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.

https://www.everythingbuildingenvelope.com

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

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 stoneclaims.com. That’s stoneclaims.com.

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, www.gciconsultants.com. 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.

What Every Building Owner Needs To Know About Doors & Windows

Paul Del Vecchio – Owner TJDCCI  Construction Consultants

    Understanding the current condition of your doors and windows and their possible vulnerabilities can protect your building from future damage, protect people from harm, and protect your investment for the long haul.

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.

https://www.everythingbuildingenvelope.com

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

Derek: Welcome to the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. I’m Derek Segal, and I’m a building envelope consultant with GCI Consultants. And I will be your host today. We’ve got a very special guest today, Paul Del Vecchio, who’s the owner of PJDCCI Construction Consultants, based out of Boca Raton, Florida, who is joining us. And today, we we’re talking about fenestration. Welcome, Paul.

Paul: Thank you, Derek.

Derek: Paul, can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and also, I’d like you to maybe just give us a brief description of what we’re talking about today being fenestration so all of our guests can understand what the topic applies to.

Paul: Okay. I have been a contractor in Florida since 1979. And I’ve worked in Florida in the construction industry since 1970. I sold my construction company about 12 years ago or so, and ended up providing consulting services as I do today. A lot of the consulting services I provide have to do with building envelope and, more specifically, windows and doors, the world of fenestration, if you will.

Derek: Thank you for that. So wow. So you started your career here in 1970, which, obviously, I guess, things were quite a bit different back then, regarding building codes and the construction industry, so I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit of changes over the last 40-plus years.

Paul: Absolutely.

Derek: Yeah, I mean, things are changing on a rapid pace here. So, maybe just to start out, let’s talk a little bit about, because I think you were pretty active, as you said, in the construction industry licensing board, what is that board? What is it responsible for and how is it structured? And what did you folks do while being a part of that licensing board?

Paul: Well, the Construction Industry Licensing Board is a division or element of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation of Florida. That’s the entity that, basically, as the title would infer, regulates our specific businesses, among them construction as well as architecture, engineering, and building inspectors and building officials. On the CILB, which is an acronym for the Construction Industry Licensing Board, there are 18 members. The vast majority of them are contractors of various disciplines, two of them are building officials, and two are consumer people who have no connection to the construction industry at all. And the CILB is tasked with regulating construction in the state of Florida. So we have a statute, like all disciplines do, and it’s Florida State Statute 489. And it really dictates the requirements of a contractor, since it’s considered a professional license in the state of Florida.

Derek: Got it. So you folks sat on this board, and you managed, if you will, the construction industry, or the licensees in the state of Florida, actually of which I’m one. I’m a state licensed roofing contractor, so I’m very familiar with the board. I got licensed in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew. What type of disciplinary cases would you folks hear and how many involved fenestration, windows and doors, openings, building envelope issues? Do you have any type of percentage or…? And what type of cases did you guys listen to while sitting on the board?

Paul: Well, as you pointed out earlier, the industry changes during my twelve and a half years on the board. We disciplined people for the vast majority of time for financial mismanagement. However, about 15 or so percent of the work has to do with defective work, where contractors had performed the work improperly resulting in damage that was not recovered through the civil proceedings. So complaints would be filed against these contractors. And the vast majority of those issues were breaches in the building envelope, failures in doors and windows. And the last or most important point would be a vast number of them were due to improper installation, failing to follow the NOA as we have today, previously, just following good standard practice, and, you know, following the building code and the provisions within the building code that are conditions precedent to installing a window or door, prepping the opening, properly flashing it. The issue with developing the primary seal between the window and your door and the structure, and understanding what a buck is, what a continuous shim is, tending, if you will, the fasteners beyond their strength, if you will. I have had unfortunately seen all sorts of issues, usually after we have one of our hurricanes, where I’ve seen windows that were attempted to be fastened with drywall screws that were foamed into place with Great Stuff foam, just all sorts of silliness if you will.

Derek: So ultimately, the responsibility of a proper installation sits with the contractor and not with the building official that’s looking at or inspecting the work. Is that what the premise is? It’s ultimately…because I guess when the building official gets there, you know, that opening is covered up and it looks pretty and everything looks fine, but oftentimes they can’t see what went on behind the finish or the drywall. Am I correct in saying that?

