it was also very important to have industry experience helping us to advance this knowledge, actually.

Chris: Yeah. Well, and it sounds to me from your description of your test specimens that they were similar to what we would test for certification of windows, doors, curtain walls, etc., for both impact resistance, water resistance, and structural. Go ahead, sorry.

Amal: Sorry for interrupting. Yeah. Well, this is interesting part because we wanted to test, like, in a proper way, but it’s not replicating the certification testing. So, basically we have some questions about, like, how the certification testing is realistic to assess, like, the wind-induced vibration or wind-driven rain, performance of the facade, because, apparently, like, for example, static pressure testing, that is not representing a real dynamic when it’s checked on the facade, right?

Chris: Right.

Amal: Having, like, just one fan focused on one panel is not replicating the case. So we have some certain questions related to the certification testing, and we wanted to assess that in the lab by measuring, or by trying to replicate the real [inaudible 00:23:36] or real scenario, basically, for wind and rain together.

So, for wind, for example, we tested wind speeds from 90 miles per hour, all the way up to 140 mile per hour. For rain, as well, we wanted to simulate a wind-driven rain case scenario that happens during hurricane events, so by matching what real rain events that were reported in the future. So, how is that close to certificate? This is a whole new question, or another question that we are trying to answer in that project as well.

Chris: Right. And I think that could have a big impact as well, moving forward in the industry, if the certification testing was more representative of, you know, real conditions, not just a static pressure test as you mentioned, you know, the specific laboratory tests, which maybe don’t really replicate what these systems are exposed to, at least in the areas we’re talking about, coastal regions where there’s hurricanes, those kinds of things.

And we talk about that a lot when we’re consulting with architects, designers in that, “Here’s what the code requires. Here’s the certification of these systems, what they meet, but you’re building this condominium on the beach where a hurricane will come, it’s just a matter of when. And, do you want to design it to a higher standard so you get better performance?” Which would go all the way back to the certification testing if we were really doing it the right way.

So that would be great feedback. You know, I’m sure it’ll take a long time. But if your research came back all the way to the industry and we looked at it from the certification standpoint, I think we’d get a lot better performance in our buildings moving forward.

Amal: Yeah. We hope to get feedback from our industry partners and interested parties, policymakers. I’m sure that will take time, but I think that was, like, a first step.

Chris: Yeah. And you mentioned Permasteelisa was, kind of, your system provider for your testing, and we’ve worked with them specifically on building real projects in Miami Beach, that kind of thing, big condominium projects with their system. So they’re a great partner and representative of what’s being built right now.

Amal: That’s interesting to know. Yeah. They were a great partner in the project.

Chris: Well, thank you, guys, so much for joining us today. I think I got most of what you were explaining. Some of it is over my head, but it’s super interesting and we really appreciate your joining us in our podcast. I think our listeners are gonna get a lot from the conversation. Any closing remarks that any of you have that you’d like to finish up with?

Ioannis: Thank you for providing us with the opportunity, you know, to discuss and present what we do at the Wall of Wind. Should mention that, you know, again, like, Hall of Wind is part of an academic institution, FIU, so the focus is educating the students, but at the same time, you know, we try to stay close to the industry and to listen to the problems they have.

And I guess the discussion we had today is a great example of how things started, doing research for a real problem, you know. And staying connected to the industry, that always helps us be relevant, you know. The research we do is a practical application, a problem that exists out there, and we try to investigate that in the lab. So, again, thank you for the time you gave us today to discuss all these things.

Chris: Yeah. And I can definitely attest to the fact that it’s a real problem because we’re out looking at buildings every day that could have performed much better even when there’s not catastrophic damage. So I think the work you guys are doing is right on track with what is needed moving forward. So thank you again for joining us today. We invite all of our listeners to investigate our services more on I thank our guests from FIU, and I look forward to talking with you again on our next “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.

In closing I would like to thank you for listening to our podcast today.

Ioannis, if any listeners want to reach out to you or your team, what is your website address and the best way for them to contact you or FIU?

We also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at:

You can also reach us at 877.740.9990 to discuss any or your Building Envelope needs.

Thank you once again and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our Everything Building Envelope podcast.

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Navigating Hurricane Season Property Damage

Karen Schiffmiller – President of FAPIA

Episode 68 - Karen Schiffmiller, Navigating Hurricane Season Property Damage

In this episode, Paul Beers, CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants talks with Karen Schiffmiller, President of FAPIA, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters, the largest public adjusting association in the country. They’ll break down the claims review process for hurricane property damage and how FAPIA helps their policyholders.

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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Paul: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Paul Beers, CEO and managing member for GCI Consultants, and I will be your host today. I’m really excited to have as our guest today Karen Schiffmiller, the president of FAPIA, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Karen, welcome.

Karen: Thank you, Paul. I’m glad to be here.

Paul: We’re glad you’re here too. You know, we’re scheduling this…it’s right before hurricane season starts. And I know we tried to do this about a month ago and you were busy up in Tallahassee with the Florida Legislature and the yearly fun and games that go on up there. So I’m glad we were able to push it back a little bit, and I’m really excited about having a nice chat about things today.

Karen: I am as well, thank you.

Paul: Great. So before we get started, maybe you wanna tell our audience a little bit about yourself and then we can start talking about FAPIA and insurance claims and things like that.

Karen: Sure. I would love to. I originally moved to Florida from New York in 1994. I was a paralegal for a long time, my whole career, and I decided my love of helping people is what made me switch gears and change my career to becoming a public insurance adjuster. So I’m also an insurance appraiser and an umpire, and I’ve been for over 15 years. And it’s just my passion. I just love helping people. It’s what I do. I’ve been that way since I was a child, so here we are.

Paul: Great. It’s always fun to be of service as opposed to just grinding it out every day.

Karen: Yes, yes, absolutely.

Paul: So tell us about FAPIA.

Karen: So FAPIA is the largest public adjusting association in the country. We have almost 800 members. And we offer our members such amazing educational opportunities. You know, we have such interesting topics. Our speakers are always well-informed. If I’m not mistaken, I believe you have not only attended, but you’ve, you know, spoken at our conferences and presented so, you know, we always have…

Paul: I have. Yeah, it’s great to get in front of the adjusters and all the other folks in the industry and kinda let them know what we’ve been up to. So FAPIA does a really good job with the educational programs, which lately have been virtual and before that, you know, were in person.

Karen: Well, yes, unfortunately, because of COVID, we had to cancel our conferences last year. And we usually customarily have two conferences a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. And again, due to COVID, we had to cancel, but what was really exciting for us, we were able to launch our first-ever virtual conference back in December. And it was really well-received. It was kind of like almost a live virtual event. It was the most amazing event because I had attended other virtual events that did not compare to what FAPIA put on in December. That was an amazing event. And, you know, you do what you have to do with what you have to work with, so we were doing it virtually and it was really fun.

We also launched our PA Academy for our members, which allowed our members that couldn’t partake in the December virtual conference to still get their CEs and keep up with their requirements with DFS. So we were able to do that, and it’s just…we’re going to continue on with PA Academy as well. But we’re still gonna get back to our in-person conference this October, and we’re really looking forward and excited to be back in October and see everybody. And we’ll be launching registration very soon for that. So we’ll keep everybody informed.

Paul: That’s great. Yes. I wanna give a shout-out to the Executive Director, Nancy Dominguez. She put this…or I know was instrumental in the virtual conference, and I was a speaker so I got to, you know, do the rehearsals, see behind the curtain a little bit. And I thought it was really fabulous too. And her passion and excitement and the way she put it all together, I thought was really, really good. And as you say, these virtual conferences can be horribly boring and maybe not, but this one was really done well. And it had, you know, like, exhibit Paul and all these lounges and rooms and everything, and it was very slick and very well done and a good reflection on FAPIA.

Karen: I thank you. We really, really put our heart and soul into that. And I have to, you know, say, Nancy is phenomenal. That goes without saying. Nancy is amazing. And her whole team, I mean our IP director, everybody involved, it was a collaborative effort and it really, really turned out well. So people don’t really realize what goes on behind the scenes at FAPIA and that you got to see a little glimpse of it. So I’m glad you got to see that and be part of it.

Paul: Yeah. Doing something that well doesn’t happen by accident.

Karen: No, no.

Paul: Margin and effort and…

Karen: Months of preparation.

Paul: Exactly. Exactly. So how did you become involved with FAPIA?

Karen: Well, I became a member back in 2007 for all the reasons that I mentioned, the great educational opportunities and all of the benefits. You know, we have an amazing form library for our members. You know, knowing that I can make a difference…well, I’m the kind of person I always feel that I have to…I’m always there to help people and I always wanna, you know, do better for our industry. So I had joined the board back in 2014. I think many people know aside from me being the current president, I also chair the community affairs committee, which is an amazing committee and it’s all about paying it forward and giving back, and helping those less fortunate. So it’s just been part of my nature and part of why I joined such a great organization. And really, you know, I’m not just saying that because I’m the president. I have been a member and joined the board and have become their president, but I’ve been involved for many, many, many years, and it’s really a phenomenal organization. And I highly recommend that if you’re not a member of FAPIA, that you definitely go to, and join and look at our website and see all the amazing, you know, work that FAPIA does for the industry, for consumers, and for all of our members.

Paul: So obviously, public adjusters are members of FAPIA, are there other membership classifications?

Karen: Well, there’s associate members as well, which our associate members are attorneys. So we have associate members and that the primary membership are public adjusters, but we do have some associate members as well. And I’d like to give a big shout-out to them because they were very instrumental as well as our sponsors in providing the great educational opportunities that we provide. And, you know, if it weren’t for all of them, you know partaking and sponsoring and being so involved…they’re a big, big part of FAPIA’s success as well.

Paul: So, for public adjusters, are there any special requirements to join FAPIA?

Karen: Well, our by-laws require that all of our members are, you know, in compliance with regulatory requirements including their license [inaudible 00:07:56]

, their appointments, they have to be in good standing with DFS. So there is, you know, through our membership committee, we really review applicants and we, you know, go through a vetting process to make sure…and that includes our associate members as well, you go through a vetting process to make sure that they meet all the criteria to become a member.

Paul: And what about people that are trying to get into the industry like apprentices and whatnot, can they join FAPIA?

Karen: Absolutely. We encourage all apprentices to join FAPIA, especially for the training program. You know, we develop this training program specifically for apprentices and newer public adjusters, and it’s available in our webinar library along with some other amazing resource materials like form letters and, you know, stuff to help them in the industry. So we encourage them, you know, to get involved and to learn the right way. FAPIA is very big about, you know, educating the industry and doing everything right. And we have such a strict ethical protocol as well. So I highly recommend it. Yes.

Paul: So if one of our listeners was interested in this career path, shall we call it, to be a public adjuster, what would one have to do to eventually become a public adjuster?

Karen: Well, you do have to go through an apprenticeship first. So you would have to apply through the Department of Financial Services and you would have to go through an apprenticeship, which is a six-month apprenticeship, and be trained and under another public adjuster. And then FAPIA is very big about connecting people together. So a lot of times we’ll have apprentices call looking to do an apprenticeship and we try to put them in touch with public adjusters in their area and certain public adjusting firms to facilitate that as well.

Paul: Great. You mentioned the committee that you were on before you were…when you first started getting more involved with that and before you became the president, so can you sort of talk about the committee work that members volunteer to perform?

Karen: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so important for a member to join a committee because if they ever have future endeavors to get on the board, you have to fulfill a commitment to serve on a committee for a certain amount of years. So I encourage, you know, our members to actively get involved with committees because they do make a difference. We have the community services committee, which again is all about paying it forward and giving back, our public relations committee, our membership committee, our ethics committee, we have an unlicensed activity fraud committee. I mean, there’s so many more committees to get involved with and we really ask our members, you know, to volunteer and make a difference. I mean, that’s why I joined FAPIA and I’ve always been on a committee. And when I joined FAPIA, I never intended to get on the board, but I realized I can make more of a difference, so I did, and here I am as the president. But I definitely encourage everybody to get involved in a committee. You really can make a difference.

Paul: So you got the president job right through COVID too, huh?

Karen: Yeah. I was so lucky. Well, you know, like I said, it is what it is, you know, you workaround, you do what you have to do.

Paul: Yeah. So, well, COVID raged on, I believe we’re on the way out of it now, there were still hurricanes, the Florida legislature was still doing their thing, so messed up your meetings, did I miss anything?

Karen: I’m sorry?

Paul: I said, did I miss anything…

Karen: No.

Paul: …through your challenging term?

Karen: It was a very challenging term because I came into my presidency toward the end of last year. And that’s when I started my presidency and it goes for a one-year term. So I’m president through the end of October. And we were battling with these, you know, again, decisions and having to have that first-ever virtual, you know, conference. We were just about entering legislative session, which was very contentious this year. And it was a busy, busy year. And, you know, it was a challenge, but we prevailed. You know, we have an amazing legislative committee, I chair that as the president and we were hands-on throughout the entire legislative sessions. We have an amazing lobby team. So I couldn’t thank them enough for all the work they do. Our ambassadors, our ambassador committee, our ambassadors took the time to meet with their local legislators and form relationships and inform them and make a difference, you know, with all of their local representatives. So that’s a big key, that’s a very important committee as well. You know, throughout session, it was difficult, but we kept our members up to date every step of the way. When we asked our members to step up to our calls to action for advocacy and outreach, they absolutely stepped up every time we asked.

Paul: Was that effective?

Karen: It was very effective, very, very effective. I cannot tell you the amount that we had an amazing response from our membership, and when we asked them to reach out and step up, they did. You know, FAPIA is very big about keeping up to date with the pulse of the insurance industry to make sure that consumers, our members, and the industry as a whole are protected from overreaching regulations. So we made a very, very big attempt to follow every bill, you know, in real-time. And when I said it was a busy legislative session, it was because bills were changing, literally, things change minute-to-minute, and you can look at something 1 minute and then 10 minutes later it’s changed, you know, so it was very effective and our members, you know, were as well.

Paul: So I heard you say, consumers. So FAPIA, obviously, as a membership of public adjusters, but their clients are the policyholders. And so how does the work that FAPIA does benefit the policyholders?

Karen: Well, you know, we get calls constantly, FAPIA does, you know, we get calls from consumers looking for help all the time, looking for a public adjuster in their area, trying to understand, you know, about a public adjuster. Interestingly enough, we get some complaints from consumers, but the complaints are never, they think it’s about a public adjuster because they think they’ve hired a public adjuster, but it turned out these people were never licensed public adjusters and they were, you know, unlicensed individuals pretending to be public adjusters. So, you know, we were able to try to help and assist those consumers that, you know, were not happy and that were not being treated very well with individuals that were unlicensed. So we were able to really assist them as well.

Paul: So I did a podcast recording with Chip Merlin, who’s an attorney I know, one of your sponsors, and he had just written a book about insurance claims and insurance companies and whatnot. One of the things he said in the book loud and clear is that, you know, if you’ve got an insurance claim, a property insurance claim of any magnitude, you really need to hire a public adjuster to help you and make sure that you don’t miss anything, you meet all the complex requirements of the insurance policies. And I’ve tried to read my homeowners policy and it’s like, wow. So it was really insightful to hear him, you know, really promote the public adjusters as the starting point for claims and basically made the point that, you know, attorneys can come in later if necessary, hopefully, it’s not necessary.

Karen: Right. And sometimes it isn’t. Chip, yes, he is, you know, one of our sponsors, but he’s a big advocate for public adjusters as well. And, you know he was up in Tallahassee with us too. And I thank him for everything he does for the industry because he is a true consumer advocate as well. But you’re right. You have to, you know, hire the right public adjuster and you have to make sure that they’re qualified to assist you. Every claim is different, no claim is alike.

Paul: That’s right. So this was in 2021, just in case somebody’s listening to this podcast a few years from now. This was a 2021 legislative session that we’re talking about. Can you kinda maybe give us a synopsis of what was going on and how things ended up?

Karen: What happened during legislative session, the initial bills that, and again, there were many bills that were filed, but there were some initial bills that were filed that would have really harmed consumers, not so much commercial policyholders as much as residential. And the residential policyholders, they were trying to put some roof depreciation schedule into that bill. And if you owned your home and your roof, let’s say, is 25 years old, you have a tile roof, 25-year-old tile roof, and no issues, it’s in good condition, the insurance companies wanted to put a roof depreciation schedule. Thereby, if a hurricane came through and you had a claim, they wouldn’t be responsible for replacing the entire roof, they would be able to depreciate it by the age of the roof. And that isn’t good for consumers. You know, unfortunately, we were able to get that language removed from the bill, but regardless, you know, if things like that happen during legislative session that they stick some things in there, then it gets removed, it gets put back in, it gets removed.

Thankfully we were able to get, you know, that removed. And that’s where the protection of consumers comes into play. Because a lot of times, if you have a claim, you know, Paul, being in this industry, it can take sometimes years to get remedied and to get a proper settlement of the claim depending on the complexity of the claim. So there was some other legislation, they were trying to put some statute of limitations that when you had to file the claim by, you know, and lessen it from three years to two years and, you know. It was a pretty difficult session, but I think, in the long run, it turned out very, very well and consumers are still protected. And even though you may have two years to file a claim, you can still in the repair process that has been extended a little bit longer or for supplemental claims. So, therefore, if you’re going through repairs and there’s additional damage that’s found you have three years to be able from the date of loss to be able to, you know, file for those additional damage. So, you know, there were a lot of good things that came out of it as well.

Paul: That’s great. Yeah. That roof thing, if you only get paid for part of the roof and you need the whole roof, I mean, the whole point of insurance I thought was to, you know, keep you from having to come out of pocket beyond your deductible for a legitimate thing. So what’s the point of having insurance if it’s not covered fully?

Karen: Right. Right. And, you know, listen, there’s a lot of things, you know, and the insurance industry is, you know, there’s some carriers that are pulling out, you know, and don’t wanna write insurance in Florida or pulling out of certain areas in Florida and no longer writing policies. You know, and, hopefully, the new legislation that has come forward will be able to turn that around and, you know, keep the good carriers where they need to be, writing insurance in Florida.

Paul: Yeah, no, so I’ve been around a long time starting with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and everybody left after that. And, you know, I think citizens had virtually all the policies residential for, you know, a while or a large amount of them and, you know, then free enterprise, you know, companies started coming back in again. So you always hear everybody’s gonna leave, but it doesn’t seem like that actually happens, so.

Karen: Well, let’s hope that the changes that are taking place will, you know, have a good impact for the industry. And let’s hope that that changes and insurance rates don’t continue to rise and they can come down and we can pay more realistic insurance rates because there are people that, you know, some of these…let’s, for instance, an elderly person that can’t afford to replace their roof or can’t afford to make certain repairs for their home or pay their insurance. So, you know, they’re on a fixed income. So we’re hoping that the industry repairs and it gets repaired sooner rather than later.

Paul: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about insurance claims. I mean, hopefully, there won’t be a lot of activity this year. We certainly had plenty of it last year. It’s kinda crazy, in fact. So we’re due for maybe a little bit of a slowdown this year, although that’s not what’s being predicted, but prediction and reality, you know, may not be one and the same. So with your membership and…I mean, your membership being public adjusters and claims and whatnot, what can FAPIA do or what kind of advice would you give them around putting together insurance claims?

Karen: I’m really, really big…and I probably scream this from the rooftops. You know, when a client calls us, so when a client is reaching out, my advice to an apprentice, to a new public adjuster, to an old-timer, any public adjuster, you know, when a client is reaching out for our help, they’re vulnerable, they’re overwhelmed, they need help for a reason, you always, always, always have to do the right thing and put your clients first. That is first and foremost, and that’s what my business partner and I do in our firm. We make our clients our priority. They must be. You have to keep them well-informed, you have to keep them up-to-date. If there’s no change in the status of their claims, tell them anyway, give them a status, keep them informed and always return their phone calls and answer when they need you.

Paul: Good communication. That works in everything, I think. Yeah.

Karen: Yeah, it’s key. It’s key. You don’t want your client upset with you that you haven’t returned a phone call or, you know, giving them an update, get ahead of it. Don’t have them make that phone call to you, give them an update on a weekly basis.

Paul: So as you’re helping someone with a claim, what do they do and what do you do? And, you know, and how does it, you know, putting all the documentation together, how does that work?

Karen: So, you know, documenting your file is key. You couldn’t ever assume that your potential client never had a claim before, so you have to make sure you ask a lot of questions. Ask them if they’ve ever had a claim, if they have, review the documentation from their prior claims. If they’ve had a prior claim, make sure it didn’t affect the area in which you’re going to discuss with them at that time. Make sure if we have done repairs, that they have receipts for those repairs because a lot of times the insurance company wants…they have records of prior claims.

Very important to review the insurance policy. Read it again and again and again, and understand the entire policy, highlight things because in one section of the policy, there’ll be something that’s covered and then there’ll be an endorsement added into the policy that removes the coverage or changes the coverage. So you need to read your policy in its entirety, understand it, highlight, read it again and again, and make sure you understand that policy. Documenting the file…

Paul: So I…

Karen: Go ahead.

Paul: No, you finish then I’m gonna.

Karen: Documenting your file, make sure you have detailed photos, notes, videos if necessary. Infrared. We have an infrared camera. We have a Matterport 3D camera. We have a drone. That doesn’t mean…having a drone doesn’t mean we don’t get up on roofs. You have to document your file well and you have to backup everything that’s in your estimate. So when you’re asking the insurance company to pay X amount of dollars, you need to show the support and backup to what you’re asking for. A well-documented file is always key to a successful claim resolution.

Paul: I’ll throw in one more thing, just from my experience, it’s good to have good documentation about the condition of the property before a loss. So like, you know, that would be a good thing to do as hurricane season starts just go around, take pictures of everything, you know, show your roof’s intact, and doesn’t have a bunch of cracked tiles or shingles missing and, you know, take pictures of each room and windows and doors and exterior walls and anything you can get because when I come in as an expert after a loss, how do I know what the condition was like before the storm? I don’t. So I’ve gotta, you know, do detective work to try and figure it out. And it makes it much, much, much, much, much easier when a client has good documentation. Oh, and also any maintenance records, caulking, painting, you know, you mentioned those, repairs, things like that, keep everything and it really helps a lot.