Paul: Correct. Building officials or building departments and their delegates, building inspectors are…only come out and do spot inspections of the work as it’s progressing. Responsibility for complying with code is actually placed in the Statute 553 and the responsibility rests with the permit holder, the contractor. So, compliance with code, there’s 9 volumes in over 3800 pages of code material. Obviously, a building department and its staff are not there to do quality control for the contractor. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to comply with the building code, understanding the code or the minimum standards for safe construction in the state of Florida. It’s what it is.

Derek: So would you, for example, on a large commercial building or a commercial building as a whole, even on a on a home, would you recommend or feel that it’s a good idea for a property owner or building community to retain an outside third-party expert to kind of be that quality control inspector to make sure that whomever is doing the work is doing it in a safe and effective manner and in accordance with the NOA and the building code? Is that a recommendation you would make to someone putting up a building or retrofitting a building?

Paul: Absolutely. In the long run, the additional cost to have this additional set of eyes is outweighed by the benefit of having the work done properly and completely. And it’s not only the windows and doors, it’s roofing, it’s the cladding on the exterior of the building structure, all of those elements are what protects the building occupants, their contents and the structure itself.

Derek: Oftentimes, these owners are, “Well, I’m already spending money, why do I need the…?” They’re oftentimes penny-wise and pound foolish and really, I’m in agreement with you. As a roofing consultant, I feel it’s so important especially, when it’s a large project and a lengthy project to have someone as your advocate, your eyes and ears. And also not someone to be adversarial, but someone who understands the challenges that a contractor has, because it’s not an easy job, but someone that can kind of be the middleman and kind of keep this process moving along smoothly and communicating with both parties.

Paul: I would agree. And there’s a side benefit I have found through the years. By going through this exercise as an independent third party, you tend to educate the contractors and the staff that are doing the work. They further understand the nexus, if you will, between the information, in the NOA and the engineer practices that went in to that window and door and understand the minimum requirements by the building code. Ultimately, it makes them better trades people, better contractors. Information is something…

Derek: It helps everyone. Yeah.

Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Derek: So, say the top four or five points what property owners should be cognizant or conscious of when having windows or doors installed. Are there some key factors that one should really keep in the front of their mind when it comes to replacing these, what I believe are critical building components because they form part of the structure? What should they be cognizant of?

Paul: Well, the ones that I have come across both as a consultant and my time on the board is the lack of flashing and sealants beyond what we refer to in the field as the beauty bead or exterior sealant between the cladding and the window. They do not deal well with flashing and the primary seal between the window and door-door assembly and the structure. Most of them are missed and/or when a contract is written, that gray area is omitted from the window or door subcontractors installation. The assumption is well, the general contractor must have that or the waterproofing contractor has that. You have to look at it as a complete assembly. It’s not just the window or not just the door. It’s that connection to the structure, and it being watertight, long before cladding goes up and the beauty bead goes on.

Derek: Well, the intersection or the connection of two building components, in my opinion, is the most critical area of any structure. It’s where two materials comprising different formulations come together because typically, they’re gonna expand and contract and move at different rates. And it’s vital to have that connection perfect.

Paul: Correct. And you know, avoiding three-point adhesion between a third piece between these different materials because everything has a different coefficient of expansion and contraction. Sun rises and sets every day, so we have different thermal, if you will, acts on a material, so it’s going to move. And assuming it’s not just because the screw is very tight against a wood buck doesn’t mean that it’s sealed. That frame is sealed. It isn’t. So you need that primary seal. You usually need the backer rod to avoid the three-point adhesion at shims so you don’t tear your sealant. There is a number of small items that are important to success because, as you pointed out, once the drywall is up, the stucco or the woods siding is on, the trim is on, that’s not the time to find out that you have a failure in the primary seal or the window connection to the structure. Too late.

Derek: Right. And often what you don’t see is really the most dangerous stuff out there. Because you know, we’ve all seen you know, everything looks pretty on the outside. Most owners get a false sense of security thinking that, “Since it looks good, it must be good, and I don’t see any problems. So I’m fine.” I mean, is that a bad approach?