Karen: I agree with you. And my business partner and I, we do pre-work property inspections. We offer that as well, where you heard all the equipment that we have in our little arsenal of tools, but we actually go out and do a lot of pre-loss property inspections where we’re documenting the exterior, the roof, like you said, the windows, the doors, the interior, the contents we’re documenting all that for, you know, just in case, because as you know, like you said, you don’t know the condition before you were hired as an expert to come in and inspect it. So it is important, and that’s a good tool that we provide people so that they can have that and say, “Look, this was the condition of our property before this happened, that damage wasn’t there, here, here’s the video,” or, “Here, here are the photos.” You know, so it’s important and I agree with you 100%.

Paul: Yeah. Well, the pre-loss surveys are really, it’s a great idea because that could make such a difference, really smart to do that. And if someone has the opportunity, so that’s a really great service. How could somebody get in touch with you if they need your service around an insurance claim?

Karen: Like I said, we’re not just public adjusters, we’re also insurance appraisers and umpires and we offer those pre-loss property inspections and the, you know, documenting the condition, not just to residential property owners, but to commercial property owners as well. And you can call us, we’re Reliant Insurance Adjusters. You can reach us by phone it’s 561-288-6434 or you can visit our website at, that’s

Paul: Great. You reminded me of one other question I wanted to ask you. [crosstalk 00:28:02]

Right in the very beginning when you said you’re an adjuster, an umpire, and an appraiser, can you tell the listeners what the difference is between those three roles?

Karen: Yes. So a public adjuster is a claims advocate. We represent policyholders against their insurance companies when they have insurance claims for residential property or commercial property owners. A public adjuster has to be licensed and appointed. As an appraiser, although I am licensed as a public adjuster, I am not acting as a public adjuster, I’m coming in when there is a dispute as to the amount of the loss sometimes, the scope items involved in the repair process. So a policyholder would appoint me as their appraiser to advocate…not so much advocate, but to come in as a neutral party and look at their damages, look at potentially either their public adjuster’s estimate and to come to some kind of an agreement with the insurance company’s appraiser to come up with the value of the claim and what is owed on the claim.

As an umpire, you’re called in when the two appraisers, the appraiser for the insurance company and the appraiser for the policyholder, do not come to an agreement. They would then call the umpire in to make a final determination on the claim. So there’s lots of inspections that take place, and it could, you know, sometimes it gets resolved between both of the appraisers, sometimes it doesn’t and you have to call the umpire in. So we work in each capacity. We’re public adjusters and we’re appraisers and we’re umpires. And, you know, we pride ourselves on our fairness and our honesty and integrity, and we have a very good reputation in the industry. We’ve been doing this for over 15 years.

Paul: Great. Yeah, there’s a lot of complexities right from the moment the event hits until, you know, that the claim’s finally resolved. Unfortunately, it’s not easy, so it’s great to have people that can help policyholders along the way.

Karen: Right, right, right.

Paul: Yeah. So really interesting, really interesting discussion. And I actually learned a few things and I’m sure the listeners did as well. And, you know, FAPIA, I’ve always had a good respect for as an organization that really tries to do the right thing and for the good of the industry and for consumers. So thank you so much for being a guest today on the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.

Karen: Well, thank you so much for having me. It was truly a pleasure and I look forward to seeing you very, very soon.

Paul: Yes. Well, I think we’re both going to the Windstorm Conference next week.

Karen: Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. So we’ll connect then and we’ll catch up a little bit more. I’d love to.

Paul: Yeah. One other thing, how can our audience contact FAPIA if they’re in need?

Karen: They can reach our Managing Director, Nancy Dominguez at (866) 235-6489 and you can also visit And we have a lot of information on our website that can assist our members as well as a future member. And if they have any questions, we’re a great resource for public adjusters and the consumers in our industry.

Paul: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Karen.

Karen: Thank you so much. I really appreciate.

Paul: So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today, and I invite you if you’re happy to take a further look at GCI Consultant Services if you’re in need of help with exterior building envelope, windows, doors, roofs, and things of that sort at our website, And this is Paul Beers saying so long, till next time.


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Dealing With Your Insurance Company After a Loss

Chip Merlin – Merlin Law Group

Everything Building Envelope Episode 67 - Chip Merlin

In this episode, Paul Beers, CEO and Managing Member for GCI Consultants, talks with Chip Merlin, Founder and President of Merlin Law Group, about the representation and advocacy of insurance policyholders who are in disputes with their insurance carriers. They’ll break down the claims review process and help you understand when you need to hire an attorney. 

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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Paul: Welcome, everyone, to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. This is Paul Beers, CEO and managing member for GCI Consultants, and I’ll be your host today. I’m really excited to have as our guest, Chip Merlin, the founder and president of Merlin Law Group. Welcome, Chip.

Chip: Hey, Paul, it’s great to be here with you.

Paul: Yeah, we’ve got an interesting topic today, which is all about representation and advocacy of insurance policyholders in disputes with their insurance companies. So before we start, let’s have one little bit of GCI business I want to tell everybody about. It’ll probably be a surprise to everybody that we’re looking to hire new employees, and the position that we have open that we would love to have applicants for is a senior expert consultant who works with our clients to analyze claims related to building envelope and fenestration systems, including identification and assessment of storm damage or construction defects.

So it’s an opportunity to join our firm, GCI Consultants. We’ve been in business for over 35 years. We’re an establishing and growing entrepreneurial organization. The key senior position reporting directly to senior leadership, and it gives the right applicant an opportunity to deliver significant value for GCI’s clients and have a direct impact on the continued growth and expansion of the company. So anybody out there has an interest, please reach out, and we’d love to hear from you. So with that being said, Chip, let’s get into it. This weekend I read your book. You were kind enough to give it to me when I saw you last month. And I really appreciate that. And I have to tell you I really enjoyed it.

Chip: Hey, I appreciate it. I hope it didn’t put you to sleep too many times over the weekend while you were going through it. Not as if reading about insurance or insurance problems is the most exciting thing in the world to read about.

Paul: I have to say it was very readable. I mean, I really did enjoy it. Because everything that you talked about, you told it with a story. And it was, you know, kind of real-life kind of things and super interesting. So maybe it sounds dull, but it wasn’t. I really liked it.

Chip: Hey, I appreciate that. We spent a lot of time working to try to, you know, fit some stories into it. And, certainly, I can’t talk about all stories because of certain client privileges and things, you know, that go along with that. But for those that would allow me to go through and have a discussion with them, it’s, you know, really important. I think that some of my experiences, I thought, came across, and I thought it would be helpful. So I’m glad you said that, Paul.

Paul: I really liked it, but I forgot to say the name of the book. So the book is called “Pay Up!: Preventing a Disaster with Your Own Insurance Company.” And, of course, you know, written by our guest, Chip Merlin, really liked it. Do you want to maybe tell us a little more about kind of what you had going on in the book?

Chip: Well, sure, I’d be curious from your perspective, what you think.

Paul: Well, it resonates with me, because I’ve seen some of this stuff myself with the way, you know, things that go on with insurance companies. And, you know, with my experience on the expert side, I see how they use the same firms over and over again on their side, sometimes owned by insurance industry interests. You know, I don’t think that they fairly assess things. And so you had some stories along those lines and even had stories of…you know, to balance that out a little bit, even an interesting story about fraud on the behalf of…you know, fraud against insurance companies where you have a client that you said, “No, thank you, too.” So you’ve seen and heard a lot more than I have. And I thought it was really, really interesting. And I’m not just saying that. I really did.

Chip: Well, I appreciate, you know, bringing that, and that’s a great topic. You know, if I had to point, you know, if somebody wanted to even learn even more about the particular issues with respect to the pressure that insurance companies will demand, and when I say insurance, I don’t mean all insurance companies, because all of them are not that way. But in some claims departments of many insurance companies, there is a great deal of pressure that’s placed upon the vendors of those insurance companies regarding, you know, forensic engineering, you know, to find almost ways and there seems to be working with the claims departments to tailor their opinions exactly with the policy and come up with, you know, answers and opinions that inevitably seemed to favor payments for less or just no payments.

I mean, so much so that we’ve heard stories, especially after Superstorm Sandy, where the account representatives of some of the engineering firms were changing the reports of engineers without their permission, you know, to satisfy the demands of their insurance company clients. And so, you know, today we’ve got the American Policyholders Association, and it’s association that Doug Quinn is its executive director heading up, you know, solely, you know, the issue of, and this is crazy, you know, to think about it, but insurance company fraud against, you know, insurance company customers. And in the claims, you know, part of it, you know, this word comes up quite a bit.

And, again, I don’t mean to disparage everybody, it was out, he was an engineer that works for insurance companies, I don’t think that’s the way it is. But for many, now, there is a great deal of pressure to perform, or you get what I write in the book, you know, deselected, all of a sudden, you’re no longer on the list. And it’s not just with respect to, you know, engineers or licenses. It also goes on the pressure with respect to estimators and how much they’ll put down. It goes on for independent adjusters and what they’re willing to do. And it goes even for the insurance company appraisers, and, you know, this behind-the-scenes network is something that I do warn about in the book and what you can do to combat it. So it’s, unfortunately, at least in my opinion, I think it’s a growing, you know, issue in the insurance claim world and one that I’m sad to say is something we have to confront, you know, quite often.

Paul: Yeah, you know, so the blacklist thing really hits home with me, because I get asked on depositions if I’m representing, you know, on behalf of a property holder, “Do you work for insurance companies?” And for me, the answer is yes, because I do a lot of construction defect work. And that’s a different group of insurance companies or at least different folks. And I had that, you know, so that is true. But if the question is, “Do you work directly for any property insurance firms?” The answer is, “No.” And why? Because, quite frankly, I’m blacklisted. And they don’t want to hear what I have to say.

Chip: So that’s interesting. I mean, I didn’t put this in the book. But there was a company that I left doing insurance defense work. And I’d switched over. And I’d called after several years an engineer that I wanted to use for a particular matter, and he said to me, says, “Chip, love you to death, would love to work with you. You know, I know you’re out there working and really doing a great job for policyholders. But my company just is not going to allow me to go do work for you, you know, or we could possibly get blacklisted.” And then he said, “At least honest work. And what I mean by that, if I were to go to work with you, I would have to slant the opinion so bad to hurt your claim and then prove it to them.” You know, and it’s like, “Really, is it that bad?” But, you know, I get it.

And this would have been back in the 1980s. So it’s just that as much as things have changed this sort of there in the background is just that there’s a lot more now because of the discovery that’s gone in with email. You’re able to get some of the underlying, you know, actually proof of all the stuff that used to be just literally word of mouth, you know, type stuff with the threats of people blackballing one another.

Paul: Yeah. So, you know, I was thinking about some things maybe we’d talk about today. One of the questions I was going to ask you, which is on-topic but maybe a little bit steering away, is, you know, you’ve got a wealth of experience. And, you know, you’ve been doing this for quite a while now. And really, you know, one of the leaders in the industry. So how do you think things have changed over… Are things still the same? Are they different now? How things evolved over time with property insurance? You know, they’ve lost the [inaudible 00:08:52].

Chip: Well, you know, I guess everything has changed, you know, quite a bit. And there’s so many different ways that it’s changed. You know, we can start with just the internet. I mean, the way that insurance companies even sell their product, how they sell their product through advertising that goes on the internet, the increase of advertising gimmicks with respect to insurance, and some insurance companies even making, you know, how you see these accidents that seem just impossible. They’re almost funny, you know. Yet is that what insurance is about? You know, and it’s funny until the accident happens to you. And then it’s not so funny anymore. But, you know, insurance companies, Progressive, Geico, a number of them, their marketing studies show that, you know, selling ads to get in front of as many people as possible that resonate with respect to being “funny” and then selling on price seems to be what works for them to gain market share. And so you have a product that is being sold in mass market today. There’s a lot of pressure now on insurance agents who are increasingly being left out of the equation. And I think insurance agents traditionally, you know, had that role of helping the policyholder or consumer to select great products, with great companies, at great prices. And they’re being, kind of, edged out as the insurance companies keep trying to push this to sell their product almost directly through the internet.

So there’s been not even on the claims side, but just from the entire, you know, beginning of the insurance claim transaction, you know, people don’t buy the insurance product and even know what it says. They hope they have coverage for it. And so where’s the professional helping them out? And there’s just no way that an insurance policyholder, especially a commercial insurance policyholder, can get anywhere close to being able to figure out all the risks, the types of coverage that they would have, the endorsements that they might need for their particular business or situation in life. And so, you know, we have a product that people, unlike your apples and oranges, that you might pick out at a grocery store, you can’t even look at the insurance policy that you bought, and, you know, so it’s changed that way.

And then the claims handling, I think there’s a lot of differences. I think people want to get paid promptly. They’re able to find out if they’re getting paid properly or not a lot more easier today because of the Internet. And they can compare what’s going on with others that are out there. And it’s unfortunate, though, that the insurance companies themselves at the claims level now can more closely manage and have actually computers, you know, manage, how do I say, the authority of the field adjusters so that they force the field adjusters to, you know, through the use of computers and the internet to really hammer down and not pay what a reasonable amount might be. And by that I mean a reasonable amount, depending on who you hire, it could be $100, it could be $150, for any particular thing, it doesn’t mean it’s exactly $104.75, but something reasonable in there, depending upon the quality of the contractor and how it’s going to be done.

You know, that used to be taken care of, and the field adjuster would have authority to take care of those types of claims. But, increasingly, that’s just not happening. And I think that’s one reason why there seems to be so many more complaints in the field of especially property insurance law right now as insurance companies increasingly try to gain control. And they do have the ability to do so via the internet, and there’s more claims disputes, unfortunately.

Paul: So if we could say, I mean, take an example of a homeowner or a larger type of claim, if one was to, you know, have a loss, say a tornado, and they took it up with their insurance company and got, you know, a fast settlement directly from the insurance company, what do you think the chances are that it would be a fair settlement?

Chip: Probably very little, you know, if it’s a full settlement. And by that, I mean how do you know until you actually get out there and start doing the entirety of the work? And actually the full, you know, replacement? And I say that, I guess, to be quite fair, it depends on the insurance company. If you were to tell me it was Chubb, Amica, Lexington Preferred, chances are those companies because we don’t sue them as much, and they keep getting great ratings, even we have the speeds of USAA, but most of the people really feel like when they get them with USAA, they’ve gotten a fair shake. You know, those types of companies typically have a lot less problems at the claims-paying side, and especially Chubb, and Amica, and Lexington Preferred, you know, than other insurance companies that are more than mass market and are not going to undersell the pricing parts so that they have to be cheap on claims.

So I guess an answer to you depends on who the insurance company is you have. But if it’s not one of the more preferred insurance companies that are really having a way of taking care of you… And let me give you an example. There is a client that we represented in Superstorm Sandy who subsequently had a water loss up in New Jersey, very affluent. And this water loss seeped into the closet and the client, the wife had all these fur coats. And Chubb has an expert in fur coats come out and look at everything, and she knew exactly what she’s looking at. She goes, “No, we could send these out. Most people wouldn’t say anything about it. And you probably wouldn’t even tell, you know, but this fabric will never be back the way it is. The type of water that went through the attic ba, ba, ba, ba, ba all the way, you can clean it, but in the long term, it will be different. An expert will know it’s different. And so I’m going to declare these a total loss.”

And this was of about 170-something thousand dollars’ worth of furs. And I don’t know if every company would act that way. And so at the moment of truth, you have somebody who’s out looking on behalf of the customer for the full payment and being completely honest with them that might cost the insurance company more claims time, you know, than other insurance companies. Now, certainly, that type of reputation gets around, because even I talk about how what great claim service that was, you know, versus other companies are gonna fight you nickel and dime. They don’t have any experts. They’re not about to have that type of expertise, because, with that expertise, they may pay more money.

How often, Paul, you know, do I give speeches and say, “If you want to look at the insurance company adjuster of today for many companies, and even their claims expert, you think of the three monkeys, you know, they don’t want to see anything. They don’t want to hear anything from the policyholder about what’s going on. They certainly aren’t going to tell you all the benefits and ways of looking at a loss that might increase the amount of claims. I know the insurance, you know, attorneys, maybe the insurance claims department, the adjusters that are listening to this podcast or hate to hear that, and they’re going say, “That’s not the way we do it.” Then good, if that’s not the way you do it, that’s the way it is. But you can’t tell me that if you’re in this business, you don’t know of the pressure that’s coming down from some claims management departments. That’s exactly how they want to have many of their losses handled today.

Paul: So my mother had a water loss. It was less than $10,000. And it had two different adjusters, I mean, engineers came in to look at it before they denied it. It’s, like, ridiculous. It wasn’t Chubb.

Chip: So I just want to follow up. I mean, at the Windstorm Conference, I gave a speech with Bill Bracken and Steve Badger about how engineers are supposed to go about, you know, peer-reviewing to make certain that their expert opinions are accurate. I don’t mean written for a client, I mean, accurate. And there’s a way to go about making certain that one adjuster’s opinions aren’t written up that are in the proper peer review and how they’re looked at. And it was a very good discussion, very philosophical. Steve Badger said, “Absolutely. If people are writing the opinions with a biased mind, whether it’s for the policyholder or the insurance company, it’s wrong and could be fraudulent.” And I thought that Bill Bracken went through the various ethical ways that you do a proper peer review, including keeping all the prior drafts.

And I’ll give State Farm a shout-out. One time, I took a deposition of somebody with State Farm at the high level. And they even indicated that, you know, theoretically, we should be giving our customers the original opinion, and why we had to change it to a different opinion, and be transparent about it, and not try to hide the reason, you know, that there was a change or something like that as if, oh, my God, you know, they can’t accept it. But, you know, if we’re honest about it because, you know, that’s really what it comes down with peer reviews and why people might change opinions, give honest opinions, and then offer the customer the opportunity to respond with, “Oh, maybe you didn’t catch this, you didn’t see these facts and things like that.” And I think if you have that type of open mind, where you’re trying to get to, you know, the right and reasonable, you know, opinion, you really are looking out for the customer. Even if it’s not what the customer hears, at least, you know, they’ve been given the proper treatment in the claims process. And that all starts with the honesty, it really does.

Paul: That’s half the battle just to get a fair shake, isn’t it?

Chip: I can’t tell you how much I’ve been starting to use that word a lot more just give people a fair shake on it. How do I say this, though? That’s difficult to do when it’s already started out, you know, months, if not years in advance. And if the entire way insurance companies look at things is to not overpay, you can only go in one direction. And so that’s also some of my criticism, like, with the claim review process that most of the insurance companies have, they’re so into this concept of leakage, which is not overpaying on claims and finding ways not to pay more on a particular claim. And if they do, you know, you get these leakage scores that go against the field adjuster.

And when they’re grouped up against the field adjuster’s manager, so in many companies, you get six to eight field adjusters, and whoever their particular manager is, it’s a pockmark against him on these quote leakage scores that come out, you know. When I go and I ask, “Well, what about the gold star for somebody telling, you know, a policyholder that they’re entitled to more money because they missed something and weren’t aware of stuff like that? Do you have anything like that?” “No, of course, there is no program like that. The gold stars are given out to people, you know, that have the least leakage, you know, scores.”

And, again, it’s always kind of one-sided looking for, you know, lower ways to pay, and it doesn’t go for all the companies. But, you know, that’s typical of what claims managing is today. And it’s the way that most of the large consultants that insurance companies hire to give recommendations to the claims department go about teaching them how to do this, because it’s the most…frankly, the most profitable way to do this. As I say, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out it’s a lot more profitable to take somebody’s premium dollar and not fully pay the claim, you know, than to do otherwise.

Paul: Can you just talk a little bit more about this, what a leakage score is?

Chip: Sure. So this is a term that I first saw in some internal documents from USAA a long time ago where McKinsey and Company have been retained by USAA to look at their claims process. And leakages are now a term of art used across the industry. And it’s not secret or anything, because they’ve even written about it in the many articles that it talks about these are claims payments that the insurance company does not believe have should have been paid. And so, you know, when they go through the various, you know, steps of a claim process, they look to see what can change so that they don’t make a payment that they think is for “too much.”

And so how do they, you know, prevent that? Well, did somebody check the amount that they were paying, you know, against an Xactimate estimate might be one example versus a local roofing contractor’s estimate? So you never accept a local roofing contractor’s estimate, almost like no matter what, versus what’s in the Xactimate line item. There’s nothing in there, go back and check the Xactimate estimate to see if it’s accurate. You know, and after like hurricanes, tornadoes, and anything like that, Xactimate estimates are wildly and notoriously wrong because they don’t reflect the increased amount of demand until sometimes weeks and sometimes months later. And so it’s always behind, you know, the curve with respect to what the actual pricing is that goes on. That’s one way, you know, just to show that people are getting underpaid and get very upsetting. It could be that as simple as, “Hey, this house over here, you know, that is having certain materials and things like that should get paid for that. But, oh, you know, this other guy, he lives in a gated community and just to get through, you know, every morning, there’s like a two-hour wait as every vendor has to get checked off even to work on there.”

Well, if it’s taking the vendor two hours to get through in the morning time, you know, the labor costs are gonna go up higher. And this especially, you know, happens after hurricanes major disasters or even it could just happen in any type of regular loss that might happen to any local contractor. Knowing that will have that adjusted into whatever price he’s going to have so that he knows that he cannot have his workers sitting out there for an extra two hours a day or whatever it might be. And that’s got to be reflected in price, otherwise the contractor loses money, and, theoretically, you know, the insurance company should be paying. That’s just one of a lot of little you know, examples. It could be, you know, “Hey, did you take the full amount of depreciation based upon the age of a particular material, you know, versus, well, what was really the condition of the material?” And by taking greater amounts of depreciation, we pay less on it. Don’t pay any replacement cost if you have a replacement cost policy that has actual cash value paid first to replacement comes until you get the actual invoice and receipt, you know, back for it. Whereas, many companies will, you know, “Hey, we’ll pay replacement costs right up front.”

Amica and Chubb have a policy, Lexi Preferred, they pay replacement costs in the full amount right up front, you know, to some policyholders. So there’s a lot of different ways insurance companies in preventing what’s known as “leakage,” you know, in the claims vernacular go about. And they literally have scorecards on each of these, you know, various things checking out on each claim how well an adjuster might have done. And then they have, you know, people that are known as leakage experts to do metrics about how much could have been paid versus what was actually paid to say what your leakage score is, how much money you might have cost the company. And they look at that, how much you cost the company and detract it from our profits as a result of your own neglect or whatever and claims payment by paying too much.

Now, you know, if you were to ask me, the way they should do it is grade, “Hey, you underpaid,” you know, and I’ve never seen any pockmark, any, you know, negative score, you know, given against an adjuster for…you know, or any type of score getting positive, “Hey, you caught something. We would have cheated our customer, you know, you know on that. So really good, great catch.” It’s always one way. It’s almost like they make the person seem like a pariah if they pay a little bit too much to a customer on any given amount. So it’s something that’s now into claims management. It’s ingrained in it, and rather than making certain that the customer is not, you know, shortchanged, which, heaven forbid, what’s worse for the customer, you know?

Paul: Well, there’s nothing [crosstalk 00:25:38].

Chip: Right, right, the customer’s viewpoint, you know, heaven forbid, don’t underpay me what I’m owed. Okay. And I would think, you know, almost everybody in any type of businesses, you know, underpromise, overdeliver, try to promise and actually deliver what your clients are looking for in almost every other field but insurance where they actually manage to make certain that they’re not, you know, overdelivering. The whole thing is on underperforming on the claims payment with many of the companies being managed that way.

Paul: That doesn’t sound like a fair shake, does it?

Chip: Let’s see, it’s rigged up front already. The whole management scheme for the vast majority of insurance companies is first set up on that philosophy of above all avoid claims leakage.

Paul: So let’s say that, you know, somebody suffers a loss, you talked a little bit about the complexity of insurance policies. I know I tried to read my homeowner’s… I live in South Florida. I tried to read my homeowner’s policy, and, you know, bad idea. I’m not an attorney or an insurance expert or anything like that. And I had a heck of a time trying to figure out what it actually is. And I don’t think I ever did figure out what exactly it said. So with all that complexity, you have a loss, you’ve got an industry, you know, where, you know, some companies may treat you fairly, others may not. What should you do?

Chip: Well, I think, you know, obviously, first try to find a great insurance agent who’s going to be selling you the insurance, because that agent will also be there at claims time and hopefully put you there with a great company. You know, the next thing you should do after that, the larger the loss, the more you should be considering do you need professional help. Does that mean typically hiring a public adjuster and sometimes even have to go to an attorney? But I often recommend people hiring public insurance adjusters to help out. You want to make certain whoever that you’re hiring to do the work, you know, is knowledgeable. While they don’t suppose to adjust the claim process, they can understand what the insurance claim process is all about and help by, you know, being there that they will talk with the insurance adjuster, explain the pricing, explain the methodology if that’s what the insurance adjuster’s asking for.

And as a matter of fact, many people forget that insurance adjuster is supposed to be doing a full investigation if there’s any doubt about the bill and the amount that’s being paid for. And they should be asking the contractor who is an expert in fixing things up or it might be, you know, a material person or a fur expert, like I gave an example on contents. And the insurance company should be doing this right away and promptly. You know, if things aren’t going right, and I mean you’re not really happy with the type of service you’re getting, it doesn’t feel right, I always tell people, you know, and the larger the amount, especially if it starts to get…and it depends on who you are. You know, if you have a home that’s a $200,000 home and you have a $50,000 loss, that is really significant. You know, some people have a $50,000 deductible.

If you have any questions at all, I typically suggest to contact a public adjuster or an attorney who’s experienced, and you can check their credentials. And, again, credentials mean a lot in this world. In this day of internet advertising, there’s a lot of pretenders, you know, that are out there versus contenders. And what do I mean by that? Anybody can claim to be an expert on the internet. And often then go back and say, “How do you determine really who’s not?” Well, look at their credentials, how long they’ve been doing this, you know, what’s the passion? What are their clients? Follow up. What do their past clients have to say about them? Are they somebody that’s respected in their industry, that are really passionately involved in doing whatever they do?

You need a brain surgery. Would you just go pick out a brain surgeon based upon what brain surgeons might say on the internet? Or would you go look for the person that might be the leader in the field, you know, the expert that has the credentials, others want to learn the techniques of brain surgery from? And so I always tell people to go out and look for the best that you can hire at that time and don’t look back. I think, you know, that type money’s usually very well spent. And often those individuals will give advice about what they need to do with respect to handling claim and often say, “You might not even need my services. This is all you need to do on it,” or, “Geez, you know, you really do badly need my services.” So, I kind of laid that out in the book, you know. And it’s both for contractors, for attorneys, for public adjusters, who to look for, even your insurance agent. What’s the type of person you’re looking for? And, certainly, you want to hire the best. And I give some, you know, some tips and suggestions how they can find those individuals.

Paul: One of the chapters in your book is called When the Insurance Adjuster Is You. And, you give, you know, kind of a hit-home example of the elderly couple that had a fire loss and the insurance company had them out picking through the rubble, trying to take an inventory of what they lost, which is, you know, bad idea for a lot of reasons.

Chip: Well, and not only that. So, that term, what happens there, I almost call breakage, and people go, “What do you mean breakage, Chip?” Well, that’s a retail term. And that’s when the insurance company also almost demands for you to go do all this. And they’re not going to do any of it themselves. So often, you’ll find insurance companies that go for the residential claims. They’ll go out and have an expert contractor, estimator, could even have an engineer look at it. And they come up, “And here’s the estimate of what we think it’s going to cost and stuff like that.” Well, you know, when you have the contents loss, who’s looking at the contents? So the same insurance company, they’ll do only half the work. They’ll look at the real property and do all these people.

And then they’ll hand pieces of paper to the policyholder and say, “Fill all this stuff out.” And you figure out what the cost is, the year, and all this kind of stuff. And rather than work with them, and the insurance uses its own expertise to go through that. Well, you know, after you’re on about the 39th page, you know, with 50 items on each page written down that you’re filling out, and that’s where some of these claims go and ask people that come in and say, “You did all this yourself?” And they go, “Yeah, it took months to do, but the insurance company asked me to do this.” You know, I just shake my head, because people don’t understand what the concept of the actual cash value means.

They don’t really understand that, you know, when I start going through, I’ll say, “Did you include the price of going out and getting it? And the sales tax and all these other things?” You know, if you buy something this way, you got to put it all together? What about that cost? Because what you lost, it was already put together. Now, you got to go redo it again. And there’s all these items that sometimes add up another 20%, just a soft cost offered on contents that are completely left out. Not to mention, “Hey, after filling out 5 pages,” and I know it’s gonna cost you another 35 before I get done, “screw this. Hey, Mr. Adjuster, why don’t you just pay me 50% of what everything is owed, and we’ll just call it a day? So I don’t have to do all this work.”

And that’s what’s going on in some of the California wildfires out there. “You know, it’s fine, no problem. You don’t have to do all this stuff. We’ll pay you 50%. Don’t worry about the paperwork at all that we asked you to do.” And that’s how insurance companies win on the residential contents claims not even talked about often. And that’s where come public adjusters who have, you know, content experts on stuff that can go through this and can help out if the insurance company is not going to do it. You’d be crazy to try to do it yourself.

And I remember the example of the elderly couple, because the insurance companies didn’t tell them, “Oh, yeah, when you go back into your burnt down fireplace, you’ve got all these carcinogenic materials out there, all these dangerous things and everything else in the world. They made a little old lady sit for months going through her fire debris without mentioning how dangerous it was and what she really needed to do to protect herself from it. So, you know, and it’s not as if the insurance company’s ignorant on it, because they teach their own adjusters, you know, how to be careful about it, because they have OSHA regulations. Anyway, that was a great example from the book, Paul, and I appreciate you reminding me about it.

Paul: Yeah, well, like I said, I mean, that’s what made the book…in my mind, what I really liked about it made it real was you put these stories and what each of these, you know, probably boring theories when you make it real by telling the story. So when larger losses, the kind of stuff that my firm works on, and, obviously, your firm does a lot of that type of work too, the adjuster comes in, puts the loss together, files, isn’t my thing but I hear this word all the time, the proof of loss, insurance company sends their experts out. And you have, you know, say, the insurance company says it’s worth $300,000, and the public adjuster says it’s worth $8 million. What needs to happen at that point?

Chip: Most families should be hiring…if they have a public adjuster, and it’s that far apart, and the public adjuster can’t, you know bridge that gap, typically, that’s when people start going to attorneys and ask advice about what should happen. And your particular field, like, most people just don’t even think about it. To do the job, like what your firm does, and don’t get me wrong, there is many engineering firms that will go out there and take a look at the building envelope, and I mean the entire, and that term also includes the windows and the glazing and things like that, but to do a full and thorough investigation could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, you know, for the insurance company.

And if they were to do it in such a way that not only were they gonna spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also underpaying millions of dollars, because now, “Holy cow, the customer is who really does have these damages that are out there. We just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars just to prove we’ve got to pay millions.” Now, how many insurance companies do you think are lining up to go do that? Not too many. Okay. And so what happens is you have huge what are called chunks or portions of a claim that could and should have been brought as damage that for many policyholders never are brought. And don’t kid yourself, if you hire a public adjuster who is not knowledgeable about it or doesn’t have the funds to pay for the experts, that public adjuster might not even go out there and do the investigation because they don’t have the money to pay for experts.

It can be very expensive to look at some of these subtle but very large component issues of complex claims that happen to major buildings, commercial buildings, you know, particularly condominiums, office buildings, you know, you name it, skyscrapers. You know, the impact that the major storms or it could be the impact that smoke or heat might have on these buildings really need sophisticated type of analysis in order to find the full amount of damage. And it’s certainly not in the insurance company’s best economic interest to send, you know, sophisticated engineers out there looking for the damage because the more they find, the more they’re gonna have to pay.

And as a result of that, we often find, you know, claims that come walk into our door after we redo it that it’s not just a small increase, but sometimes, you talk about the $8 million when sometimes public adjusters are taking a swag at it, thinking it’s $8 million and maybe it’s 4 million, but it also could be $24 million. And I’ve had some even very good public adjusters have engineers go out there and do preliminary analysis, but not really dig in enough completely. And when given the full, like, don’t spend more than $25,000. But if they were to spend $150,000 worth of engineering costs and spend the hours necessarily look at it, wow, a loss that might be $2 million or $3 million can end up being 12. And we’ve had that happen before. And it takes a while for that to soak into the insurance company’s claims management.

Paul: So you need…this will sound self-serving, but it’s not, you need people that know what they’re doing. And, I mean, you need people that are truly experts in their field. So you need people that are experts in the field and that really know what they’re looking at. And if you’ve got an elevator problem, you obviously don’t want me looking at it, the window expert, you want to get a guy who really knows what’s going on with the elevators, and, you know, roofs, it’s basically exterior contents, things like that, right?

Chip: Yeah. Hey, Paul, my experience is that the best experts get to learn more and more about less and less. And so that, you know, somebody who might be a mechanical engineer, he might then start, oh, he’s really an expert just on elevators. And he becomes a really big expert on just elevators versus everything in mechanical engineering. Somebody might be an expert just on the building, you know, envelope with just the roof systems, some on just glass and, honestly, sometimes on special types of glass, you know, and glazing and how to go about, you know, doing certain things. At least in my field, I’ve been trying to find those individuals, knowing who they are. Hiring those types of people means everything to our client. And we always have to search the qualifications to see these and then, you know, work with those individuals, because, typically, a lot of times they’re very high demand. And as well as to make certain that their reports are going to be, you know, up to the standard so they’ll be even admissible at court. You can imagine that insurance companies when experts are giving opinions that are gonna be very costly to the insurance company.

There are clever insurance defense attorneys who are going to look at every single line, you know, check to make certain every T is crossed, and every I is dotted, because they try to keep those people from ever having the credibility and the ability even to testify in front of a jury. There’s battles that go on about that. And at least in our law firm right now, we spend a great deal of our time, you know, making certain to the best we can that our expert witnesses are not excluded from being able to testify into the federal or state rules of evidence, which seem to be getting more and more strict about these things. At the same time, we’re finding that the insurance company engineers or we’re attacking them, you know, for not saying a bias that seems to be similar, the same between many of the insurance company vendors today.

Paul: Yes, it’s complex, to say the least. So, Chip, this has really been interesting. And as I said, I really wish we could have talked a little more about everything in the book. And I encourage our listeners to cop a copy, it’s called “Pay Up!: Preventing a Disaster with Your Own Insurance Company.” Anything you want to close with?

Chip: Well, sure. First of all, I want to thank you for the ability to come out here. I hope we’ve educated some people. I hope that maybe we can encourage some insurance companies and the executives to have a change of heart about the way they go about doing their claims. And I would encourage anybody in the industry who’s involved in claims handling to at least consider purchasing, you know, the book. It’s not a really big price. And you can go to or Barnes & Noble. And you can pick up the hard copy or a Kindle edition. And it’s even got…if you want to listen, then somebody will read it to you with an audiobook edition. So we made it easy for anybody to go ahead and listen to it. And I think it’s got some very practical ideas for everybody in the insurance industry. And I really do appreciate the fact that you read through it, and some of your very kind comments about the book, Paul, really appreciate that.

Paul: Yeah, well, it was really entertaining. And I want to put a plugin for audible. You just brought up to make it read it to you. What a great way if you’ve got a three or four-hour car drive to make the drive go by quicker, is to get the audible version and play it through your phone right into your car. I really have enjoyed that. So anyway, so, Chip, how can our audience contact you or your firm if they want more information about, you know, issues with insurance and [crosstalk 00:41:59]?

Chip: Well, yeah, hey, that’s a great question. If you’re an insurance professional, like an adjuster, and you have some questions about insurance, you can literally go to Google, put “Chip Merlin Blog.” We write about property insurance every single day. It’s what we do. We’ve written this blog for 16 years now. And you can even search all kinds of terms on there. You can obviously look me up, Chip Merlin, on, and you can get my information. You can even call me on my… People, they’re surprised I give out my cell number. But most people never abuse it. Rarely do I get a 2:00 in the morning telephone call or something like that. But my cell number is 813-695-8733.

We have about 60 attorneys in our law firm and offices all over the United States and in Puerto Rico with attorneys actually there in those offices. These aren’t just make-believe offices that people put there. No, we have actual attorneys that limit their practice to representation of policyholders within insurance claim disputes. The main office in Tampa is 813-229-1000. But, you know, on the internet, I would encourage people to look up our firm, the qualifications we’ve got. They can always look me up. And the easiest way for them to say…people text me or call me on my cell phone, again, 813-695-8733. And if you want to call again, our main number is 813-229-1000. But, again, we have offices from San Francisco out to Puerto Rico, from Phoenix and Los Angeles all the way up to Red Bank, New Jersey, and up in Chicago. We just have offices all over with actual attorneys practicing and doing this for a living. So I appreciate, Paul, your opportunity for me to tell that to our audience. And if people ever have a need, give us a phone call. We’re here to help and educate people.

Paul: Super, and thanks again so much for coming on.

Chip: Paul, thank you very much for having me as your guest today.

Paul: You got it. So I would like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast today, and I invite you to take a further look at GCI Consultants services on our website at You can also reach us at 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thanks once again. I look forward to talking with you next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. So long.


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Building an Entrepreneurial Company Culture Through Technology

Henry Lopez – Managing Partner of Levante Business Group

Episode 66- Henry Lopez - Building an Entrepreneurial Company Culture Through Technology

In this episode, Chris Matthews, President and Principal for GCI Consultants, talks with Henry Lopez, managing partner at Levante Business Group, about how GCI has built a company culture through the values of entrepreneurship. Listen in as the two experts discuss how technology has played a part in building a sustainable company culture in the current climate of the building envelope industry 

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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Chris: Welcome everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, President and Principal for GCI Consultants, and I’m your host today. I’m really excited today to have as our guest, Henry Lopez, who is the managing partner of Levante Business Group. And we work a lot with Henry. He assists us in our business as a third-party consultant in lots of different areas and we’ve worked with him for several years with coaching and other input from Henry on the day-to-day operation of GCI. So, I’m interested to talk to Henry today. Welcome, Henry. And you wanna tell our audience a little bit about your background and how you and GCI came together?

Henry: Yeah, absolutely, Chris. Thanks so much for having me on this show. I’m a listener of the podcast. But yeah, I actually came to know GCI through your partner and one of the founders of GCI, which is Paul Beers. Paul was actually the second guest I ever had on my podcast, whew, about three or four years ago now. So as to what I do, I’m a serial business owner. I’m also a business coach and a consultant, which is, as you said, how I’ve been working with GCI as a third-party consultant on various projects over the years. So I’ve owned about 11 or 12 different businesses, have bought, sold, and built, had successes, had some failures in the business world. I started my career, though, back in the ’80s as a computer programmer, went into software sales and marketing for most of the ’90s, and then was able to segue into full-time business ownership in the early 2000s.

Chris: And I know you call yourself a serial entrepreneur, and I think that’s one of the things that really attracts us and makes our working relationship well because many of us at GCI, you know, we kind of look at ourselves as good or bad, rugged individualist and kind of having that entrepreneurial spirit. So I think we kind of mesh really well, as you said. Owning all the businesses you have, that’s a big part of your makeup, I’m sure.

Henry: Yeah, yeah. That’s definitely one of the reasons I enjoy working with GCI is you guys are very entrepreneurial, very lean organization, very productive, very entrepreneurial. That’s what I like working with. Those are the types of organizations I like working with. And so, yeah, that definitely is a match in the way that you guys think about things, the way that you’re always looking for new opportunities, never afraid to try something new, never even afraid to pivot different product lines or service offerings. And so that is definitely a fit between the way I’ve gone about business and the way that you guys operate.

Chris: And that kind of leads into a good discussion topic of just the culture fit between you and us, some of your experience with culture in other organizations you’ve worked with. What do you see in GCI and some of the companies you’ve worked with, in your business as well as far as culture, and the challenges, and successes there?

Henry: Yeah, yeah, it’s a good question. And, of course, this is a topic that people talk about a lot. I think it gets a lot of lip service, you know, culture, and it sounds good. And I think what you guys have done very well is at the top, at the leadership level, you, and Paul, and Alfonso, I believe it starts at the top. I think you guys really believe in what you put forth as a culture. It’s not just a plaque on the wall. You know, I call it lipstick on a pig, or when you go into that not so good fast food restaurant and they have the employee of the month plaque on the wall, you know, you see through that. It’s transparent. It’s somebody at corporate who decided, “Hey, we’ll do this and that’ll be culture.” You know, culture is what you guys believe in truly, in how you treat people, in how you treat each other, in how you treat your clients. It’s who you are because it’s an extension. The work that you guys do represents you. It represents Paul, it represents Alfonso and the other team members. And so I think that’s where it starts. You know, your challenge, of course, is you are a very distributed organization. You’re very virtual. You’re not all in one office. And so what I have found in a lot of organizations, it’s just hard to build a culture when you’re not all together because if for no other reason, then you can’t have those pep rallies, right? You can’t gather the forces together and give them that big speech for the week. But you guys are doing it because the culture, you guys set it at the top. It’s been consistent for all of these years that you guys have been in business. What is it? Thirty years almost now? Is that right?

Chris: Right. Right.

Henry: Yeah. And then what happens is it gets applied to what you look for in part in the people that you bring on to the team. So, that’s what I think you guys have done very well. And I think that you guys don’t even necessarily do it all that consciously. It’s who you are. And that’s why I think you have such a productive culture at GCI.

Chris: Well, and we’ve probably not done as good a job at some point in the past, mostly because, as you said, we’re a distributed company. We’re doing everything virtually, as most companies now are quite familiar with, the virus situation. But we’ve been doing it like that for over 10 years. So, you know, there’s definitely a learning curve there. And some of the business practices that we have learned about and implemented in GCI have helped us a lot there, regular communication, actually identifying and promulgating our core values, reinforcing those to all of our team on a regular basis, those kinds of things. As you said, some of it’s just intrinsic that you do, hopefully, by the way you present yourself to your clients and your team, but some of the processes we have now have kind of more formalized that for us. And, you know, I think a big thing that we’ve learned is, as you said, you might not have that weekly face to face pep rally, but you need to have a meeting cadence. You need to have a regular commitment to some gatherings, even though they’re remotely, even though they’re Zoom or Teams or something like that, to keep the team engaged.

Henry: Absolutely, yeah. And no, and we’ll get into more of that here as we talk about systems because systems is interrelated to culture, and that you’re exactly right. But most small organizations, Chris, in my experience, they’re challenged, especially, again, as we’ve added this component of being distributed, and as you said, we all have been because of COVID. You know, if you’re a small engineering firm or a small general contractor, which most of these firms are, when I say small, you’re not big corporations that have an HR department or somebody that can own the culture, right, or a small law firm that might be listening, it really then…what will happen is, despite the fact that you may not have or you’ve just started over the last few years to kind of make it a process, that’s why it’s so important that it starts at the top and that it’s really who you guys are because it would quickly fall apart, otherwise. The best program or process or the best, you know, articulation of it throughout the organization falls apart because in a small organization, people see through that very quickly. They see through that very quickly as to how you behave, or Paul behaves, or Alfonso behaves because in a larger organization, the people at the top can, kind of, hide behind layers of people. But in a small organization like yours or a small engineering firm, people see you, they interact with you, they might be on a job site with you, so your values and that culture gets represented to them on a daily basis, regardless of what the poster of the flying eagle on the wall may or may not say.

Chris: Exactly, right. Right. So you were mentioning some, too, as far as technology and how that folds into the whole culture and I guess regularly reinforcing that to people. So, what do you see in that regard?

Henry: Yeah, you know, I think it’s the systems and the technology. Let’s start with the systems first. You know, you guys are ahead of the curve for an organization of your size with implementing systems. We’re talking about all types of systems, most importantly, EOS, right, the entrepreneur operating system. So, you all took on that challenge of implementing that system so that you do have this process that becomes more repeatable, but also, that allows your rugged individualists to be more productive individually and as a team. And that’s the thing that’s hard because you all are a classic example where you as leaders are also delivering, working with clients, interacting with clients, working on projects. And often what I see happen at similar organizations is you just don’t find the time to implement systems. And so it’s this ongoing chaos that results. What you all have done very well is understood the value and the importance of implementing systems. And just to define systems, systems can be something as encompassing as EOS, which is, again, based on Traction from Gino Wickman, the entrepreneur operating system, which is very comprehensive, or it could be something as simple as a checklist that people I think in small organizations get hung up on what is a system. A system is anything that gives us structure, in particular, in those areas where something gets performed the same way on somewhat of a repeated basis. But it’s also as you spoke too, Chris, it’s how we’re going to communicate. That’s a system as well. How are we gonna come together on a periodic basis, on a regular cadence to communicate and collaborate? That’s a system also. Implementing a CRM tool is a technology that supports a system.