Paul: Absolutely. And I will share with you an assignment I had after Wilma, up in Vero Beach on some low-rise condominiums where they had recently installed impact-resistant windows. And when I went out there, every window was in perfect condition. Unfortunately, none of them were in the rough out. They were on the ground, in the living room, in the hallway, and other places. They just came out of the opening because you buy the window, you would assume that the faster is the proper faster, that it has the right depth, that it is anchored properly into the structure, that the primary seal that we just talked about was actually installed. In this case, they tried to handle that with Great Stuff foam. And the windows certainly didn’t have sufficient connection to the structure. So although the window itself was fine, it didn’t fail, the installation failed and the window blew out of the opening. Same result as though the window had failed itself as far as the consumer is concerned. But as you pointed out, this is all things that a homeowner or consumer doesn’t see till it’s too late.

Derek: So yeah, these windows are tested, presumably for the end of the notice of acceptance, which is the Dade County Protocol. They’re tested, and they’re certified. But, you know, we need to keep in mind that these products are tested in a controlled environment. It’s a beautiful 72 degrees in the area that they’re being tested. And the assumption that once it’s installed, it’s still in a passing, if you will, state is really a false assumption. Because once it’s installed and handled and moved and screwed through, then it’s almost… Is there a type of testing that you can do following the installation to make sure that a window…would you do a sporadic or testing, a random testing of windows once they go into make sure they’re watertight and sound?

Paul: Well, typically, on the high-rise buildings that I constructed and those that I consult on. Typically, on new construction, we do the water tests on random windows of each type in a building in a high rise to determine whether we have a problem long before all the windows are installed. Typically, it’s, as you pointed out, not the window or the window manufacturing, but the issue is with the installation. I’m not suggesting that windows are perfect, but the likelihood of having a defective window is significantly less than a defective or deficient installation. So you perform the ALMA or ASDM test, usually ASDM on new, ALMA on an older window, six months or so, and determine the suitability of the window. And I think everyone also assumes, when they look at the NOA, they look at the rating and the window is rated for 170 miles an hour, and I’m just picking a number. But water intrusion occurs at a much lower rate. You need to read the whole NOA to understand what you’re buying, specifically. And and I think a lot of consumers really make their selections based on price point rather than performance.

Derek: Right. So I’ve read some articles, done some research recently on some of the challenges we face in Florida. I think a couple of the concerns we have is with the quality of workmanship in Florida seems to be under some stress now. We’ve got a couple of the issues. One is we’ve got so many people moving into the area. There’s just more traffic out there. There’s more productivity being affected, commute times are longer, worker productivity is down because, you know, folks are needing to spend more time on the road. And also the availability of affordable housing close to where you work is scarce. And so there’s more commuters on the road as people live further and further away from their place of employment. Would you suggest that it’s becoming even more critical to have this third party kind of overseeing the project given some of these challenges that are coming to the surface on just time on the road and folks commuting for the distances is more fatigued? How do you see the workmanship? In your opinion, it’s getting better? Is it stable, or is it dropping off? What’s your response to that?

Paul: I would tell you as someone who has been in the construction industry a long time and more specifically in Florida, Florida has its own set of challenges. It’s a very transient state. We have people from different parts of the country in different countries coming here with their known skill sets, and many of them trying to adopt to perhaps the most difficult building code in the nation, and they don’t understand it. They have difficulty in following it. I can’t tell you how many times in my career I’ve heard, “But I’ve been doing it that way for 20 years.” That’s not an answer. Having a third party…because remember, buildings are constructed by human beings. High rises are constructed by hundreds of human beings on the project at the same time. I mean, none of us are infallible, and the chances of having an error run much higher. The additional cost for an independent set of eyes to walk through the critical details and elements that eventually get covered up, I cannot stress, is money well spent. In the end…

Derek: When should they hire? When should they…sorry for jumping in. When should they hire a third party? Should it be from development of a set of specifications or should it be right before the project starts? What would you recommend?

Paul: In the perfect world, and we have some clients that hire us to do this, it’s in the develop stage, actually looking at the products, looking at the details on the drawing. I typically stress, because I come from a background of doing a lot of government work, a lot of Army Corps and Navy work of going through the process with each step of the work, having a pre-construction meeting with the foreman or superintendent for that discipline and making sure we understand all of our materials here on time, all of the parts and pieces are here, what codes, what inspections, what level and finish are we anticipating on the following work to the work being installed. Those are all elements that should be gone over by an independent third party.

Again, it assist the general contractor. I think most general contractors in the world do not understand. They believe they have and they do statutorily a one-year warranty period. But beyond that, there’s a 4-year statute of limitations on defects and a 10-year statute of repose for unforeseen site conditions or damages or defective work. So essentially, as a contract, I am on the hook for 10 years for the work I perform. What’s the cost of a third party to just give an objective view of what I am having done? It’s cheap.