This is how we’re going to interact with prospective new clients. This is how we’re gonna walk them through the process of becoming a client. This is how we’re gonna deliver our service to them. All of those things GCI I think is ahead of the curve compared to other similar sized organizations in implementing those systems, with the end result being that the individuals are more productive, the team collaborates better. And the end result for the client is higher quality. That’s what I’ve observed.

Chris: Yeah, higher quality work, better coordination among our team members. A lot of our projects in the litigation end of things that we work on, there’s more than one of our team members involved. And one of the benefits of the systems, as you described, some of them can be pretty detailed and some of them can be more of an outline or a checklist, but we’ve worked hard to have a lot better consistency, regardless of who our technical team members are. And in an assignment for a client, everybody’s educated about the right way to go about it. Whatever the technical task we’re doing is done in a repeatable way. Our reports, we’ve worked on making them more user friendly, more informative, better looking visually, all those things, and then making all that consistent. And all those, as you said, are different examples of systems that ultimately, hopefully, make us do a better job for our clients.

Henry: Yeah, they absolutely do. I mean, I think that’s why GCI is the leader in that respect. When you compare the work product that GCI delivers, I think that’s one of the reasons it’s superior. Certainly, it’s to a big extent that you have extreme talent at GCI, right, very talented people doing the work, but the system allows them to produce that work on a consistent basis at that high level of quality. And that’s a key component, Chris, is that consistency. Systems allow us to deliver on a consistent basis so that every one of GCI’s clients receives the same level of service, the same level of quality, whether it’s a report, or an inspection, or appearing as an expert witness, whatever it is, those underlying systems ensure that you show up with the best that GCI has to offer for every client.

Chris: And that goes into the technology end of it as well, you know, and how we…everything from collecting data to presenting that report and everything in between.

Henry: Yeah. And so what I have seen is that, you know, Paul, in particular, and you as well, you guys are not afraid to try technology. And that doesn’t always work out, right? Sometimes it fails. And that’s okay because if you’re not failing, sometimes that means you’re not trying hard enough. So you guys are never afraid… I have never heard from the leadership of GCI, oh, that’s just the way we’ve always done it. That’s never something I have heard at GCI. Instead, it’s always, how can we do it better? How can we do it more effectively? How can we deliver more for the client? Can we apply this tool or that tool? And sometimes that ends up with a bunch of different tools, which is a challenge. But what it shows is that you’re not afraid to apply technology to facilitate productivity and to improve the quality of what you’re delivering to the client.

Chris: Yeah, and I think we have actually been ahead of the curve in a lot of areas. You know, an example that I think of is, I don’t know, 10, 12 years ago, everybody was talking about, you know, kind of, a paperless office type thing, paperless…

Henry: Right. Right.

Chris: Everything was gonna go digital. And again, we were ahead on that. And our biggest challenge was that, you know, we could do a lot of that digitally internally, but externally, everybody was still in a paper mode. And it’s not been that long ago that in a big litigation case, we would get boxes and boxes full of documents.

Henry: I can imagine.

Chris: And, you know, back in the day, we would then, you know, store those in a file cabinet. And as experts, when we’re involved in a case, we’re just thumbing through all that paperwork. And then when we got to the point where internally we saw all the efficiency and advantages to digitizing all that, we would get all those documents in and then we’d send them off to all be scanned into a system. And then the next thing was, we would encourage our clients, don’t send us the paper products. Send them to us where you’ve already scanned them in. And so then it would be we’d get CDs and thumb drives. And now, we’ve got gotten to the point where most everyone now is comfortable with the digitized format and it’s just sharing links. And even in our system and in our emails, now, we have a link where our clients can click right on that in our signature and upload directly to our system all the documents that they need to send. So, you know, it’s just one little example. But as you said, we’re not afraid to try new things. And some don’t work, some you revise and go another direction, but all of them I think, eventually lead to a big improvement in efficiency, quality, everything else that we were talking about before.

Henry: Yeah. And I think it comes also…this point comes back to culture from this perspective, Chris, as a small organization, it’s not like you have a large IT department. In fact, that’s virtual for you as well, where you’ve got people coming up with or testing these technologies. And what about this? Why don’t we do a test project like this? That you just don’t have those resources? Right? You’re a very lean organization. So what you’ve created culture-wise, is that you empower, and encourage, and almost require people at all levels to come up with ideas. Right? Whether it’s somebody like Eric, who’s out in the field, constantly leading teams of people doing inspections, coming up with how do we use a tablet better, to how do we photograph more effectively, you guys, you and Paul, and Alfonso, are very open to those ideas coming from all levels of the organization. What I have found can happen, and especially in smaller organizations, is you’ve got these people at the top whose egos would be bruised if the idea wasn’t theirs. And that’s, I think, also a subtle but very important part of culture, is that the way that GCI works is if somebody comes up with an idea, it doesn’t matter whose idea it is, if it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea.

Chris: Yep. And that EOS operating system that you talked about encourages that in that you’ve got, they don’t call it an organizational chart, you’ve got this accountability chart, you’ve got regular communication going on at the different levels of accountability. Everyone understands what they’re accountable for. And those ideas then can move right up to wherever they need to get implemented. And then as you know, we’re big believers, followers of the whole extreme ownership, Navy SEALs concept, and they’re 100%…that’s their whole structure is the decentralized command, have the commander’s intent, but then have the individuals in their different areas empowered to make decisions to get things done. And then when a mission is complete, debrief about that and get that information shared throughout the organization. So, we’re always learning. We’re always improving. Every time we do something, hopefully, we come back with a better way that can be shared throughout and, again, do a better job for our clients the next time.

Henry: Yeah, and then, in my observation, that’s one of the reasons you’ve been around in the position of leadership for 30 years is you’ve been able to evolve, pivot when you need to, and continuously improve. You’ve had to do that and you’ve done that. And I think that’s why you’ve been in the position of leadership that you have for so long.

Chris: What do you think about other tools and resources for the team, maybe still involving technology or in some other areas, that you see with GCI or some of your other clients that you work with?

Henry: Well, I mean, most recently, the CRM implementation, I think is a good example of another application of a tool. And I think one of the key…happen in an organization to be positioning to adopt new technology is you have to have a culture that doesn’t say, “That’s different. That makes it more difficult.” Let’s just talk about CRM for a second. The classic pushback I always hear from organizations that implement a CRM is that everybody says, “No,” or, “Now it takes me longer to do my job,” or, “It slows me down.” It’s a typical, classic excuse. And so, the culture has to be strong enough to say, “Well, we’re gonna try this to make us more efficient, even though there is a learning curve,” right? So, that approach to implementing technology, I think is what you have to see, whether it…if we look at it from an inspector in the field, trying different technologies, even though initially it might slow them down, I think has been part of how you guys have done a good job of implementing tools and new tools. Am I answering the question you were asking?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. You know, we’ve talked a lot about people, and one of the areas that you’ve helped us in, and you’re continuing to work with us in, is recruiting and identifying new people. You know, we continue to grow and we need more team members so…and helping us look for the right fit, the people that hopefully will fit our culture, be productive members of our team. And we’ve always found that to be a big challenge in that we’re in kind of a niche industry, even within the engineering or architecture field, that we specialize in the building envelope. So it’s not even a general engineering firm. So that’s always been a challenge as to finding the right people to add to the team. And now that you’ve been working with us in that regard, I wondered if you had any insights on that, that we might share?

Henry: Yeah, yeah, you know, as you were saying that, the top word that comes to my mind is “resourcefulness.” I think that to be successful in an environment like GCI and other…you know, a small engineering firm, like I said, a small contractor or subcontractor, a typical law firm, I think that resourcefulness is key. In other words, in small environments like this, entrepreneurial environments, you’re not gonna have a lot of support staff. You’re not gonna have…I can’t pop down three cubicles and ask a question. The support is there but you have to be resourceful to do well in this environment. You have to be the kind of person that’s gonna try to figure it out first with the resources that you do have, and then raise your hand when you get stuck. It’s funny because I was just putting together a list…I had put together a list when my daughter graduated from high school, getting ready…actually, from college, rather, getting ready to start her first job, I sat her and her boyfriend down and said, “Here’s my list of things that you need to know.” And one of them was this concept of resourcefulness. In other words, to be able to go and try to figure things out before you say, “Well, I don’t know.” Right? “I don’t know where to find that.” I think that that’s what I…one of the key things that I’ve been looking for in people that are gonna be a good fit at GCI is do they have that resourcefulness? Do they have that about them that they can go try to get the answer as best they can? But then there’s this tricky thing of when do you stop spinning your wheels and raise your hand? Right? But that’s a key component, I think, Chris, is being resourceful.

Chris: Yeah. And I think that fits, you know… You could also, I guess, define that, as I was talking about earlier, as the whole extreme ownership concept is that whatever position you’re in, your field of responsibility is everything. And so, you have to be resourceful. You have to force yourself to be resourceful. If you’re taking the attitude that the answer is not gonna come from above, magically, or somebody down the chain of command, I’m not gonna slough this off on them and assume they’re gonna take care of it, I’m gonna take responsibility for everything in my field, in my area. And I think that’s exactly…it’s just another way of saying what you’re saying and defining as resourcefulness.

Henry: Yeah, I agree. I see this as a challenge, for example, when I coach people that are transitioning from the corporate world to starting their first business, or you’re from the corporate world to working for a smaller organization, the thing you have to think about is how dependent are you and how much do you need those resources that a large corporation gives you? And we don’t even think about it sometimes. So, to make that transition, either to an entrepreneurial organization like GCI or to become your own boss, you have to be ready to not have those resources at your disposal. And it’s a different way of thinking, right? It’s a different way of thinking. And so, you have to be much more creative and have to really try to get the answers yourself and be accountable and resourceful on your own within this smaller, more virtual organization.

Chris: Yeah, for me, it all goes to personality and your makeup. But for me, it’s so much more interesting. It’s so much more exciting. But when you were saying that, it made me think of sometimes when trying to fill a relatively high-level position in the expert or senior consultant end of things, and had some very good candidates, and really felt we were establishing a good relationship with somebody who could really come in and be a productive member of our team. But there have been some times when they were coming from that much bigger corporate world. And even as you said, it’s not like they’re stepping off the edge and starting their own business. But even making the jump for them to a more lean organization like ours, it was too much of a change for them to contemplate.

Henry: Yeah, exactly. But listen, I think maybe at the end of the day, that was for both sides’ benefits that it didn’t work out. And then you touched on it, it was so key, is the flip side of this is the flexibility and the opportunity that presents for the right person. If you look at it from the perspective, okay, yeah, I’m not gonna have all of these resources at my disposal but boy, am I gonna have an opportunity to learn, to explore, to make decisions, to make an impact. I mean, for any of us who want this, one of the things that…having been in the corporate world that was most frustrating to me, is that on the flip side, in this large organization, I was this little cog in the wheel at best, right? But in an entrepreneurial organization like GCI, each individual can have a huge impact. And I don’t know how much more rewarding that can be, right? I mean, that’s what the right type of fit for GCI is looking for, is the opportunity to make a larger impact than they might have been able to make in a large organization, as far as this particular topic that we’re talking about here. [crosstalk 00:27:10]

Chris: Exactly. Yep. yep. And I think that does, then, that resourcefulness does transfer over to our relationship with our clients. When you have that culture, when you have that resourcefulness that’s just such a big part of the way we operate, that’s needed and valuable when we’re working with our clients, especially on these high-end expert assignments, litigation assignments, forensic investigations that may be very difficult, complex situations to determine all the problems and solutions there. That requires resourcefulness as well. So when that’s part of your everyday world, in everything you do, I think it makes it better for our clients in that we’re not corporate drones, we just know how to connect A to B, and spit out something for them.

Henry: Yeah, well said. I think that’s such a huge point, Chris, is that resourcefulness and that creativity. You’re never gonna hear from a GCI person, certainly who’s facing the customer and expert, “Oh, I don’t know. We don’t do that,” or, “We’ve never done it that way.” Right? You’re never gonna hear that. That’s just not the way it operates. That’s not the way we operate. And so you’re absolutely right, that that’s the opportunity then for people who do, going back to the question you asked about, what do we look for when we’re looking for somebody to join the team, that’s the magic part of it and that’s the opportunity. And that is, again, why GCI has done so well in how it delivers for its clients because the approach, your approach, Paul’s approach, Alfonso, it was never, “Well, this is what we have to offer you and we’re not varying from that,” it’s, “How can we help you solve your problem?”

Chris: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. If anything, I think, you know, we try to figure out a way to solve any problem to do anything. And sometimes that can be a little overwhelming. But…

Henry: That can be a challenge. Yeah, and that comes back to the systems and the structure. And a lot of what EOS has done for you is probably… There has to be some guidance. Exactly. Because you can’t be everything to everybody as a smaller organization, certainly not effectively. So I think that’s, going back to what the systems have done for you, is giving you that structure, those quarterly cadence of having these discussions about where we go next, what type of business makes sense for us now, how do we deliver better for our clients? As a small organization, that’s what they need to do is that methodology to adjust on a regular basis is what that’s done for you.

Chris: Yeah, very well said. Well, as I was saying to you and Janice, before we started, I could talk to you about this for hours because, you know, it’s all very interesting stuff. But we should probably close on that note. And I really appreciate your time today, Henry, and all the work you do for us regularly for GCI. Do you wanna tell any of our listeners how they could reach you at Levante and the information about your very successful podcast?

Henry: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Appreciate the opportunity. is where you’ll find everything about me, as well as the podcast, which is called “The How of Business.”

Chris: Great. And it’s a really interesting and informative podcast with lots of interesting guests that Henry has. So, if any of our listeners are interested in entrepreneurial operations, and growing businesses, and running businesses, I highly recommend it. Also I wanted to mention to our listeners that we’re always looking for interesting guests on our podcast, and if you are interested or know someone who may be an interesting guest, please reach out to Janice Hoffman at GCI. You can reach her through our website or her email addresses at, and we’d like to talk to you about being a future guest. So, I want to thank Henry Lopez, again, for joining us today. We also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at or you can reach us at phone number, 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you to our listeners once again, and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.



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Comparing Building Envelope Industry Perspectives and Trends – Skyline Windows

Adrian LowensteinNational Business Development Manager for Skyline Windows

GCI Podcast - Episode 65 - Chris Mathews and Adrian Lowenstein

In this episode, Chris Matthews, President, and Principal for GCI Consultants talks with Adrian Lowenstein, National Business Development Manager for Skyline Windows, about the building envelope industry’s hot topics. Listen in as the two experts discuss energy code requirements, sustainability trends, and technology trends that Adrian is seeing in the Northeast where Skyline Windows is based.  

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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Chris: Welcome, everyone to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, president and principal for GCI Consultants, and I’m your host today. I’m really excited to have as our guest, Adrian Lowenstein, who is the national business development manager for Skyline Windows, based in the Bronx, New York. We’ve got some interesting topics to cover today, which include energy codes, current requirements, sustainability trends in the industry, and some of the differences we see in the northeast where Skyline is based versus the southeast where GCI does a lot of our work. We’ll discuss those and some of the different technology trends we see in the building envelope today. So, Adrian, welcome. Let’s start off by having you tell our audience a little bit about yourself, and then we can jump right into our subject matter.

Adrian: Sure. Thanks, Chris. So hey, my name is Adrian. I’m a licensed professional engineer here based out of New York City. My background is on the facade consulting side. I have a lot of experience in the high-rise curtain wall and window wall sector. And now, I’ve found myself coming over to the dark side on the manufacturing side with an aluminum manufacturer, aluminum fenestration manufacturer named Skyline Windows. We’ve recently celebrated 100 years in business. So, we’re very excited to be sharing and discussing some of the current challenges we’re facing with the new energy codes, and how we’re going to be addressing some of our new builds when it comes to new construction and existing buildings. So, I’m very interested to hear how that’s affected your business and the market in the southeast, and maybe how we might end up meeting somewhere in the middle.

Chris: Sure. Great. So, we were talking a little bit before we started recording and talked a little bit about the work that you do, the energy code, things that you’re seeing currently in the market. So why don’t you just talk to us a little bit about how you see the new energy code affecting design decisions. What you guys are experiencing from the window manufacturer in the work?

Adrian: Sure. So, I think recently sustainability and energy codes have gained a lot of attention. I think in the past, we always were striving to build high performance, but there were no real, true ramifications. And now that we have more outcome-based energy codes, where the energy usage intensity of existing buildings is being measured, meaning we’re sitting here and reading energy bills, and applying thresholds as to how buildings are supposed to perform, all of a sudden topics are being taken much more seriously. And we’re reassessing how we’re building our buildings, how we’re looking at the building as a whole in terms of how the enclosure and how the mechanical systems are interplaying with one another. And it’s definitely gotten the attention now that it deserves. We’re seeing questions like, how much glazed area do we want to have on our facade? Should we look at technologies like triple-glazed instead of double glazing? It definitely feels like there’s a paradigm shift going on in the industry. And it’s sparking a lot of interesting conversations.

Chris: And we’re seeing that in Florida as well. Probably over the last three to four years, I would say is when we’ve really been seeing that shift, as you said, that paradigm shift more toward a focus on the energy performance. As we were talking about before the podcast, we’ve got the additional layer in Florida and the other hurricane-prone regions of the impact on glazing requirements but five, six years ago, everything in the southern part of Florida was laminated glass, 9/16-inch laminated glass, no insulating values at all. But as the energy codes came into play, now we’ve got…not triple glazing yet in Florida but now we’re seeing insulated laminated glass requirements to meet the energy requirement as well. So…and of course, in Florida, our big thing is keeping the cool in where in the northeast where you are, it’s usually more a concern about keeping the cold out. So…

Adrian: Of course, I think that main difference is that, you know, we’re a heating-dominated climate versus a cooling-dominated climate like you said and…but I think there’s this misconception in the industry that U-value of the system isn’t as important in Florida. But if you think about it in the summer, all of that solar gain that you’re getting, it’s going to be very hard to maintain a comfortable interior environment. And it’s just going to require a tremendous amount of cooling load on the building. So I think that’s more of the challenge that you’ve faced down there.

Chris: Sure. And that’s…as you were saying, that gets into more than just the glazing system itself, but how much glazing is there going to be on the exterior building? How does that affect the HVAC system and design? You know, I can remember over the years, the different projects we’ve been involved with, where, you know, these people sitting in these offices and, you know, they just can’t get comfortable because of the type of glass and the limited insulating value. And no matter what they’ve got the AC set on, people who are near the windows or curtain wall, or whatever it may be in an office building are just…you know, it’s just uncomfortable because of there was no concern at that time about, you know, the U-value, the energy performance of these systems.

Adrian: So interestingly in California with…they had their Title 24, where there was a mandate. I believe it was in the early 2000s, maybe in the late ’90s, where all of a sudden, you couldn’t put a new piece of glass in that was monolithic. Every new piece of glass has to be an insulated unit. I guess when did you see that shift in Florida? And do you still see monolithic units going in and things like non-thermally broken framing?

Chris: Yes. In fact, in South Florida, still, primarily, most of the stuff is not thermally broken, most of the systems are not thermally broken. They’re just starting to look at that as one of the ways to meet the energy requirements. And even the glass itself, I don’t remember exactly when, but I’m going to say it’s been only in the last four or five years that it’s gone to the insulating glass in South Florida. So it’s definitely behind…we’re definitely behind some of the other areas as far as the energy constraints. And some of that was because the hurricane wind-borne debris impact codes came into play in the mid to late ’90s. And there was so little product availability that the main thing was just to get manufacturers who had tested products that could meet the impact requirements. And then, it’s only been recently that, you know, they’ve added that additional layer now to start to address some of the energy stuff.

Adrian: So let me ask you, Chris, with some of the aggressive structural and design pressure requirements on these fenestration systems here in…especially in Canada, and in the colder climate regions, we’ve seen some nonmetal manufacturers come out like UPVC, and perhaps fiberglass, just as a way to meet the thermal requirements and to perform at these aggressive energy targets. So one of the constraints that we’ve seen, especially in mid to highrise applications is that they don’t perform in a similar fashion or similarly to that of aluminum. And you don’t get that same strength to weight ratio and some of those structural characteristics that you would look for in aluminum. So have you seen any of those materials, I guess, explored in the market? Or have you, you know, experimented with any of that in commercial applications?

Chris: [crosstalk 00:08:24]. Yeah. I’ve seen it. Well, not so much commercial applications, because I think of the structural issues that you were mentioning. But I have seen in some…maybe say like kind of mid-rise type projects, where there are some manufacturers now, some…maybe some kind of local Florida manufacturers that are doing some stuff with fiberglass, PVC, those kinds of products, mostly I’ve seen in, like operable windows for…and as I said, mid-rise, apartments, those kinds of things. We’re seeing a lot more of that where they can meet the structural and impact requirements, because they’re relatively low loads, as opposed to a high-rise building but then get the energy efficiency. So we’re seeing some of that, but in all of the commercial, you know, high-rise, any of those types of projects, it’s still all-aluminum stuff here. Are you guys seeing that up in the northeast as far as, is it still predominantly aluminum when you’re talking, you know, high-rise, more substantial systems or there’s some other products as well coming into play there?

Adrian: Well, the limiting factor at the moment with aluminum systems is the thermal performance. Obviously, the long-term durability and structural performance is there, and it’s proven out. In all I’d say 99%…particularly, it’s all-aluminum and curtain wall and window wall. In some punched window applications, we’re starting to see some nonmetal applications. You know, for decades now, just because of the energy requirements, we’ve been putting in thermally broken systems. Every new project has at least a double insulated glass package with one Low-E coating. Now we’re seeing ultra-warm edge spacers. I mean, the technology is really ramping up just to meet the energy requirement. And every project we look at now, essentially, from the design team, they’re looking at a cost performance, you know, analysis on what a double versus triple insulated unit will look like. Can we even achieve our performance requirements with an aluminum system? So we are reaching we’re close to reaching a threshold with aluminum at the moment just to meet the new U-factor requirements. And that’s why we have to look at upgrading our glass technology and glass package if they want to design a highly glazed facade per coat.

Chris: Sure. And what are some of the trends you’re seeing? We’ve talked some about the aluminum and the structural components of these glazing systems. But what are you seeing as far as trends with the glass product and coatings? What are you seeing in your area as far as those?