Derek: Yeah. And also to cover the owner’s back in case there is an issue. I mean, that sounds like some pretty powerful ammunition that property owner could say, “Look, I had a third party do the due diligence.” You know, obviously, if you don’t have that third party involved, how can you enforce your right under a warranty? I mean, I would imagine it’s much more difficult because you really don’t know what happened. So…

Paul: That’s when they call us and it’s forensic work. Both you and I have done that and unfortunately, that’s not the least expensive way to cure a problem. That’s the most expensive way. The better money spent is at the front end, period.

Derek: Right. So let’s just lead into this. So as the construction consultant now, what are the most common cases that you were involved with? What are you doing out there presently, where’s most of your work coming from or the majority?

Paul: I would say the majority of work that we are involved in are third party, if you will, construction defect cases. We do do some first-party work. They’re basically the same from the technical point of view to failure and their subsequent damage to that failure. Again, unfortunately, a failed building envelope issue doesn’t manifest itself until sometimes years after the work is installed and the damage resulting from that failure becomes catastrophic, it becomes far more than it would have been had we solved the problem at the initial.

Derek: Early on.

Paul: Right. Right.

Derek: And then your building is more susceptible to to impact from these catastrophic events that we have. Is a building weakened by something that has a hidden defect, is there a danger there?

Paul: Of course, if we lose windows or doors and on a windward side of a storm and the eyewall is passing and the negative pressure on the leeward side, you could end up losing a roof on a residence or blowing out additional windows and doors. I just had that on several projects on several high-end residences that were constructed to Dade County’s 180-mile-an-hour program in the Bahamas. And literally, once we lost a door, it took the windows, doors, drywall and almost everything else out. Unfortunately, that storm sat over that particular area for several hours, the eyewall, it did significant damage. But that’s what happens when you lose a window. Once you breach the envelope, you’re now going to experience damage. How much? You know your personal contents, the flooring, drywall. I mean, drywall is gypsum once it’s wet it’s done. You know there’s considerable dollars and cents. And I know everyone likes to spend money in construction on what they can see. But the devil, if you will, is in the details.

Derek: Yeah, I’ve always been a proponent of what you don’t see is what can hurt you most. And, like you, I do building envelope inspections. And really, when I don’t see anything in an area where I know that the structure has been subjected to pressures in excess of its original design, I’m even more concerned and people are like, “What are you talking about? I don’t see anything?” Well, you know what’s going on behind that wall and really, the concern here as well is if you don’t identify those issues, and let’s say you go three years down the road and another storm impacts the area and then you have major damage, the insurance company may be able to tie that damage into an event that happened three years prior. And then you’re in big trouble.

Paul: Agreed, just dislodging fasteners in a window recently. You know, just dislodging the window assembly, if you will, from its original positioning. You know, yeah, it didn’t blow out during the storm and I’m good. And then the next storm comes and now you have a failure because that window is now weakened.

Derek: Right. There’s a couple of questions that I always put out there to property owners regarding windows and doors just to see if I can jog their memory or identify any issues that they’re having. One is do you hear more noise? Do you hear traffic? Do you hear more wind than you heard before? That’s one question. The other is, you know, compared to this time last year, are your utility bills higher? Are you losing air conditioning air because that window or door is no longer sitting flashed or properly aligned? Because really, they don’t understand oftentimes the way these components are installed or what they’re supposed to look like, but they certainly understand well, “You know, I’d never heard this traffic before or my AC bill went through the roof.” Are there any other things that an owner in layman’s terms can think about or that we can bring to their attention to kind of uncover some of these issues?

Paul: Well, I mean, you made some very good points. You can go to a big-box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot and buy one of these smoke cans and you just open it up adjacent to a window or door that you’re hearing more sound through. And you’ll be able to see if there’s a draft.

Derek: Got it.

Paul: That’s the first breach. Okay. It may not have yielded water damage yet, but when we have a storm, it doesn’t rain vertically in Florida, it rains horizontally with, you know, significant force behind it. The other issue that I came across a great deal was abuse of roofs. Not to segue away from kind of [inaudible 00:30:20]

. But I have seen a number of people who are required to pressure clean their roof and they hire someone who has zero knowledge of roofing and will go up on the roof with a 2500 or 3000 PSI pressure washer and subject that roof assembly and its flashings to pressures and water greater than a category five hurricane. And then the next storm that comes, there’s a spot in the ceiling. Why is there a spot in the ceiling? Again, going back to your insurance analysis, if a carrier can determine that that damage was done by you and not by the storm, you may find yourself…

Derek: In trouble…

Paul: …paying for reroofing on your own.

Derek: Right. Well, the other thing that you’re potentially affecting is even if there isn’t another storm, and now I get a leak in my roof, and I call my roofer or the manufacturer, they come out, and they’re like, “You know what? This was done by your pressure cleaner or a maintenance guy. You breached your warranty.” So, here’s a case of a guy that spent $25,000 on a new roof. And he wanted to keep this house pretty. Oftentimes, some of these homeowner associations pressure you to comply with the way you’re home looks. But really, I think it’s all about hiring someone knowledgeable and asking these questions, you know, what is your process? Do you use high pressure? Are you gonna be breaking roof tiles as you’re walking across my roof? You know, these are important, important things to discuss before you just hire somebody off the street that’s a painter who’s looking for some pressure cleaning work and just started in the business.

Paul: Correct.

Derek: So knowledge is power. And I think it’s a responsibility that’s no one else’s, but the owners initially and becoming better educated. So that’s all good stuff. Let’s wrap it up. I just wanted to ask you, after a storm goes through, I mean, we had some strong storms over the last two, three years, what are some of the things that a property owner should do? Should they hire somebody to come and do an independent evaluation? Should they call in? What should I be doing right after the storm? I mean, yes, picking up limbs and whatever. But is there something that I should really think about doing after a storm that perhaps I’m not aware of that I need to make sure that my rights are protected.

Paul: As an owner, the first thing I would do is photograph my condition immediately after the storm. Then I would contact a third party to come out and basically survey the building itself, the structure itself, all the windows, doors, roof, flashings, any of the cladding issues. All these different materials are sealed, if you will, with a sealant that has a serviceable life and the UV light dictates quite candidly how long that serviceable life is based on an exposure.

So you know if you have your house painted three years ago and they didn’t reseal the windows and doors and now we have a catastrophic storm, you may end up with cladding being affected by water intrusion bypassing, if you will, the beauty bead and maybe being stopped by the primary bead. So, now that water is going behind the stucco or right behind the wood cladding or tile cladding or stone whatever, you know, is on the structure and it begins to delaminate it. So you need to have a professional come out, quite candidly in my opinion, and look at this. Not necessarily, if you will, for formulating a claim, there are people that do that, but determining precisely what was affected by the storm, and what is the cost to remediate that. That’s helpful in negotiating with your carrier, and hopefully, will get you to a point where your hole after the storm and the remediation is taken care of.

Derek: Got it? Yeah. And I think what we’ve seen over the last couple years, my gosh, with this, the Dorian was a monster. I mean, we really need to take this seriously. And, I think the trend is that storms seem to be getting stronger, in my opinion.

Paul: And more frequent.

Derek: And bigger. And really, we’ve got to take this seriously. So with that, I just wanted to ask you, because we spoke about this earlier, PJDCCI construction consulting, how did you invent that name? Can you just tell us before we wrap up, just so I understand that for my own?

Paul: It’s just PJDCCI is the name of the company. I originally started the company with my name Paul J. Del Vecchio Construction Consultants, Incorporated. Now it’s just PJDCCI because filling out forms with that title, I ran out of space.

Derek: Yeah. And you ran out of energy maybe as well.

Paul: Exactly.

Derek: If you had to write that 20 times, man, that’s a handful. So thanks for identifying….

Paul: Thank you, Derek.

Derek: …how you came up with the name and I really appreciate having you here today. It was excellent. And I’m sure all of the listeners enjoyed it. So I’d like to thank everyone for listening to today’s podcast. Paul, if any listeners wanna reach out to you directly, how do they get in touch with you? Do you wanna let them know your website or best way for them to contact you?

Paul: Our website is www.pjdcci.com. And if you got a question, just send us an email and we’ll endeavor to give you a prompt and complete answer.

Derek: Great. And folks, to our listeners, we also invite you to take a further look at our GCI Consultants services on our website at www.gciconsultants.com. You can also reach us directly at 877-740-9990, that’s 9990, to discuss any of your building envelope needs. Thanks once again for listening and I look forward to talking with you the next time on our “Everything Building Envelope” podcast. Take care, everyone.