Adrian: So, something that’s been introduced recently is, I’ve seen a soft Low-E coating now put on the interior surface. So on the number four surface of the IGU. So, having that second coating on the glass is giving better solar heat gain as well as U-value performance. I think that would be potentially a concern in the southeast environment. Just from some consultants I’ve spoken to, there might be risk of condensation, just if you’re in a residential application and you have an interior environment that’s a little more humid, you might run a risk of having that interior surface of the glass be, I guess, running close to the dew point. So again, you would run risk of condensation. So, I think in the past, we’ve seen hard coats on the interior surface and design teams would stray away from that. But now, especially with double insulated units, we’re seeing a second coating being introduced. And then when we’re looking at triple it could be one, two, or three coatings. I mean, it sounds…it sounds almost out of this world that we’re having this conversation, and I can’t even imagine a monolithic glass unit going into a system here today. And it’s crazy that that’s still going on in Florida. And the truth is, it’s just…it shows how much the climate has influence on the performance requirements of the building.

Chris: And I think now we’re to the point where there probably are no new monolithic projects. There were some prescriptive ways around the energy requirements in the beginning, where they could do some things and maybe comply with a monolithic situation. But I don’t…I don’t think they can anymore. I haven’t seen any in the last probably three years, something like that. But it kind of, like you said, it just kind of blows me away that you guys are, in your area, looking at triple glazing and actually three different layers of Low-E if you’ve got a triple glazing situation.

Adrian: I mean, yeah. It’s a…and what I talked about; I think we’re a step back from where Canada is at the moment. I think Toronto and Vancouver kind of led the way here with going for the overarching goal of being carbon net-neutral. They’re looking to hit it by 2030. I know a bunch of the lower states are looking at 2050, particularly cities like New York, DC, Boston. So, we’re following a lot of trends, especially facade trends that we’ve seen in Canada. And I just wonder how quickly the rest of the country is going to be…to adapt it. But I mean, we’re looking at double-skin curtain walls up in Canada. Triple glazing becoming almost the norm, and a strong, strong focus on the facade first. Getting the facade right so that you don’t have such a heavy requirement on your mechanical systems. And, you know, if you’re looking at the design of a new construction building, the design team can have a heavy influence on those decisions. The challenge becomes when you’re looking at retrofitting an existing building. And I think you look at individual components like the lighting or the mechanical system, or the roof and you just want to optimize. But the challenge is, all these systems work in unison and if you don’t have the right facade in place, it doesn’t matter how much you optimize the mechanical system, you’re just going to be bleeding energy out of the building.

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Chris: Right. And you were talking to me some about there are new requirements in New York and some of the other big cities in the northeast, actually looking at the existing buildings and the energy performance of those as well, right?

Adrian: Sure. So, we have something that was enacted in 2019, called Local Law 97, or the Climate Mobilization Act. And it essentially…it puts in a carbon emissions limit on buildings over 25,000 square feet. So they basically, depending on the type of occupancy, whether it’s a commercial office, residential building, hospitality, they’ll say, “This is your carbon emission limit,” or they call it in metric tons per square feet, “So this is your energy usage intensity. And anything that you are over that threshold, we’re going to elicit a fine, or in other words, a carbon tax on that building. So specifically, it’s $268 per metric ton, you are over the threshold.” So it’s aI was describing earlier, it’s become a paradigm shift because we’re looking at performance now more so than conformance. It’s not just, “Hey, you know, did you hit these LEED requirements?” or, “Did you build per the…per the energy codes?” We’re looking at how the building is performing. So, we’re looking at the Con Edison bills or your utility bills, and we’re saying, “Okay. What’s the energy usage intensity? And are you over the threshold? And if you are, then we’re going to fine you.” So it’s stringent. It’s a big deal. But it’s being adopted in other cities. And I think it’s really redirecting the attention to existing buildings. And all of those post-war buildings that were lapped up, you know, in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, now, there’s real ramification if they don’t comply. And they’ve given building owners a little bit of time. This law doesn’t go into effect until 2024. But it’s opening up the conversation to how to properly and effectively address these buildings.

Chris: And that’s something that we’ve not seen in Florida yet. But I’m sure as you said, it’s going to spread throughout the country. And it only makes sense if we’re concerned about energy performance, efficiency, consumption, all those things. You know, your existing building stock is…you know, there’s hundreds of years, or over 100 years worth of buildings versus what we build new each year. It’s just so many more out there affecting energy consumption. So, it makes sense that eventually, this is where it’s going to go. Have you been involved in actually any projects yet, where they’re looking at replacing exterior fenestration to try to come into compliance when this comes into play in a few years?

Adrian: That’s been the majority of our projects at the moment. When we sit here and look at doing either a window replacement or some type of curtain wall retrofit job, or they’re looking to over clad or maybe install some type of new rain screen, part of that design decision is going to be, “Okay. Are you going to conform with Local Law 97? And if not, how do we need to address or change this design?” I mean, everybody thinks about…we were talking earlier about all the new condo buildings that are being built in Florida. Now, the truth is, the minute that building gets their TCO, that becomes an existing building. So all the rows and rows of new high-rise buildings we see in South Florida along the water, those are all existing buildings. And if Florida has listed some type of local law where they put a threshold on how the building has to perform, you know, maybe there’s going to be ramification to, again, building with those monolithic glass units or installing the non-thermally broken frames. So yeah. I mean, that’s…all these projects in terms of retrofit and repositioning, that’s been an added component. Sure, we say, “Okay. If you put in all new windows, you’ll reduce your energy bills by this.” But there’s that added component, now we eliminate that fine component where you weren’t in compliance with this local law.

Chris: And very interesting, very interesting stuff. And with all of the focus on building performance now that there wasn’t 20, 25 years ago, it’s interesting to see that it’s going to evolve into how it affects all these existing buildings. Because we’re building them so much better now, right? I mean, the things…the new things being built now are so much better performing than what they were, as you said, in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. They weren’t even thinking about this stuff then. So…

Adrian: Yeah. I mean, I think the interesting or nice thing is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. We have the technologies. And we…it’s still the same types of systems being specced, and designed, and installed now. It’s just now there’s a, I guess, a reason to purchase. There’s more of a reason to consider them, I’d say. And it feels like we’re headed in the right direction. I mean, in 10 years from right now, I don’t know what we’re going to look back at and say, “Why were we doing that?” but I think we’re continuously progressing in terms of envelope and just building performance as a whole. I’m curious, have you had any clients or requests on projects to do any type of lifecycle assessment or energy modeling, or energy performance assessment?

Chris: Yes. That comes into play now a lot more, again, a lot more than it did 10 years ago. But people are looking at the whole building performance now here, and I’m sure they are there as well. And doing those analysis from the beginning and looking at how all those systems work together. Yes. So, we’re seeing that here as well.

Adrian: Sure. I mean, I know it’s very popular, you go on the water and you want that all glass. I saw you guys did a number of high-rise condominiums there, whether it’s window wall with terraces and balconies, or if it’s a curtain wall. Do you think we’re going to head in a direction where we can’t have facades that are so, you know, 70% glazed systems, and we’re going to look at more opaque areas? Or do you think people are just going to start spending and they’re just going to start specifying higher-performing systems just to meet the energy codes?

Chris: Well, I think…I mean, and that’s an interesting question. And it’s kind of a dichotomy in that previously…the technology for the impact-resistant stuff, just like energy performance, has been getting better, and better, and better. The manufacturers can make bigger pieces of insulated laminated glass. There’s much more knowledge now about what’s needed to pass the impact…the missile impact testing, and cyclic wind load testing requirements. So, from the standpoint of somebody who’s buying a high-end unit on the beach, these people want the biggest expanse of glass, the biggest openings, the most beautiful view they can have. But then, on the other side of that, there’s all these energy performance issues as well. So, you kind of have a push in both directions here in that the manufacturing capabilities are better from the building owner, unit owner standpoint. They want the most big, beautiful view they can have. And the architects want to give them that. But then also, there’s these limits on how much glass can you have and still meet the energy requirements. So we kind of have a push and pull going on here right now. And I would think too, you know, kind of the same thing, if somebody is buying…building something, you know, a ski lodge on the…on the slopes of some beautiful mountain somewhere, same thing, you know, you want these big, beautiful expanses. But then, how’s that affecting your energy performance?

Adrian: Everything’s a push and pull at the moment. I mean, we get calls that we wanted to do a curtain wall building, but we’re considering a passivhaus project. And can we make that work? We don’t have the budget for curtain wall. Maybe can we make it work with window wall? Well, do we need to go triple glazing? And the whole, it’s just the back and forth of a trade-off at the moment and every project seems to come down to compromise. I’m curious if you’ve had an experience with any of the dynamic glass suppliers. I know you previously had View Glass, a podcast episode. I believe it might have been with Paul. We’ve done a bunch of projects with them up here in New York. I’m curious about the implications of a system like that in Florida, especially where solar radiant heat is a much bigger concern. So, if you’ve seen any traction, and if you think there’s a future for that type of technology.

Chris: I think personally, I think there’s a future but as far as…we’ve been interested in that and definitely, as you said, I had them as a podcast guest and I’ve seen some presentations and things about that. But so far, I have not seen yet a lot of traction in big projects including that. It seems to me that it’s going to happen. But we haven’t seen a lot yet. And I’m interested. So, you guys have actually had some projects that included the dynamic glazing?

Adrian: We’ve done maybe three or four high-rise buildings. No new construction, all retrofit buildings. But yes, either curtain wall retrofit, or very large, large-scale operable that…I mean, I’m talking 10 feet wide by 5 feet tall with dynamic glass. A lot of it was with the same building owner and developer up here. But I think the technology is intriguing. And I asked about it just because again, of the solar requirements and demands in Florida, I would think it would make for an appealing product even more so down there. But I see it as maybe being, you know, innovative, trendy play, and people have bought into it. And I think it’s awesome when you see it in person, it’s quite neat. I call it like a “Shark Tank” product where the type of thing that you have to see in person, and then you’re sold. But I’m seeing more and more of it. I mean, I’m not saying it’s on 25% of projects right now. But they’ve done some substantial projects up here in the northeast. And I know you guys had them on as a guest, so I’m just wondering. That’s one of the glazing technologies I wanted to talk about. I think something we can see in the future is a lot more of, A, dynamic glass. And then, the other one is vacuum insulated glass. I’m hearing a lot about it right now. A lot of glass manufacturers are, I guess, going pedal to the metal trying to be one of the first to market. But I think that could be a driver in helping us still design and build highly glazed facades while still meeting the energy code requirements.

Chris: Right, right. Yeah. And our thoughts were the same as yours as far as it seems that with the dynamic glazing, it’s a perfect fit for Florida, and any kind of a hot, sunny area. But you know, like we were talking about with the push and pull, it’s a…it’s a money thing as well, that right now, if they can meet their energy requirements in some other way, and our glazing systems are so expensive because of the impact requirements on them, I think a lot of people just haven’t seen the cost-benefit there to go with the…with the dynamic stuff. But, you know, like everything else, if some developer start using it, as you said, it’s really neat. And then, it’s going to be a thing of…the next developer is going to say, “Well, you know, I can’t compete if I don’t have it.” So if, you know [crosstalk 00:28:02]…

Adrian: Of course. I mean, someone recently told me that projects sell projects. So I think, you know, they got their first big win here. And I think that, you know, built up the momentum. And once you have a portfolio of projects to display, all of a sudden…you know, there’s some consultants and design teams that are reluctant to specify or try somebody…try somebody out unless they have a track record or a history of [crosstalk 00:28:27] performance. I think that’s the component. But I mean, between all of these…considering triple glazing, considering dynamic glazing, something we’re seeing now here in the northeast is bird-friendly glass. I don’t know if that’s something you’ve seen yet. But another local law we have, Local Law 15 here is that every new piece of glass that goes into a building has to be considered bird-friendly, which I’m not a glass expert, I don’t want to speak to the specifics, but in essence, to my understanding, the glass has to have a certain threat on it, so that the birds can see it so that they can limit the amount of incidents they have. At the moment, I think there’s been…I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s not a funny matter. They’ve had a lot of incidents, I guess, all over the country where birds have collided with glass. So that’s…we’re seeing that trend.

So again, I mean, all these discussions, everybody wants the highly glazed facade. Everybody wants views, and the big windows, and the big fixed light. And all these new glass technologies having to be bird-friendly, having to possibly be dynamic, possibly going triple glazing, all of a sudden, your glass cost per square foot becomes pretty astronomical. And it makes it challenging to push for other things in the building. I mean, again, like we spoke about everything is a trade-off. So just for highly glazed facades, as I was saying to me energy codes, I think we’re going to have to see…I don’t want to say a little bit more competitive pricing, I think as these things become more commonplace, possibly the price per square foot of some of these technologies will come down a bit.

Chris: Yeah. Right. And that’s what we saw. It’s very similar to when we saw the impact resistance requirements come into play in Florida. At the time, you know, there was all this almost hysteria about, you know, “We’ll never be able to build another house or building. It’s going to be too expensive. No one can ever afford it.” And of course, yes. There’s lots of research. There’s lots of development. But people learn and people find more efficient ways to do things. People see what’s working and what’s not. And, yeah, sure. It adds cost. But if the requirement is there, you know, the market will figure out a way. And that’s what…

Adrian: Of course, of course.

Chris: …you know, eventually.

Adrian: And that’s what I think some of these energy…I think some of these local jurisdictions, and what, like I said, Toronto, and Vancouver have done. And now we’re seeing it in Seattle, where you have, you know, envelope backstops related to the energy performance requirements. So, I think as we’re seeing more and more adoption like you were saying, everybody’s…it came as a bit of a shock, but everybody’s starting to adapt and figure it out. And that’s sort of what we do in this industry. So, I mean, you have…in the southeast, a whole set of other challenges, as you were saying, with the impact’s requirements. Have you seen a spike in consideration of…new consideration of natural ventilation or maybe more operable windows on buildings, particularly with…I don’t mean to go on a completely different tangent, but with COVID? And I think, people, desiring maybe natural ventilation through operable windows or maybe access to outdoor space, like balconies, or terrace? Have you seen any of those influences coming in on design decisions?

Chris: Well, I read about that kind of thing. But knowing our market and the way it works, I mean, there’s always been a big interest in the outdoor space, the balconies, the patios, those kinds of things. But in Florida, basically, the majority of people use their air conditioning almost all the time. So, you know, we have all the operable windows in our houses, and even the high-rises, you know, there’s operable windows, and of course, sliding glass doors, on all the balconies, those kinds of things. But as far as the natural ventilation thing, like I said, I read about it, but I just don’t think it’s very practical here. Because, you know, it’s just too uncomfortable from a temperature standpoint, the majority of the year in Florida.

Adrian: Yeah, I mean, I think once we get up here in the spring and fall, obviously, you have your windows open, 24/7. And even in commercial applications, it gets so hot on the interior from some of the solar gain, and just all the interior heating loads that sometimes you see it in office buildings, the windows are open in the middle of winter, which I guess is normal to you because in the middle of winter down there, it’s 50 degrees and comfortable. Interesting to hear where it’s going. And I’m glad to hear some of those trends are being picked up over time in Florida. I don’t know how soon we’ll see triple glazing down there, as you were saying, but it sounds like we’re sort of headed in the same direction.

Chris: Could be someday. Yeah. Well, thank you for joining me today, Adrian. You’ve been a great guest. Lots of interesting stuff that we talked about. I always enjoy…you know, as you said, we do work all over the country so…but I always enjoy talking to people in different climates, you know, big cities in the northeast. Those kinds of things are interesting because there’s a lot that we can learn from each other, as you and I have kind of been doing on this podcast today. So, I want to thank you again for joining me. Hopefully, this has been as interesting for our listeners as it has been for you and me. If any of our listeners want to reach out to you, why don’t you share your website address and the best way to contact you?

Adrian: Sure, I appreciate that. It’ll be easy to reach out to me personally. My LinkedIn, @adrianlowenstein. You can find us at Skyline Windows at And if anybody wants to email me it’s I thought this was a great conversation too, Chris. And it’s always good to hear a different perspective and something that you’re not used to. So, I really appreciate you having me on and I hope your guests enjoyed it too.

Chris: Great. Well, thank you. We also invite our listeners to take a further look at our GCI Consultant Services on our website at And you can reach us at phone number 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you, Adrian and thanks to our audience once again. And I look forward to talking with you next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.

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Tremco Products and Applications for Building Envelopes

JB Snyder – Senior Technical Representative, Tremco Sealants

Everything Building Envelope Podcast Episode 64

Listen to Chris Matthews, GCI Consultants CEO & Founder talk with JB Snyder, Senior Technical Representative of Tremco Sealants, about the COVID-19, common waterproofing building envelope issues, and technology in the field. Listen in as the two experts discuss the in and outs of the current state of the Building Envelope landscape.

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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Chris: Welcome, everyone, to our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Chris Matthews, VP and Principal Consultant for GCI Consultants, and I’m your host today. I’m excited today to have as my guest, JB Snyder, who is a senior technical representative for Tremco Sealants. Welcome, JB.

JB: Good morning.

Chris: Great to have you here. JB and I have worked together on a lot of different technical projects through the years, as have a lot of our consultants here at GCI. And I think we’ll have a lot of interesting topics that we can discuss today. So JB, since this is your first time as our guest, why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and what you do at Tremco?

JB: All right, I’m Jeff Snyder. A lot of people in the industry know Jeff Snyder Jr. A lot of people know me as JB. Started in this industry in 2001, which dates me a little bit, but I’m kind of a second-generation waterproofing guy. My father started a couple years before I was born. I’m 42 now and he started back in the ’70s doing what I started as my first job being an estimator and project manager and working for a local waterproofing applicator here in Florida Metro Caulking and Waterproofing. So I started with him as an estimator and project manager in 2001, as I said. I worked there for about…I think it was about 10/11 years, working on a lot of projects in the field with GCI team and some of your former team members where I spent quite a bit of time in meetings and on the phone with some of your guys talking about the projects as an applicator.

And then in 2012, I changed teams and shirts and became a technical rep for Tremco. Tremco brought me on as a field technical rep. And then a couple of years ago, I got I guess you’d call it promoted in titles, so much to do a senior technical rep for all of Florida. So I work on everything building envelope like the podcast basically for Tremco products for all of Florida. The Florida team consists of a number of people kind of in different parts of the state. We have a couple of technical reps in the state. And I guess my title is Senior Technical Rep of the entire state for everything building envelope so ceilings, basements, patio decks, closet decks. Everything around a building is Tremco’s focus and my focus in dealing with discussions like this with you.

Chris: And what we like at GCI is we deal with different manufacturers in the industry. And what we like about dealing with JB and Tremco is just as he described that he’s got a real background in the industry. Some technical rep are really just salespeople, but JB has done it for a long time. And it really helps the project, the issues that we’re dealing with to have somebody from the manufacturer who really understands the products, the applications, and how to make it all go together out in the field and make it work. So great to have you here today. Let’s talk about what’s happening in our industry right now. I guess the first thing that we probably need to check off, because everybody is thinking about it and dealing with it is what you’re seeing as far as the industry and how it’s dealing with the COVID situation and specifically how Tremco is dealing with it.

JB: Well, that’s obviously the conversation that we’re having quite a bit, right? The Rolodex of people that we’re hearing and being in what they’re now calling the epicenter in South Florida at this point is a huge conversation point with just about everybody I talked to today and yesterday and every day right now. I think there’s a few things that are the normal talking points, which is the effect of COVID having a slowdown was pretty much inevitable. We’ve had a great run for a long, long time and seeing a little bit of a slowdown, whether it be the permit offices being restricted with allowing permits to come out and slowing some of the progress of our projects or just the idea that overall in general, you’re going to have a slowdown in business when something like this affects the economic interests of the country. But we saw a slowdown with or without it happening.

The main issue that I think on the day-to-day how that’s affecting us is the manpower situation, right, where that was already an issue trying to get qualified guys in the field to be able to put down our products or other people’s products or get areas ready for our folks to put down the product. And with manpower already being an issue and then hearing that due to the virus and what’s happening that crews are having to stay at home or quarantine for a little bit because one guy might have been tested or exposed. That’s become a little bit of a challenge. I talked to one of our applicator, one of our bigger applicators actually, who’s got somewhere around 200 guys in the field and they had 35 guys at one point that were not just sick, but had then exposed to some of the folks.

And to take 35 guys out in the field when you’re running a crew of 200, that’s a pretty big thing, right? And so we’re seeing the effects not just a, people getting sick and what’s happening, but we’re seeing the effects of the idea of, “Man, these guys are already struggling to find people to do the work. Now they’re having to keep a good portion of their crews at home for a prolonged period of time and not being able to do what they need to do. From a Tremco standpoint, I think the frequency of the in-person meetings we’re losing that. We’re doing a hell…I know you guys are in the same position. We’re doing a heck of a lot more of these conference call type things where we’re able to utilize technologies now that everybody has whether it’s Teams or Zoom or whatever it is, we’re doing a lot more of that.

And I think we’re getting better at it, but the truth is that face-to-face and sitting down and looking at layout of a project or where it is and being able to hammer that out is lost in the sense that we’re just less people are comfortable with it. Obviously, it’s more appropriate to go over teams. And in a way, start of it in March and April and what was happening, I think there was a layer of, let’s just say getting used to it. Everybody had to get used to doing that a little bit more. And so I see it getting better, but the loss of the frequency of those in-person meetings, I think in a way is…it’s kind of…I don’t know. You can’t quite get there and see and touch and feel everything and then have a full understanding right away of what we’re looking at when we’re trying to whether it’s designed something from the front end or maybe pick apart something that wasn’t quite done right on the back end.

Losing that, I think, will cause an issue in the sense that the value of having those experts there to go over that, whether it be you and our team or everybody together, is lost. And I’m hoping that the sooner the better we can get back to some of the normalcy in that sense. That value of seeing these types of things in person, you can’t quantify it when it comes to walking by and seeing something that is messed up and we’re going to look at something else and how that might affect it. But if I’m just looking at a screen and somebody’s dragging a cursor and, “Look at this and let’s go to this page,” you lose that, I believe.

Chris: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, it’s better than nothing for sure, and we would certainly be completely shut down if we didn’t have that. But I don’t know if you put a percentage on it or what. But I’m with you, it’s maybe 80% as good as getting everybody together. And being if you’re on the site, you can go out and look at the problem and everybody is looking at the same thing at the same time. But you can get it done remotely like we have to do right now. But I’m with you, I think we’re losing a little something there. I mean, it’ll be good when we can get back to 100% effectiveness, I guess.

JB: I’m glad we’re in the day and age we’re in now because I mentioned starting in 2001, when we would fax stuff, and I can’t imagine us faxing markups back and forth right now like, “Hey, what do you think of this?” “Hold on and I’ll fax you or whatever.” So I’m glad the technology exists to be able to do it instantaneously, and I’m glad we’re kind of getting caught up to speed on it with a number of people figuring out what to click on and how to click and share screens and back and forth and creating… Our industry is…I know in a way I feel like we’ve lagged in technology over the years. It’s getting a lot better with Procore. It’s getting a lot better with the Zoom meetings and Teams meetings. And I think maybe it just took this to get us to jump up faster. And then now that we’re equalizing in the sense that everybody knows how to do it and what to do and the etiquette on how to do it, it’s gonna make us better, but it’s not gonna replace what we can do in the field.

Chris: Exactly. It makes us better technologically. We’ve got an opportunity, hopefully, in the future you’ve got a kind of a mix. And you see, well, for this situation, we don’t really need to get everybody together. There’s obviously efficiency, it’s easier to schedule everything else, if it is something we can use the technology for. But then when we do all need to be there in one room or on one site or whatever, we need to get back to being able to do that as well. So when you’re out there on those sites, what are you seeing right now? What are some issues that…like you, we get involved in new projects, trying to avoid problems. And then lots of our work is going out there and trying to solve problems, whether it be product problems, application problems just age and deterioration, whatever it may be. What are some things you see in your end of things happening over and over?

JB: All I see is sunshine and rainbows every day. That’s how it goes, right? Nobody does anything wrong. But truthfully, there’s always gonna be consistency in the problems that we see. There’s outliers that make our jobs, I think, more, more fun, because if you kept seeing the same dumb things all the time, it just becomes a stamp kind of, “Okay, this is what we do. This is what we do.” So it’s cool to have the new problems. But the stuff that we see all the time that that bogs us down and kind of drags a little bit of the life out of you like, “Man, why didn’t we talk about that?” Those are going to be consistent I think forever because they are consistent problems. For me, it’s gonna be traditionally, you’re gonna see connections. That’s where I see the problems where one unique thing may come in to a standard thing or two standard things come together and we see a problem.

I know that pool connections on pool decks will always be a challenge, because it seems that every single time there’s a little nuance difference to a pool, they’re not consistent, and they always do something that’s typically worse in the design than better when it comes for our waterproofing purpose. I know that the best jobs that we had back in the day were the ones where they created a big pool shell that we were able to waterproof. And then when that pool did whatever it was gonna do, we had waterproofing in that pool shell. So you hope that we had learned and we see a lot more of those now where we got a big pool shell and we can waterproof into that shell which is fantastic. So in a way that connection issue has somewhat gone away. We don’t see it on every job but we’re seeing it a lot more.

But what we see now more often that’s become a challenge for that, just dialing down on connection at pools, what now I’m seeing is “Okay. Well, we’re gonna have a pool gutter that wraps around it. Or we’re gonna have a stainless steel pool that tries to tie in. Or this one’s got a PVC liner that you have to figure out how to detail up against it.” And that connection has just been a challenge for us in the sense that we can waterproof the deck, we can waterproof the shell and figure out how to do that. But connecting to a pool has been a challenge for us in the sense of, “Can we add a curve? Can we do this? Or how is that gonna work?” And the metal pool shows up and it’s too small. So now what do we do? Because the opening is yay big and the pool is this big? And what are we gonna do? It’s your responsibility to go from that to this type of thing.” Pool connections have been a challenge for me most recently, including this morning. I had a conversation this morning before we started this. I don’t know if you’re seeing the same.

Drains are the other thing. We can design every waterproofing system to be the best it’s gonna be, but if we don’t have proper drainage, whether it be…a lack of slopes seem to be a big part, obviously, with the way we build in Florida. But the drain locations or drain existence or types of drains has been a problem for my near 20 years in this business, and that just seems to continue. I know that there’s a project we’re working on right now in Florida with your team where there’s, I don’t wanna exaggerate so I’d say somewhere around 25,000 square feet of hot applied waterproofing in this area. And with that amount of square footage, you’d think there’d be, I don’t know, a drain every 2,000 feet. I’m not a drain engineer or a plumbing engineer, whatever you wanna call it. But I’d say there needs to be a significant number of drains.

In this project 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of waterproofing, we have to drain two drains on the entire deck, and those were the only two drains. It’s is an open area. Somewhat partially open area, and water is gonna to find its way 100 feet across and around and down elevators and the whole thing, or shear walls, etc. to try and make it into one of these two drains that just so happen to be right near each other. They’re probably 10-feet away from each other in the center with 20,000 square feet surrounding them. That’s a problem. Now, hopefully, we don’t have a bunch of issues, but not having enough drains or not having the right type of drain, all that stuff.

You can put the best waterproof in there you can. We have hot applied, we know that could sit underwater. But how does that affect everything else is my question. How does that affect the overburden or the pavers or the efflorescence issues or just the headache of that drain getting build up the wrong way or clogged or whatever. And now we have water building up and going where it’s not supposed to go. If we have a significant number of drains, then we eliminate that. But that’s not something we really get to talk to being waterproofing guys. And I don’t know how much that you get into it from GCI’s standpoint of, “How can we fix this problem? Or I don’t know that you’re really analyzing how many drains there are.”

I had a conversation today and there’s a planter and there is no drain. There’s no drain in the planter. It’s just the box and they have no drain. And they say, “Well, what can we do?” Well, add a drain, you know? Put a drain in there.” It’s one of those types of things that I think will forever be part of our industry.

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Chris: They’re kind of similar issues too. And we kind of try to step back and look at the big picture, how are you gonna make…that’s kind of our role as a consultant, how are you going to make this all work together? And it’s just as you said, connections. And connections, I mean, you mentioned the pool to deck connection. We probably got five of those right now. Existing buildings with problems at that very detail that you’re describing. It’s a little different every time, but it didn’t get done right on five different jobs that I can think of right now. And it’s connections and everything. And I know Tremco gets into, you guys are addressing the whole envelope now. And it’s the same thing in walls. You can have the greatest curtain wall guy in the world, but he knows curtain walls. When he gets to how his curtain wall interfaces with waterproofing or a weather barrier around it or what have you, that’s a connection that can get overlooked. And it’s not his curtain wall that’s going to leak. It’s going to be where those two systems come together.

And the same thing with the drains. As you mentioned, we’re not plumbing experts either, but we try to look at all of that in the beginning because, as you said, no matter how good the products are, if you don’t have slope, if you don’t have drains, if you don’t think about where is this water going to be draining and what’s it gonna look like when this water with asphaltic waterproofing in it runs down the side of these buildings? All these kinds of things, you try to look at the whole picture and put it all together in a way that functions. Or in the example the pool decks, resolves these problems, which ends up I’m sure as you see a lot, it would have been a lot simpler to put that drain in that planter in the beginning and a lot cheaper than after the fact.

JB: Yeah, the other thing, and you’ve kind of touched on it, right, is sort of the uncertainty from I’ll exclude GCI because you guys are great at it. But some of these folks, their uncertainty in product recommendations. There’s a lot of people out there that are “waterproofing consultants,” or whatever you want to call. There’s a lot of people out there making recommendations that I think are maybe not the best choice for what we should do where we’re doing it. And I know that that’s part my job is to educate or be a resource to all these folks. We communicate a lot with your team and architects in the industry about, “Hey, I got this. What can we use?” Because just because you did it on the last job or another job or because another manufacturer rep might have talked to you about it yesterday doesn’t mean that it quite fits the thought process for what you’re doing here.

I had a phone call this morning with an architect, who was recommending a pedestrian deck coating system in an interstitial space on over a penthouse on a roof deck pool with a metal pool installed in that area so kind of a Triple Decker Whopper situation where we have too many headaches. And the uncertainty from his eyes was, “Hey, I got your [inaudible 00:18:46] one going in there, but I’m gonna have the [inaudible 00:18:48] applied up on the top deck. And we might have a little condensation in there. I’m like, “Man, you’re not gonna have condensation in there. This is gonna be a real problem here.”

And had already kind of half moved forward with this, but was double-checking with me thankfully, that we had the conversation. Otherwise, we would have been in a situation where it’s priced dumb gone, and somebody’s doing something that maybe we could have had a better product with a better system in that area. So when we know that pool is gonna sweat, we know there’s gonna be a ton of water in there, we have something like our Puma system in the interstitial space or 250, or 61. Whatever it is, we have a longer 20-year basically permanent waterproofing system going in underneath there so that we’re not coming back in 10 years trying to find out what’s going on or trying to make remedies to the situation.

In those cases, metal pool interstitial area, you know they’re never gonna be able to come back and fix that or recoat it or maintain it. It’s just not gonna happen. Nobody is gonna come with a crane and lift it up so we can remove some waterproofing and re-waterproof. And the guy’s knowledge is great, “Hey, Tremco. But maybe we need to shift it to a product recommendation, that’s a better fit for what you’re trying to do here.” With low-grade walls, we get into that quite a bit where it’s, “Well, what about this, what about that where we got frangible situation?” “Don’t go that route. Go this route.” And having some of that. I know that’s my job and we’re here to tell people make sure you do this provide as many tools of Tremco as you can. But I see that quite regularly, whether it be Tremco’s products or other people’s products it’s just there’s so many different groups out there nowadays.

Like you look back 20 years and there’s a lot less product. Nowadays, the industry is so specialized and boutique. But what’s nice about that is you have a number of tools in your tool belt to be able to fix those problems. But what it also lends itself to, in my opinion, and the problem I see over and over is because there’s so many options, people aren’t really quite sure and they sort of just pick what they’ve used in the past, and that might not have been the best fit for that job. So better communication I think helps that. Like, I mentioned earlier, I spoke to the architect this morning. He was going one route, but we sort of were able to curb that issue by saying, “Hey, you’re better off going this direction.”

Where that communication breakdown happens where it’s already in place on the drawings and the guy is out there getting started, we go, “Wait a minute. We probably should be using something a little different here.” That’s the issue we have. Or we’re down the line three, four or five, however many years later, and I get a call from you guys are some other folks that are saying, “Hey, these guys did this here.” And like you said, I got a bunch of asphalt bleed out on the side of the building because they decided to use a product that had that leaching situation. Or I got [inaudible 00:21:51] all on my pavers because they decided to go with a type of waterproofing that doesn’t drain well with no drainage mat on the bottom of the pavers and now we have problems. Well, maybe we should have used a different product or a different system in that area.”

Those problems aren’t gonna go away just because there’s not an expert on every corner trying to help. And I’m hoping that through further education and through contracting with somebody like GCI, you’re gonna say, “Hey, well, here’s your options. But based on what you have, we recommend this type of system or that type of application for where and what we’re gonna do for the scope area.” Do you follow me?

Chris: Yep. And that goes back to what we were talking about in the beginning. And what we appreciate about you and knowledgeable product reps like you is as you said, there are a great amount of tools out there right now, but a good product rep knows his company’s options better than anybody. And we like to get you and people like you involved early on so that we can make those right selections. And it’s exactly like you said, with so many architects, it’s just cut and paste, “Well, we used this on the last job.” So I’m just gonna say the same thing here again, they may not even know why. And it might work if they’re lucky, but there could be a lot of better options for sure.

JB: I was gonna mention one more thing on that because I think it’s important.

Chris: Yeah, go ahead.

JB: It’s almost like where we’re going type of idea. But the architects are walking away from a lot of this stuff, in a lot of ways. They’re just waterproofing and leaving the liability up to others. That misplaced liability aspect is getting more and more popular in the sense that they’re spending less money on paying for these drawings. They’re utilizing folks like GCI to say, “All right, I’m gonna say waterproofing, but I want GCI to put together a package that says what this is gonna do,” trying to move that liability away from them. And I think having worse plans and then increased liability to the consultants and the manufacturers is sort of an interesting part of our world. If you take your day out and put it into a pie slice of what you spend your time on, getting into the idea of, “Okay, put the liability on me,” is an interesting thing to say.

But you mentioned Tremco. That’s really what we go towards is, “Let us figure out how to handle that for you, and then we keep both of us out of trouble, because you don’t make the bad recommendations and I give you what it’s meant to.” And Tremco does a pretty good job of allowing us to be technical reps rather than sort of, you mentioned it early, but commission compensated type of guy, etc. Sort of crowbar in like, “Well, if you do this, then I get to go to Hawaii next year or whatever.” Like, we’re sort of…I get paid the same amount whether you use Tremco or not that’s the truth.

I’ve got to position Tremco in a winning stance amongst others and promote it and all that, but the truth is I can say, “Well, you got options, Chris. We can do this or we can do this. Or what might be best is if we did the first item, but then we go a little bit better over here and then we’re all protected here. And then we didn’t do something stupid. Or I know that this might work, but what I see us doing in Florida that works a lot better is we use this vapor permeable air barrier versus the peel and stick that not a lot of guys like to use all the time because they just get…they have headaches because it’s raining.”

Whatever it is we’re able to provide the tool, but we’re also able to take the liability away from the design professional who doesn’t know any better and he goes on the website and says, “All right, here’s one that I think works.” We’re better off taking that liability, wrapping it up, and putting it in a nice package and sending it to an email, “Hey, here’s what we would recommend for this job.” And that, I think, is gonna help us all build better buildings. That’s the end goal, right?

Chris: Yep. Exactly. Right. Right. That’s the goal to get it done right. Exactly. So you’re kind of touching on where you guys would like to see things go. And what do you see happening? We talked about what we’re stuck in the middle of right now and some of the problems we’re seeing right now. But what are you and Tremco seeing for, like, the next 5, 10 years, what’s happening down the road from your perspective?

JB: I would absolutely be happy to talk about the future because right now is kind of crappy so let’s move it on. That’s a great question in the sense that what’s happening now I think is gonna keep happening in our industry and from the manufacturer’s side with consolidation. I just spoke on the displaced liability piece where you can take that part away from the architect or the owner and say, “Give it to me and I’ll wrap it up.” So the mergers you’ve seen from Tremco where we grabbed a number of RPM companies and put them together under the new company Tremco is now Tremco Construction Products Group. And that includes your CSMW, the commercial sealants and waterproofing division that you know as the waterproofing portion. But Dryvit is now in the same umbrella as me, Nudura, which is an insulated concrete forms company, Willseal Expansion Joints. We work hand-in-hand with Nuclear Repair Mortar.

So basically you have everything building envelope. And they’re talking about the six sides of the building when you add the Tremco roofing division in as well, six side of the building bottom, four sides, and top you can wrap with Tremco. And I think that’s not just Tremco. That’s sort of where the competitors are going, too. When you see the consolidation where you used to just have one or if you took the sheet of waterproofing or building envelope, you’d have some of the manufacturers just would have sort of polka dots in that area or just have one vertical column but they don’t play here. I see consolidation happening throughout the industry because we’re all driving towards better buildings, like we just mentioned. And the best way to build these buildings is to sort of be able to wrap it all in one package with a tested and warranted system that you and I would be able to provide and an owner should be able to sleep at night, right? I can say, “Hey, we’ve done this on a lot of projects.”

And going back to the very beginning of what we talked about, which is the connections, we’re able to warrant those connections for you. Or here’s a tested, warranted application with the detail for how to do it. And oh, by the way, we have a test roll up in Cleveland that we’ve done this, and we can give you the data to show that this is going to work, not just tell you, “Well, it worked down there at that one job and seems like nobody’s called us. We didn’t have any problems. So let’s just do it again.” We’re taking it from a third-party level, validated situation and putting it in front of you saying, ‘Here’s the best way to go.” So consolidation I’m positive that’s gonna happen down the road and it’s gonna get further and further bigger and better, I would say, for everybody, for all the manufacturers.

Chris: I’m just gonna add that we’ve been, I think back for years, even on a real kind of basic level 15, 20 years ago, we would be on a job where somebody’s got three different sealant manufacturers that they’re using on the job, and maybe all of those different joints are coming together at one location. And even way back then we were saying, “Hey, at least consolidate to one sealant manufacturer so you don’t have three different warranties and three different issues here.” And then we get into the same thing all the time where two or three different products are coming together and we’re saying, “Well, you’ve got to get a letter from every one of those manufacturers to address compatibility. And are there gonna be any other issues where these three different products from three different manufacturers come together?” So what a great thing for the industry and performance, as you said, making a better building, if that’s all covered by one company, one warranty, their products are already all designed to work together and you’ve actually got a connection detail between it. So it makes our job easier and makes the building better from the start, I think.

JB: The warranty piece is interesting from the Tremco standpoint because we’ve been working on our building envelope. I know I remember talking to your team at a lunch and learn, I wanna say, a year and a half, two years ago on the warranty piece. And I’ll give you the fast version of it because I think this is…I was part of this from the beginning, but Buchholz, who’s our division manager. He’s been on the podcast, I think, maybe a year plus ago. He was on a while ago. But he’s been instrumental in getting this to work where we have a new building envelope warranty in the sense that you can take the existing warranty type system that you’ve seen in the past, which essentially is…you get that. Well, that’s just a piece of paper type of excuse a lot of times when you talk about warranties, right, “It’s just a piece of paper. I know it says five years or 20 years, or whatever it is that’s whatever.

What we’re trying to do is change that, make it more than just a piece of paper, which I think is really cool. So previous warranties, I’m gonna simplify it to make it easier for both of us. But if we had maybe a basement waterproofing and a vehicular coating in a garage and it’s about waterproofing, you would get either three separate warranties maybe from three separate manufacturers or maybe you’d get one. Let’s say Tremco is doing waterproofing, what essentially would happened was you’d get three different warranties for each piece of that. Now what we’re doing with the new building envelope warranty is just like you said, and I don’t know if you meant to say it or not, but you will get one warranty for the entire building.

And how it works is literally, when you’d have three separate warranties, you’d essentially have three buckets that would give you the coverage for each area. So had you had, I don’t know, a couple thousand square feet of vehicular coating in the garage, but maybe 100,000 square feet on the balconies, if you ever had an issue with this one area, you were restricted to the dollar value just for that vehicular area. So 1000 square feet, 2000 square feet, you might be restricted to a couple thousand dollars of coverage. Now, typically Tremco is always gonna kind of cover that anyway, if we ever had an issue, which is rare. But if we ever had an issue, we’re gonna cover it. But a lot of times, the owners didn’t like, “Unless it was in writing, it didn’t exist.”

The new warranty, which you said, like, one warranty for the whole system would literally create one big bucket for everything Tremco on the job. So basements, plaza decks, vehicular decks, whatever it is, you’re creating an entire job warranty with one warranty that has each item on it and creates one big bank for all that as well. So one, the more Tremco you put on it, the more coverage you have in your big overall view of the project. But two, there’s also little caveats about, “We’re gonna recommend using a firm like GCI on the project approved third-party consultants knowing end result being a better building. If we have third-party oversight, there’s really only a few of us. But if you’re involved, we’re able to give longer warranty. So if it was five years before we’ll be able to give 7 years. If you have multiple components of Tremco on the job was, we’ll be able to give them longer. If you put two pieces together, we might be able to give connection warranties for those areas with longer terms.”

There’s a lot going on there. Labor included for all the warranties as well. So if there’s an issue, we’ll pay for the labor and the material where it used to be labor. So I could see that being a big deal for the industry in that sense when Tremco drives something, they’ve always kind of been innovators. I can see warranties getting better in the next 5, 10 years from amongst our crew, because warranties have always really been a sales tool. And then they kind of lost their speed in the sense that what we would hear when we talk about warranty, “Ah, well, it’s just a sheet of paper.” They weren’t really being utilized as what they could be. So this building envelope system, I’m super excited about it moving forward on a multitude of reasons. We could do two more podcasts just on the warranty program. So I don’t wanna waste too much on it. But the key is driving the industry to perform in terms of where the warranty is gonna be whether it be for an entire project, or proportions of the project, I could see that getting to be a bigger talking point in our industry, for sure for sure, in terms of building envelopes.

Chris: And I think as we’ve been talking about, it ends up being a better building and that’s what it’s all about, right? The party who suffers in all these deals and usually had nothing to do with the problem is the building owner. And as you know, we do a lot of litigation work on buildings with problems. And it always just strikes me as there’s a lot of different people out here pointing fingers at each other about why something went wrong. But the one party out here who didn’t do anything wrong for sure, is the person who put up the money and built this building, whether it’s a commercial building…

JB: And who suffers, yeah that’s correct.

Chris: Or it could just be a single family home owner, whatever it may be, we get involved in all different types and sizes of projects with building envelope issues. But the one party who almost always had no part of the blame is the person who’s got to live with it. And then you’ve got a lot of others out there pointing fingers at each other about why things went wrong. What we’re talking about won’t solve every one of those problems, but it’ll go a long way toward preventing those. Going back to what we talked about before, connections and interfaces, and planning about how all these systems come together, even if the architect didn’t address what he should have, even if the con tractor didn’t address what he should have when you’ve got one manufacturer providing a lot of these products.

And you’re talking mostly about horizontal applications in waterproofing, but it’s weather barriers and walls, it’s sealants, it’s how those systems interface with the waterproofing at a breezeway or a balcony or whatever. The more of that that can be covered by one firm who’s looking at the big picture, I think it’s gonna eliminate a lot of these issues that we see later on.

And then make the warranty mean something. As you said, everybody views it right now as just a piece of paper, but what would be great is if you don’t need it, right, if the building performs right. And I think you would hope that that’s the goal, I know from Tremco’s standpoint, it’s kind of a sales tool still in that, “We cover the whole envelope.” But also on the fact that you’re looking at the whole envelope that you’ve got a vested interest in making sure that not just your stuff works, but the whole envelope works. Maybe that someday it comes to a point where people don’t have as many problems and because the warranty means something, they don’t ever have to rely on it.

JB: I think some of the unintended consequences of having a better warranty system to talk about people with is maybe you start to talk about things that might have fallen through the cracks had we not said, “Hey, we’re talking about the whole building envelope here. So what are we doing here or what are we doing there?” It helps to focus the discussion when you’re building when you’re bolting on these products and systems onto a building, whether it’s restoration or new construction. If we’re in restoration side, we can say, “Hey, we have the balconies we’re doing this or that. But listen, we have Dryvit systems that we can put on the wall. So we’re here kind of building that warranty you’re able to bolt on any system that you might not have known where you can actually grow and provide a tested warranted system for your facade, just like you said. I was thinking flat areas, but I didn’t realize that I’m putting a new skin on my building while I’m at it, I can build an envelope with the facade system and the air barrier and the balconies all together on one package. And you hand me a warranty that says and it’s all covered?”

“Yeah, one finger to point, one throat to choke, whatever you wanna say, we did it. But we designed it the way it’s gonna work.” And you don’t have one guy’s stuff and then how does that go to another guys and what do I do? Who goes first? That’s always been the headache, “Well, I’m gonna go first and let them tie in to me.” “No, no. We gotta go first then they can…” That’s always been one of my headaches. But if I told you, I’m going to go first twice, that’s the best way to do it. I’ll do that and then, I’ll do that right afterwards. Let me handle all of it.

People just like to hear that. The same problem with the connections and we might come back to it a few more in this conversation, but if you can take the connection issue away and say, “Give me the connection, I’ll handle it.” Then they go, “Fine. Great. Love it. Displace liabilities.” It’s fantastic when you’re trying to figure out headaches on a project, you can always finger-point the obvious ones but sometimes, they’re less obvious. But if I’ve already figured them out, then don’t worry about it. That’s a big deal.

In terms of, what else, five to 10 years down the road, I think new technologies. If you go back 10 years, right, with where we are from 10 years ago, you don’t need to go back 20 years. But even if you went back 10 years, you’re gonna see that there’s technologies from all different manufacturers for all types of applications. I think you’re gonna see from a manufacturer’s standpoint, we’re always looking for something that’s easy to do that is not gonna cause us problems. So ease of application is one thing, but we’ll get you off fast. So it’s less of an issue around here unless we’re talking about rain. But I think what we wanna do in construction is elongate the construction season. So if you’re in northern climates, you wanna be able to do stuff in colder temperatures, but also shorten the construction schedule, which means make it go faster so I don’t have to… I’m not waiting for you guys to finish something when we can get off a job quicker.

I think that’s the overall viewpoint, at least from Tremco’s standard, right, how can we take just putting waterproofing or an air barrier system down in eight months out of the year and make it 10 months or 12 months whatever it is. That’s important in the sense that we can come up with a way to make your job go faster by opening up the season. I think in South Florida specific we’ve always seen headaches with damp concrete construction schedule is driven green concrete, but damp conditions where we’re getting rain all the time. Or even in below grade applications. We have our new below grade product Amphibia, which is kind of a pre-applied membrane for slabs that performs very well. Actually, better than a bentonite where it self-heals, self-steel, the overlaps, etc. But if it gets rained on, we’re not the guys telling everybody the guys building on the rebar, etc. We’re not these guys saying, “Well you can’t walk on it for 24 hours anymore. Or you can’t mess up the waterproofing.”

That type of product, I think is gonna be where we’re going into the future because, one, it’s fast for construction, you’re not delaying people. But two, it allows for better technology than what the past technologies of standard bentonites might be, right? It performs a little bit better and doesn’t get disturbed in environments that are typical of being in a pit, 20-feet below grade and a pump fails, or we get a massive rainstorm and we see what happens to those types of systems. But if we had a product like Amphibia where we don’t have to worry about it, you basically hose it off and move forward. Well, now we’re not ripping out $50 grand worth of material and having to replace it with new material that might just get rained on the next day anyway. That’s sort of the headache with that world. Those types of technologies.

Puma, I know we’ve worked on a number of Puma jobs [inaudible 00:42:17]. But Puma is a game changer for waterproofing in my opinion. You can use one type of waterproofing, whether it be on a deck, under a pool, through a planter, back and forth, monolithic the whole way. That technology is moving our industry to better places but getting people done faster so that they can, one, use the manpower somewhere else and two, make more money somewhere else as well, not just use the manpower, which is gonna be short.

Technologies are going to be pretty cool moment for. I’m sure it’s cool when somebody comes and talks to you about a new product and he likes it. Obviously, some of us are skeptics at heart. I’ve always been the guy that’s like, “I’ll believe it when I see it or I wanna see…” I like to see it happen a couple times first. It’s always cool to hear what the next coolest thing is and why that’s going to be better than what we’ve been doing in the past, specifically in technologies in our industry. Because we’ve seen some innovations over the years that are game changers to me game changers. What we used to do is gone now compared to certain applications.

The big one I remember was the 250GC. And I know this is so simple, but our elevator pit. The original green concrete waterproofing was bentonite. You couldn’t put a fluid applied on an elevator pit unless you waited 28 days. Well, when you told somebody, “The architect has a fluid applied here and you gotta wait 28 days.” They would scream at you saying, “I don’t have 28 days to wait for an elevator pit. I gotta build my building.” And so you saw bentonite there. But when 250GC came around, you said, “Oh, I got the fluid applied and I can put it on right after you pull the forms, 24 hours, whatever.” “Fantastic. Do it. Go.” That was the first game changer in terms of the liquid-applied green concrete technology. Well, now every manufacturer has a green concrete product. All of them have moisture tolerance in their systems in one way or another. And that’s a driver. These new technologies, I think, make the industry better. They push people to do better things, come up with better products and better ideas to do what we do.

And I think when we push our technologies that are circling back for the, I don’t know, the third or fourth time in the conversation, we get a better building. When we have products that last longer and perform better and handle the elements better, then you get a better building. Because then hopefully, GCI is not coming around going, “Well, why is this all messed up? Or what did we do here” I mean, “Oh, well, it got trashed. And oh, that was where we had the big rain that day and we thought it was okay.”

Whatever it is, we’re able to provide a technology that can handle some of these worst conditions with worse designs or lack of a design for that area. And we can give you the product that might perform long-term there, not just perform. That’s the idea with newer technologies.

Chris: Yep. And that is exciting and probably a good place for us to end it today on looking forward to those technologies and what’s next improving products and building performance, construction, time, the whole thing. Well, I can talk to you about this stuff whole day, JB, but they’re telling me we gotta wrap it up. So I appreciate you coming in today, lots of good stuff. Why don’t you tell our audience how they can get in touch with you at Tremco if they need your expertise?

JB: Thank you again, Chris. I appreciate it. And I know it’s short notice. I got a nice vacation next week that I’m lining up, so thanks for taking this today. I had a great time. I really appreciate the invite. I’m just Jeff Snyder. You can find me is my email, or you can go on the website and find your local rep wherever you are in the country. Everybody will be happy to hear that you listened to this podcast. And hopefully, we can discuss your building’s envelope issues down the road. And thanks, again. I really do appreciate your team and your time as well.

Chris: Okay. Well, thanks for joining us today. I’d like to thank everyone for listening to our podcast, and we invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at You can also reach us at 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you again and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast.

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Catastrophe Insurance Claims

Tara Stone – President, Stone Claims Group

Listen to Paul Beers, GCI Consultants CEO & Founder talk with Tara Stone, president of Stone Claims Group, about catastrophe insurance claims, wind storms, and hurricanes amidst this year’s current hurricane season. The two experts discuss the in and outs of the insurance claim process and how building envelope experts work together with insurance adjusters to identify damage.

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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Paul: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Paul Beers, CEO and managing member of GCI Consultants, and I’ll be the host today. I’m really excited today to have our guest, Tara Stone. Tara is the president of Stone Claims Group. Tara, welcome.

Tara: Hello, Mr. Beers. Pleasure to be here.

Paul: So we’ve got a really interesting thing to talk about today. We’re basically gonna be talking about insurance claims, and hurricanes, and wind storms, and what to do around all that. As we’re recording this, we’re right in the middle of hurricane season. And I know it’s on the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. So, Tara, you and I have known each other for a while, we’ve worked together, and I was thinking about before we did this podcast that we’ve been there, done that before because you actually had a radio show you were hosting a few years back in Panama City, and I was one of your guests. So now we have a role reversal, don’t we?

Tara: You’re the boss today.

Paul: Yeah, I like being the boss. So anyway, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your business, and then we’ll get into the topic?

Tara: Well, thank you. I have the best job in the world because I take money that’s well-deserved for my clients from conglomerates that they pay policy premiums for. And I’m very good at it, and I love it. Extremely passionate. My background is I’ve been in the industry since 2000. I worked for the carriers for the big names that everyone knows, and I spent 15 years doing that. I was one of the top adjusters all over the country. I personally settled over 10,000 to 12,000 wind and hail claims over the course of my career working for the carriers. I worked in every state except 11 that I lived over a month.

And I saw the industry change from 2000 to 2014 when I left working for the carriers. And then in 2014, and I worked to start to represent policyholders. And since then, I merged with a gentleman by the name of Blaine Vermaelen, who had his public adjusting firm since the early ’90s. We started Your Private Adjuster, and that merged into Stone Claims Group. We’re now over 18 states, and we have, again, the best job in the entire world because we help policyholders nationwide.

Paul: Bravo, bravo. So let me ask you, Tara, what was your perspective working with the carriers as opposed to what it is now working for the policyholders?

Tara: Well, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it kind of deal. So I really felt like I was doing the right thing when I was working for the carriers. I went to all of their claims training, I went above and beyond to deliver good customer service. I felt like I wanted to pay everything for my insurers and did the best job that I knew how with the tools that I was given. I must say, though, that it wasn’t a matter of what I wanted to do. And things were different back then. We actually had checkbooks with us and wrote checks, and wrote the letters, and had a policy, and looked at it, reviewed it.

I remember sitting around with management when we first started in the early 2000s, looking at policies, trying to figure out ways that we could pay claims. By the time I left in 2014, the culture was very different. It was inside adjusters versus outside adjusters. The outside adjusters had no settlement authority. They did not write checks, they did not write letters, and now I find many of them don’t even know what’s in their own policy that they’re there to do an inspection for.

So as an adjuster working for the insurance company, no matter what I saw, I was bound by what was called operational guidelines. When we would go to every storm, for example, they’d have an induction center and they’d say, “Okay, these are the things that we’re paying on the storm. If you pay for a roof, you can pay for a roof, but don’t pay for drip edge.” Even though the drip edge is 20 years old and installed the same time the roof was and no one in their right mind would not do that, it was whatever the company’s operational guideline was based on state specifics.

So I did my best to do a thorough inspection of the property, include everything I could within the operational guidelines. But what I also realized now that I didn’t know then was I was not trained as an adjuster to truly identify damage. We were told in a hailstorm, for example, there’s no way that hail can damage windows. We were told on hurricanes, well, if it’s broken, of course, include it. If it’s blown out, include it. Other than that, the wind shouldn’t cause damage to the windows. They never gave us training on what to look for or how to look for them.

So all of those claims, the 10,000 to 12,000 claims that I paid for over the course of 14 years working for the insurance companies, even though I probably had one of the records of paying the highest adjuster, I probably paid for, I don’t know, less than 100 windows, maybe less than 50 windows, only the ones that were broken. If you walked up and could see that there’s no glass in it, then they would let me pay for it or let me include it in the estimate. Other than that, we were not trained in identification of damage and we were not trained in what could happen to the openings, which completely makes sense.

Now, in this use, with all of the education that I’ve done, and really working with industry professionals, and attending seminars, and seeing these things firsthand when you actually know to look for them, it makes sense if you have a concrete building and wind is blowing up against it, what’s gonna get damaged? The concrete or the piece of glass and the metal frame around it? So I think that’s the biggest difference that I had in this position is understanding with an open mind of clarity where the damages should be when you look at a building and as it relates to wind damage, and how to prove and document those damages to the carrier.

Paul: So you just pushed one of my hot buttons, as you probably can imagine. What is damage to a window? So, you know, you said that the insurers said, you know, if it’s got broken glass or it’s blown out of the opening, how could it possibly be damaged? My question for you is, is that what it says in the policies?

Tara: The policy doesn’t say anything about windows. The policy simply says they pay for sudden, accidental, direct, physical loss. If it is a covered peril, and it is a physical loss to property, that’s all the policy says. It doesn’t say it pays for windows, or the windows have to be a certain movement or structure. It doesn’t say any specifics about roof. It doesn’t say any specifics about having to get bids from contractors. Everyone thinks that in their mind like, “Oh, well, this is just what insurance pays for.”

The policy, that’s the Bible of the insurance claims process, because they wrote it. It’s a contract of adhesion. The insurance company wrote it, you had to accept it. So that means every semicolon, and comma, and period and where it is, and how words are written are so important. But with all those words and all those pages, it doesn’t say one thing about window. It says sudden and accidental direct physical damage. So our job is to actually look at it, identify the damage, and then bring in experts to prove that that damage does exist and it’s related to the wind or hail storm.

Paul: Yeah, so that leads into my next question, which I think maybe partially you already answered is, what is your process for evaluating a potential loss or a potential claim for damage following a windstorm or a hurricane?

Tara: So we work a lot…our firm does commercial claims. We do a lot of high rises, a lot of warehouses, a lot of multifamily housing. And each building is different depending on the structure and how it’s built. But yet again, when I say each building is different, wind, after you’ve we’ve worked tens of thousands of cases, makes very similar damage. So we evaluate all the different systems of a building, whether it be roofing, whether it be fenestrations, whether it be plumbing or air conditioning, we initially…our inspector claim each and every inch of it and take a look.

So we’re looking for indicators that there could possibly be damage, whether it be indicators from our personal experience, or a lot of what we do is talk to the residents or owners of the building, and see if there has been any change. So once we see damage to the roof or in this case, we’re talking about windows, damage to the windows, we would rely on outside experts to come in to verify if what we’re seeing is true and correct.

Now, I can tell you after doing it for this long, I think that my eye is trained very, very well to know that that damage is there, but at the same time, my job is to negotiate the claims process. It’s not to be an expert in anything. And when you’re dealing with complex commercial claims and large losses and high rise, my job as an advocate for the insured is to bring the best experts in the industry to look to tell me if what we’re seeing is correct, to fully investigate every inch of the building and then to be able to report back to my client what is truly damaged. My job is to make sure that they are indemnified properly for this loss.

Paul: So when a property owner does have a loss, and a loss is basically that they’ve been damaged, and that’s an insurance term, isn’t it, within the policy, loss?

Tara: Correct. That is an accidental direct physical loss.

Paul: Yeah. So when a property owner does have a loss, they can file a claim by themselves and the insurance company will send people out to look at it, and ultimately, tell them yes, no, maybe, whatever. So why do that as opposed to hiring a company like yours?

Tara: So I get asked that a lot, because of course, we all charge fees for what we do, and I charge fees for my services. And they say, “Well, but the insurance company is supposed to pay me what’s fair. You know, I’m just going to call them and see what happens.” And I think there was a time in my lifetime where there was a possibility that I think that you’d get a fair shake. And the reality of the situation is that the people that come to your house are not bad people. But when I talk to the adjusters that are out in the field now, the level of training isn’t even close to what we got 20 years ago. And reality that they’re going to actually look at all the damages and report them back, and that someone on the inside sitting 600 miles away that looks at a report that’s never probably been on a roof or look damage is going to be able to package that in a way that’s fair and correct, it’s comical, and it’s a shame that it is that way.

But it’s just like walking into the courtroom and if you have a traffic ticket, you think, “Oh, well, I can bring my layout and we can show what happened, and they’re going to get rid of the ticket.” Of course not. Unless you have an advocate, unless you have an attorney, you’re not gonna get out of the traffic ticket. Unless you have representation for a complex claim, in my experience, I don’t believe you can ever get truly what you’re owed.

Paul: So you said that the people that come out to evaluate claim are inexperienced, often aren’t properly trained. Aren’t those often engineering firms?

Tara: Well, there’s two different levels. Many times, especially if windows are involved or in complex claims, they’ll send the adjuster, they’ll come and just do an initial walkthrough. Then they will send engineers. And they show up on time, they’re extremely polite, they wear very nice polos, and they give you a card, and they walk around all of the building and go into all the units, and they might bring little sticks and hold them up against the windows, and rulers, and take a whole bunch of pictures.

And it makes the insured, the property owner feel like, “Wow, the insurance company really cares about me. Look, they’re sending someone to fully inspect all these damages.” But unfortunately, what I see in my position now is they don’t actually have to come to do that inspection. Because the report, in my experience, 99% of the time, says mostly the same thing, that this is just installed wrong, it’s maintenance, it’s wear and tear, and it’s not related to storm damage. Now, if the window is broken, or if it’s missing, then they might consider putting that in. But other than that, they’re doing an inspection like I was doing 20 years ago when I was untrained by the insurance company to come out and do that inspection.

And, in my experience, have been blinder than I was as an adjuster who was untrained, evaluating losses. And I don’t know if there’s an alternative agenda. I don’t know if that’s truly what they believe. What I do know is that there is a ton of expertise that’s found out in the field by looking at wind damage and how it affects buildings time after time after time. And it appears that a lot of the individuals, I won’t say all, but a lot of individuals that they sent out, they might have been a great engineer designing roadways, and they might have taken a class on windows, but I don’t see them having a long-term field expertise to be able to properly identify wind damage to building materials such as windows and roofing.

Paul: So when they do send the adjuster out, let’s say you’ve got water damage, and you’ve got roof damage, and you’ve got window and doors, and maybe elevators, mechanical system, things like that, do they have specialists for each thing, or does the same guy look at everything? How does that work, typically from what you see?

Tara: Well, typically, the engineering firm look at the exterior envelope, whether it be the roof and the windows and the interior damages. If elevators are the one thing, they tend to send out specialists to look at. They typically assign a firm, and then that firm is supposed to have the different areas of expertise within that firm. However, it’s interesting because I pulled a lot of resumes. And that’s the beautiful thing about LinkedIn. It’s all right there. So anytime an engineer comes out to one of my clients, I’m certainly pulling their resume off of LinkedIn to see what their background is. And it is extremely interesting to me that the majority of the time, their background has almost nothing to do with storm damage to building envelopes. And if it does, it becomes one-sided where they work for the same type carrier companies over and over again.

So it appears that the deck is a little bit stacked. I mean, I don’t know that as a whole. I can tell you my experience in dealing with some of these carrier engineer firms over the last 20 years. I can tell you when I went and I hired an engineer when I worked for the insurance company, never once did that engineer report have damage. And I can tell you that as a fact. And I was the one that was requesting the engineer on behalf of the carrier.

Paul: So do you typically see the same folks over and over again on your claims?

Tara: I do. It’s a small industry, even though as large as it is and it’s nationwide. Once you get up to this level of claim handling, there is a select group of people that is utilized by the large carriers nationwide. And just like I fly in to help my clients, you know, I just got back from San Antonio, working a large fire on a strip mall right there, and I ran into an adjuster that I know from working claims in Louisiana, you know, four or five years ago. So it’s the same people, it’s the same experts. Not all the time, but the majority of the time.

But, you know, that goes to show, and this is a little bit off-topic, but how important it is to be an expert and to do things with diplomacy. Like you can yell, and scream, and jump up and down, and say, “Insurance company, you owe me this,” and try to pressure and fight, but the only way to really win the battle is through documentation. And that’s really where I think that our firm does things differently. We try to do things in a very diplomatic way. But we always beat them with the facts, and the facts are there are legitimate damages of my client that we back up with top industry experts, and then enforce the policy provisions that were written by them.

Paul: So you and I have worked together on some large projects, quite a few actually, over the last X number of years starting with, I think, Matthew, and through Irma, and Michael. And I’ve seen you and your firm negotiate some pretty comprehensive and, in my view, called good settlements with insurers as opposed to the alternative, which is go to an appraisal hearing or turn it over to the lawyers and go to court and things like that. And I think you were just telling us some of your methods. But so how do you succeed where others often don’t in actually getting to a good settlement with an insurance company?

Tara: I think the first thing that we do is we’re very, very choosy as a firm about who we will represent. We do a complete analysis of the building, of the damage. We also do an analysis of past claims history, we do analysis of financial, we do analysis of if they had any construction defects or past litigation. Because when we take on a claim, no matter how long it takes, if it takes two months or two years, we’re with them until the last nail is driven. We want to make sure that our policyholder’s made whole. So that’s the first thing we do.

The second thing we do is that I think we truly care about our clients. Anybody can throw things against the wall and see what sticks. But when you have a large building, whether it be a high rise, or a condominium, or office building, or even we’ve done government and schools, those insurance policies are very, very difficult to get and they’re hard to maintain. So filing a claim is very serious. And you should only file a claim and go after things that are 100% legitimate.

So coming from a place of integrity in the very beginning, I think, is the most important thing and the reason why we have a higher settlement rate without litigation because we truly believe in the loss. And we truly believe in our client, like I’m always thinking, “Well, what if this was my building, or this was my mom’s building?” And I treat every loss that way, and I can tell you how many nights I go to bed thinking about these things and just churning them over in my head and thinking how new case law and how different developments of new technology can possibly help my client.

The third is that our job is, yes, to document the damage and to find it, but it’s also to create leverage. Some of the time, the insurance companies pay for things because they believe that they’re damaged. And sometimes they pay for things because they realize it’s going to be more expensive if they don’t. So we document not only the damages, but we also document the actions of the insurance companies to make sure they’re practicing fair claims handling practices.

And then lastly, we bring in the industry experts because at a certain point, the insurance company can say, “Hey, look, you’re a public adjuster, there is some incentive for you to find damage,” even though that is 100% not true. It doesn’t make sense for me to claim something that’s not damaged, and I would never do that. But ultimately, I can see that argument can be made. So my job is not to be an expert in everything. My job is to know the top leading industry experts and to bring them to the table. And I think really one of the interesting things and one of the reasons that we use GCI so much, and we use other window fenestration experts as well, but, you know, the ability to find the damage, and write the reports, and make it work for the client. But I’ve seen you specifically, Paul, have the ability to be able to articulate that report.

And that’s the big difference because anyone can write a report, but you have to get the report and the information paid for. It’s like you can write an estimate but getting the estimate paid. And when it comes into the heat of battle for our clients, that’s really where GCI has shined that they’ve been able to explain whether it be through expert testimony or litigation, or an umpire and appraisal hearing that this is damaged, why it’s damaged, and how it’s related to the windstorm itself.

Paul: Yeah. So what I think I hear you saying is that, and to give the insurance companies credit, you know, that if you present the presentation and documentation of the evidence to them and as you say, articulate it in a good way, and they recognize that you’ve done a good job with it, and there is a chance that you can get them to agree to up to a fair and reasonable settlement.

Tara: Yeah, I mean, less than 20% of our cases go to litigation, it’s because we’re gonna go the extra mile. I kind of got off on a tangent there, you’re right. The difference is, it’s always as soon as they volley to you, you have to volley back. And you have to give them more information. You have to keep putting the ball in their court. And sometimes, you come to a dead-end, and they just refuse to do the right thing, and you have no choice but to go to alternative dispute resolution.

But a lot of times, you’ll keep going, and they’ll say “No, no, no,” and all of a sudden, it will get transferred to a different adjuster, or it will get moved to a different team manager. And I think about the differences staying with it and always hitting them with new information, and just being relentless about not giving up. And a lot of these firms say, “Oh, it’s Tara, yeah, we know you’re not gonna go away. Stone Claims Group, here we go.” And I say, “Listen, we don’t wanna sue you. We just want what’s there and what’s owed for the policyholder under the policy.” And that’s really where I think the difference is and the ability…

I know one of the cases that we talked about, it came to a point where I was having a really hard time getting anyone at the insurance company to listen to what was right. And it was a matter of getting on LinkedIn, finding out who the top executives were, writing personal letters to all of them, and getting and just dialing on the phone until I could get someone to actually listen and go out there and actually have a heart-to-heart conversation. Because at the end of the day, I think people do business with people.

And we have to remember insurance, it is about buildings, and it is about indemnification, but ultimately, it’s about people’s homes, and people’s livelihoods, and people’s business. So keeping that at the forefront and reminding the insurance company of that, as you go through the process with all the documentation of experts is, I think how we’re able to come to resolution of claims without litigation.

Paul: You have to do the work.

Tara: It is work. Good thing we love it.

Paul: Yeah. So here we are. We’re basically…Matthew was four years ago. Irma was three years ago. Michael was two years ago. It’s been very busy in the insurance claim space of late. Do you have any insights that you can share with the listeners about all this activity, anything striking?

Tara: Yeah, I think the biggest insight and you have to remember insurance companies spend millions of dollars and, you know, I’m not picking on anyone in particular but good neighbors in good hands, and we can just go on and on with the logos. It’s not the one-person insurance company, it’s, remember, we’re in a culture of marketing. And I think the biggest insight is understanding that because of my background working on those sides that you’re a number, you’re a risk, and that an insurance claim is a very big deal. And that going into it without representation is the biggest single-handed mistake.

Whether you hire my firm or another professional public adjuster, or an attorney, I would certainly encourage people to seek out expert opinions. Because you don’t know what you don’t know. And just like I didn’t know what I didn’t know when I worked for the insurance companies, you could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars or a million-dollar mistake. And if I told you numbers on some of my claims going from $200,000 to $20 million, it sounds almost unreal. But unless you have your building thoroughly inspected by an advocate on your side, I think that you’re missing the boat for the policy that you paid for.

Paul: So here we are, as we’re recording this, Hurricane Laura is in the gulf and it looks really bad, it’s gonna hit somewhere, Texas-Louisiana coastline like tomorrow, I think, as a major hurricane. And you don’t want anybody to have to go through that, but it does happen, and there’s going to be some folks that are gonna be affected by it and have damage to their properties. So what should they do? What should they do once they, you know, get over the shock of what happened and try to get into the recovery mode?

Tara: Well, the first thing I would say is to start a spreadsheet of every single thing that you do, every action, every temporary repair, every phone, every attempt to call the contractor, every attempt, every tenant complaint, like if you have unit owners or tenants that are making complaints. Because you go years down the line or months down the line and you remember it so bad while it’s happening, but you can’t remember later. And documentation is everything. That’s a key of what we do.

And just like documenting all the trees down and, you know, all the things blown around, all those little details, when we’re two years later and everything’s cleaned up and grown back and the sun is shining, it’s hard to remember those days when the storm was blowing through. And the carriers will make it even difficult to say, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad, you know, you didn’t really have the damage.”

So any kind of documentation, especially documenting your actions on how you’re complying with the policy conditions to protect the property from further damage, to document all of the residents’ complaints, all the tenants’ complaints. That is the biggest way you can help me, your advocate, because I’m not gonna be there the first few days, you know, it’s going to take some time for people to get on the ground, it’s going to take some time for you to find the right advocate and hire them and go through that process. And you as the building owner are the only person that’s gonna be there as the property manager. So documentation of all actions are critical.

And make sure that if you do hire people to represent you, that these are regarded in the industry, like as a minimum, make sure that they’re part of industry associations, whether it be NAPIA, the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. In Florida, we have FAPIA, the Florida Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Because these are the associations that advocate for policyholders for legislation nationwide or statewide. They are the people putting the money where their mouth is to make sure policyholders have the rights and they’re not being taken by lobbyists. So I think that’s one of the first keys, documentation and proper backing check of experts or advocates when they come to represent you.

Paul: Tara, you do a great job. We got to get to you like a Fox News or CNN gig as a spokesman after the storm.

Tara: I can talk for a long time. Like, “Okay, that’s what the answer is. Back to Paul.”

Paul: You’re on point though, really good. So thank you for being our guest today on “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. And I know that you do a great job with social and getting the word out. So can you tell the listeners if they want to find out more about you how they can track you down and see what’s going on?

Tara: Yeah, you can always call us at 1-800-892-1116. That’s 1-800-892-1116. Or reach us at That’s

Paul: And the social? I know you’re good with that too.

Tara: Yes, we’re on Instagram and Facebook. You can find us under Stone Claims. You also might know us as Your Private Adjuster. We operated under that umbrella for a long time. So if you hear of YPA, Your Private Adjuster, or Stone Claims Group, that’s me and my team, we’re all over.

Paul: Great. Well, thanks again.

Tara: Thanks for having me, Paul.

Paul: You got it. So, we invite you also to take a look at GCI Consultants’ website if you want to find out anything else about us, Our phone number is 877-740-9990. Again, 877-740-9990. We’re on the various social media channels as well, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. So I want to thank everybody once again for listening and I look forward to the next episode of “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. Until then, this is Paul Beers saying so long.

Deck Waterproofing

Alfonzo Alzamora & Jason Bondurant – Consultant, GCI Consultants

Listen to GCI Consultant team members and industry experts, Alfonso Alzamora and Jason Bondurant discuss plaza deck and pool deck waterproofing. Learn about the typical components that we find in these types of systems and how they are installed.

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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Alfonso: Welcome everyone to our Everything Building Envelope podcast. I am Alfonso Alzamora, Vice President and Principal with GCI Consultants and I will be your host today. I am really excited today to have as our guest, one of our engineers that I work with here at GCI Consultants and the guest, Jason Bondurant. We have got a really interesting topic to share with you today, which is all about pool decks and plaza decks waterproofing. So Jason, since you are a repeat guest, let’s just jump right into talking about plaza decks and pool decks waterproofing. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about the typical components that we find in these types of systems?

Jason: So when we talk about plaza deck waterproofing system, typically what we’re referring to is a waterproofing membrane that’s installed on the structural deck, typically a concrete deck, and typically these types of systems are installed over occupied space where it’s essentially functioning as a roof or occasionally we’ll see them installed over parking garages or other types of spaces.

And usually, these types of membranes will be covered by some type of overburden. So, it’ll be concealed in the finished assembly. You won’t actually see the waterproofing membrane. These areas are somewhat different than roofing systems in that they’re also intended for vehicular or pedestrian traffic or used as greenscape or planter areas. And because of that, these types of systems are exposed to some of the harshest conditions. And one of the things that really makes these systems challenging is that they do require a high level of coordination between the waterproofing and the adjacent envelope systems.

So the typical components kind of from top to bottom would be at the top you’d have some type of wearing surface which could be bricks, it could be pavers, precast flab or exposed aggregate. And then beneath that, you’ll have some type of fill where it may be a topping slab, it may be sand, or it may be a mortar setting bed. And then beneath that, you would have some type of drainage layer. Typically, these days we would see a prefabricated drainage mat, but it could also be a layer of gravel or some kind of drainage medium that’ll allow the water to flow easily. And then beneath that, we would have the waterproofing membrane and the protection, of course, which is on the structural deck.

Alfonso: Right. And I’m sure you agree that, you know, as with any waterproofing system that drainage is a critical part of the assembly. So why don’t you tell us a little bit more about the drainage layer?

Jason: Yeah. So the drainage, like you said, with any waterproofing or roofing system, it’s the most critical aspect. And for these types of protective membrane waterproofing systems, there are some unique aspects to the drainage that we don’t have to be concerned about with a typical roofing system. So, with these protected membrane systems, they need to be designed so that you have the expectation that water is going to get all the way down to the waterproof membrane level, which is beneath the overburden. So, the deck needs to have a bi-level drainage system that’ll allow water to enter the drain from the waterproof level which is beneath all the overburden and also from the wearing surface level.

And it requires special detailing and typically what ends up happening is they’ll wrap the drain with some type of filter fabric and they’ll install gravel around the drain to avoid blocking the drain bowl at the membrane level and ensuring that water can get into the drain there.

It’s worth noting that water that does collect on the membrane and pond on the membrane can cause problems over the long-term, including de-bonding of the waterproofing membrane, cracking of topping slab, deterioration of insulation, leaks to the interior. So, drainage is something that should not be overlooked and it’s critical that the drainage is provided at both the wearing surface and the waterproofing membrane level.

Florida building code does require that the deck has a quarter inch per foot slope. Sometimes with these types of decks, we see that they’re not quite getting that and we’ve dealt with some manufacturers that will warranty the waterproofing system even on a flat deck with the understanding that there will be some ponding water there but the building code does require that the deck does slope to drain.

Alfonso: So how does that slope requirement converts, you know, to a typical roofing system requirement?

Jason: Well, the quarter inch per foot would be the same for roofing. So I guess the main difference is that a plaza deck waterproofing system like this is typically designed to withstand some amount of hydrostatic pressure, unlike a roof. So, with these types of systems, even if the drainage is not ideal, let’s say, they can oftentimes still perform. But, you know, and that’s why I think some of the manufacturers will allow less than the minimum code required slope, but it is required in the building code. So, we do have to make sure of that.

Alfonso: Right. And I guess Jason also, like you were saying since, you know, typically this type of application would be, you know, like an amenity deck or a pool deck or in a garage, sometimes, you know, particularly with amenity like some pool decks, you want to have that kind of level or flat surface versus a roof area where you have other means of obtaining the required slope. Typically, we see them use, you know, tapered insulation or you have, you know, lightweight insulated concrete that will help you have that required slope at that roofing membrane. But with this type of assembly, you were saying that, you know, we don’t see that that often. Right?

Jason: Yeah. That’s right. And it’s possible to have insulation either on top of or beneath the membrane, but typically in South Florida here, it’s not very common.

Alfonso: Right. And you mentioned particularly in South Florida, if they’re using insulation as far as their assembly that is gonna need to be incorporated into their [inaudible 00:07:34] approval documents, NOAs, and all their certification testing. So Jason, how do we go about specifying, you know, a particular waterproofing system for these types of application, and what would be the common types of waterproofing systems that you see for these types of applications?

Jason: Well, there’s a lot of different considerations that we need to keep in mind, and every project is going to be unique. I would say that the most common type of system that we see and the one that we most often recommend is a hot rubberized asphalt reinforced waterproofing membrane. And typically, it’ll have a modified bitumen cap sheet or a protection layer on top of it. So that’s the most common.

Another one that we’ll see often is a torch-applied modified bitumen membrane two or three-ply system. This type of a system, just to give you an example of the different considerations that go into mind, we might want to use a torch-applied system on a project because maybe getting a melter to melt the hot asphalt onto the roof of, you know, a 50 story building is not realistic with this particular project. So we may want to use like a torch applied type of a system.

The reason why the torch applied is modified bitumen system, is sometimes used as the next best option, is because it does still have some redundancy being that it’s multiple different layers. Another common one that we’re seeing more of recently is a cold liquid-applied reinforced membrane like a PMMA waterproofing membrane. These have some advantages in that being that they’re cold-applied they’re safer. There’s no open flame or hot asphalt that you’re dealing with. Typically they’ll cure very quickly. And then another one that we do see occasionally is a single-ply waterproofing membrane, like a TPO or a PVC membrane.

Alfonso: Okay. So that’s very interesting what you just said because… So, in addition to the considerations as far as the actual performance of the different type of systems and, you know, different types of waterproofing membranes, the other thing that comes into play with all of this is the actual job site conditions and site logistics. As far as, you know, like you were saying, maybe it is not possible to carry the melter to, you know, whatever this pool deck is, so many, feet high on the building. So that’s obviously something important to consider as well, putting that theory along with how you can actually achieve this in a productive way. So that’s interesting, Jason.

And then you mentioned also, you know, these cold liquid-applied systems. Sounds like it’s, you know, more of an easier installation as far as, you know, the labor goes. So, is that your experience as well? Is that typically that type of installation would be completed maybe faster and, you know, with less labor than you would see when you have like a torch apply mud bit system?

Jason: Yeah, I think so. I think probably it can be applied faster and it cures faster.

Alfonso: Okay. So, are there any special considerations with the planter areas?

Jason: Yeah. So, like we were talking about with just the system in general, with the planter, a drainage is the most important aspect. So typically, the drains in a planter what we want to do is we want to design the drain so that water can get into the drain the full height of the planter.

So typically, what we like to see is we have our drain bowl that’s set in the structural deck at the bottom of the planter. And then, attached to the grate over the dream bowl, we would have some type of perforated pipe. Usually, it would be a PVC pipe that has holes drilled into it and that pipe would extend up to the top finished surface of the planter basically at grade in the planter. And then there would be another drain inlet at the top of that PVC pipe.

And then this whole assembly would get wrapped in a filter fabric and surrounded by gravel so that the planter has good drainage from the top at grade level all the way down to the waterproofing membrane level. And then obviously, like we mentioned before, it would need to have a drainage mat which gets installed above the waterproofing membrane, which would carry any water that gets down to the waterproof level to the drain and prevent any water from standing on top of the waterproofing.

And then, one thing that is unique to the planter areas is they would typically require some type of root barrier. And, you know, we’ve seen many projects where we’ve dug up planters that are leaking and we find that the roots inside the planter have just born holes all through the waterproof membrane. So the root barrier is something that’s really critical inside the planter as well.

Alfonso: Exactly. And so Jason, so after you have all these components installed and, you know, the assembly before you put all the overburden materials, I mean, is there any way to check or verify the integrity of the membrane before moving forward to basically cover [inaudible 00:13:46]?

Jason: Yes. And actually, it’s required to check it before it gets covered by anything. The building code requires that you do some type of integrity testing to check that there are no leaks in the finished waterproofing.

Most commonly what we’ll see is just the standard flood test. There’s an ASTM standard for flood testing horizontal waterproofing installations. And basically, what they do is they’ll plug the drain bowl and they’ll fill up the deck with about two inches of water or so on the waterproofing. This is before any overburden gets installed. And then they’ll leave that water on the waterproofing for 24 to 48 hours. And then after the test, they’ll check the underside to see if it’s leaking anywhere. And if it’s leaking, then, you know, obviously repairs will need to be made and then it will need to be tested again to confirm that it’s not leaking.

One of the other newer ways that we’re seeing people testing waterproofing installations is the electronic leak detection which is basically they will install wires around the perimeter of the deck and mist the deck with water and then they’ll walk every square foot of the deck with the testing company. And essentially, they have these probes that they’ll stick into the water onto the membrane and if there’s any breach in the membrane, they’ll be able to tell. And it’s actually quite impressive to see them do. They can really pinpoint the exact locations of breaches using this kind of a method.

There are some limitations in that they typically don’t test the drain bowl flashing because the metal of the drain will interfere with the test. So actually on some jobs, we see them do both the flood testing and the electronic vector mapping just because you can never do too much testing with these types of systems because the fact is that once the deck is done and it’s signed off and the waterproofing is okay, then they’re gonna cover this with sometimes a topping slab, sometimes pavers, planting soil. And in the event of a problem in the future, all these things would have to come off the deck in order to fix the problem. And so, you know, that’s why this type of testing is required and that’s why we definitely don’t want to ever cut any corners when it comes to testing these.

Alfonso: Right. Right. So that’s very interesting because construction, you know, we don’t really associate a lot of technology in that way with construction job sites. So, you know, the first test you were describing the standard flood test, you know, it’s a very simple, basic test, something that you would definitely think about when you’re thinking about a construction job and very effective from what you were describing. But it’s very interesting to see that there’s other technologies that incorporate different elements that can also allow us to verify, you know, the integrity of these types of membranes in a different way. And like you were saying, this is critical since this thing is pretty much gonna get buried with all these different overburdened materials and components that you have been talking about.

So, up to now, I guess we have been describing how you should go about designing or installing waterproofing system in a plaza deck or amenity deck application starting with a new construction approach and trying to make sure that everything is done in a right way and then properly [inaudible 00:17:52] as you were describing just now. But what about those existing buildings that you get called on where they have actually problems with these plaza deck installations or pool deck installations and like you were saying everything is already covered up by all the overburden materials. So, what are some of the typical problems you see there on those existing buildings and how do you go about investigating the source of the problem?

Jason: Well, when it comes to investigating any type of a leak whether that be with these types of waterproofing systems or glazing systems or roofing systems, we typically want to do some type of water testing. And I think that that’s a good starting point with these types of decks because the fact is that when they’re complete, we can’t actually see the waterproofing. We’re typically looking at pavers or we’re looking at a planter.

And so, what I typically like to do is start with some amount of water testing in the general area above where the leak is reported. And then ideally you would test a certain area at a time. So, you try to isolate one thing at a time with your test, keeping in mind that it might take hours for water to actually make its way all the way to the interior of the building. And so, you just kind of have to have a methodical approach with your testing.

And usually, once I’m able to recreate the leak and we have a general idea of where the leak is coming from, at least looking at a plan of the deck, then it’s almost always you’ll require some amount of intrusive or destructive testing to investigate the leak. So that might mean chipping up a topping slab. It might mean digging up a planter, but because the waterproofing is concealed under these overburdens, it usually is required to do some amount of destructive or intrusive testing.

And then usually what we do is once we’re able to pinpoint the exact source and we’re able to see the membrane and find out what’s going on, we’ll have the contractor do whatever repair is necessary. And then we’ll test it again before we cover everything back up just to ensure that we found the source of the problem.

So, some of the typical issues that we see when we’re investigating these types of systems, I would say probably the most common one is failure to tie the waterproofing system on the deck into the other envelope system. So usually that means tying into the flashing at the base of the wall tying into the weather barrier on the exterior wall or in, you know, most commonly in South Florida where we don’t have a weather barrier tying into the stucco.

So, one of the most common issues that I see, as an example is, it may be a renovation. Maybe it’s an older building and they’ve replaced the waterproofing system on a pool deck and the contractor doesn’t bring the waterproofing up high enough on the wall, the flashing to where now you’re left with a void between the top of the waterproof flashing and the stucco on the exterior wall. Typically, we like to have some kind of overlap there to make sure that the envelope is continuous.

And we see similar problems at door thresholds, the window openings where the waterproofing might stop just in front of a door or window opening and it’s not fully integrated with the perimeter sealant on the window or door. That’s another really common one.

I would say another common problem is with any of these systems that are coatings and with any coating in general, the most critical aspect of that coating is ensuring that it’s the proper thickness. So, we’ve been involved in some projects where we’ve seen that the coating was far too thin. And then we’ve also been involved in projects where the coating has actually been too thick. I think a lot of people wouldn’t expect that the coating could be too thick, but actually coating becomes too thick it can cause problems with the exterior part of the coating may skin over and cure faster than the interior part of it. And what we’ve seen happen before is that exterior side of the coating will skin over and that interior side will continue to cure and let-off gases and that can cause blistering in the coating if it’s installed too thick.

Another really common one just to mention one more thing, if I have to pick a third one, is penetrations in the waterproofing. And a really common problem that we see is after these waterproofing systems are installed and they’re tested, we have other trades coming in, electricians, one of the most guilty parties in this, and they’ll put holes through the deck or through the waterproofing and won’t seal them properly. And so that’s a common place that we find leaks.

And then also another common problem with penetrations is the penetrations being clustered too closely together, which prevents the waterproofing contractor from properly detailing the waterproofing around each individual penetration. So, I would say those are some of the more common things that I’ve seen.

Alfonso: Right. And I think those are all great examples of the kind of problems we see when some of these buildings that we’re called upon to investigate because they have issues. And like you were saying earlier coordination here among the different trades is critical because like you mentioned penetrations and also the interface between, you know, different conditions which are typically being worked by different trades. And we see a lot of problems there just like you described, you know, if there is no proper coordination and the electrician is just walking through the waterproofing and putting holes on it, that’s obviously gonna result in a problem.

And in the same way, in all of these transitions, one that I can think of that we see often is the connection or the transition between your pool deck waterproofing where it ties in into the actual pool structure or, you know, typically you have a gutter at the perimeter of the pool and maybe your waterproofing contractors that are doing the deck is different from the guy that is actually doing the waterproofing at the pool structure. So, there’s right there a point which, you know, they may not be talking to each other and then you have a gap on your waterproofing. Have you seen anything like that as well, Jason?

Jason: Well, yeah. Absolutely. And something else that you just reminded me of too, which we didn’t get the chance to talk about, but expansion joints are, you know…I’m sure anybody that has dealt with any of these types of systems before knows that these are one of the most common areas that are gonna leak. And each manufacturer will have a slightly different way of treating expansion joints. I think you could probably do a whole podcast in itself on expansion joints.

One of the things that I’ll just say about that is this, and I guess this is more to the architects out there, but use common sense when it comes to expansion joints. You know, try not to put a fountain over top of an expansion joint. If you can, get the expansion joint off the deck a little bit so that it can shed water and you don’t have any chance of any ponding water on top of it.

So, I think, you know, just some of these basic kinds of principles could go a long way when dealing with expansion joints. But like I said, we could do a whole other podcast just on that alone.

Alfonso: Exactly. I think we’re actually running out of time here. So, I guess we have to come to a stopping point. I would like to thank all our listeners for growing our podcast and tuning in. Thank you again for listening today. We also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at or you can reach us at 877-740-9990 to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thank you once again, and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our Everything Building Envelope podcast.