Tuesday, November 8, 2016

$300K in damages, 17 cars destroyed after massive carport fire in Salt Lake City

NOVEMBER 7, 2016
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - A large apartment fire sent three people to the hospital and evacuated nearly 20 units.

Fire crews were called to the fire near 825 E. 600 S. at about 4:30 a.m.

Officials said the fire started in a car port storage room.

Fortunately, actual flames did not impact the nearby apartments.

However some of the units suffered heat-related damage like busted windows and eaves that melted due to the intense heat.

Most of those apartments also have smoke and water damage.

Firefighters had to rescue some residents from their balconies.

Of the three people injured, two suffered burns while running out of their apartment.

The third victim suffered some smoke inhalation.

The fire destroyed at least 17 cars.

Early damage estimate is at least $300,000 and so far the cause is said to be accidental but undetermined.

WHAT THE HAIL: The Insurance Council of Texas has declared last Friday's hail storm in El Paso a "catastrophe" with more than $100 million in losses

NOVEMBER 5, 2016
EL PASO, Texas - The Insurance Council of Texas has declared last Friday's hail storm in El Paso a "catastrophe," Mark Hanna, with the ICT, told ABC-7 Monday.

Hannah said El Pasoans reported more than $100 million in losses and insurers are sending extra adjusters to El Paso.

Saturday, the line at a local State Farm office extended outside into the parking lot Saturday morning, agent Rafael Martinez told ABC-7.

Martinez says he's never seen this many hail claims in El Paso since he started at State Farm five years ago.

State Farm has had a little more than 1,400 hail claims filed state-wide since Friday, with most of the claims being in El Paso, Martinez said.

Meantime, the clean up continues after Friday's severe storm paralyzed the city during rush hour.

ABC-7 caught crews cleaning up rocks and mud in the roadways near UTEP early Monday morning.

El Paso Streetcar Project crews worked over the weekend to put work zone cones back up after wind and rain washed them away.

Streetcar crews also worked over the weekend, to clean up mud and debris that had washed into the work zones.

Two people suffered major burns in a butane honey oil lab explosion in southeast Bakersfield, California

Butane honey oil lab explosion injures two


Two people suffered major burns Friday night in a butane honey oil lab explosion in southeast Bakersfield, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

A third person at the scene was not injured.

At about 10:30 p.m., deputies were dispatched to the 500 block of Price Street after reports of a structure fire and large explosion, a sheriff's news release said. They found a residence partially engulfed in flames and with major structural damage.

Two of the occupants were taken to a local hospital with major burns.

Firefighters and arson investigators determined a butane honey oil lab explosion caused the fire. No arrests have been made in the case, officials said Monday, which is being investigated by the Sheriff’s Office, California Multi-Jurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team and the Bakersfield Fire Department.

Honey oil, which is commonly referred to as "wax," is a highly concentrated form of THC, the chemical responsible for marijuana's psychological effects.

The potent drug is extracted by burning down large quantities of cannabis in a chemical process that turns it into a wax-like substance.

Last Thursday, the Sheriff's Office discovered a sophisticated butane honey oil lab in Oildale and later arrested three:

• 29-year-old Tyler Martino on suspicion of manufacturing a controlled substance, possession of marijuana for sale, and maintaining a residence for the purpose of drug sales;

• 32-year-old David Dorsett on suspicion of felony child endangerment, possession of marijuana for sale, and possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana; and

• 28-year-old Desarae Matney on suspicion of felony child endangerment, possession of marijuana for sale, and possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana.

Anyone with information about the newest case is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 861-3110 or Secret Witness at 322-4040.

A faulty valve caused a chlorine gas leak that shut down portions of Port Allegany in PA and forced the evacuation of 50 to 100 people Monday morning.

NOVEMBER 7, 2016

Port Allegany, PA

 A chlorine gas leak shut down portions of Port Allegany and forced the evacuation of 50 to 100 people Monday morning.

No injures were reported in the incident that emergency responders made quick work of containing, McKean County Emergency Services Director Andrew Johnson reported to The Era.

The incident, which started around 8 a.m. Monday, involved a faulty valve on the borough’s water well on Pearl Street in the borough, Johnson said. He said that people were evacuated from Pearl Street and Main Street from Church Street to Arnold Avenue north in the borough.

Around 10 a.m. Monday, many people with cell phones in McKean County received a Civil Danger Alert issued for Port Allegany, leaving many to wonder what had happened.

But around that same time, the leak had been contained, and the system’s manufacturer was on the way, according to Johnson and Borough Manager Bob Veilleux.

In that some two-hour span, though, an estimated 48 pounds of chlorine gas leaked into the borough, Veilleux said. When the borough employees started performing maintenance, there were 114 pounds in the tank, and when the leak was stopped, there were 66 pounds remaining, he said.

Veilleux said the water operators were following standard operating procedures while performing maintenance on the water system. While performing the work, a valve started to leak and it could not be turned off, he said.

“After trying to shut the valve, the employees evacuated the building and notified me,” Veilleux said. “I immediately called 911 and then called Univar, the system’s manufacturer,” he said.

Meanwhile, borough employees canvassed the neighborhoods, telling people to evacuate and letting them that shelter had been available at the firehall.

“Emergency Management coordinated the response, including the Port Allegany Fire Department, Port Allegany Ambulance Service, and the Hazmat response team,” Veilleux said. “After the leak was contained by the Hazmat team, Univar was able to remove the chlorine cylinder from the building at around 12:30 p.m.”




Subsurface releases of chlorinated and petroleum hydrocarbons (drycleaner and degreasing solvents, crude oils and refined products such as gasoline) are one of the most frequent causes of groundwater contamination in the United States. They are the subject of billions of dollars spent in investigation, remediation, property damage claims, and litigation. In order to differentiate the nature and sources of contamination, detailed chemical data of the in situ contamination and its potential sources must be collected and compared, to properly allocate contaminant ownership.

Many forensic tools are available during the forensic investigations to accomplish the objective of determining when, what, where, who and how; several have been used for decades and others are now more widely used due to improvements in laboratory analytical capabilities. For example, trace elements can be used to track surface and groundwater contaminant plumes. We have used Boron to track leachate emanating from municipal solid waste landfills because it is extensively used in disinfectants, preservatives, and as a fluxing agent in glass and enamels; is readily soluble in water; and will travel greater distances than some hydrocarbons and most heavy metals. We have also used rare earth elements to track refinery effluent and sediment and waste soil dumped into rivers. 

More recently, we have used CSIA (compound specific stable isotope) methods in vadose zone and vapor phase contaminant studies to identify the source of the contamination and to assess the in-situ degradation of contaminants. See figure below for an example illustration of how we determine the impacts at a monitoring well from source X or from source Y, a very common dispute in environmental contamination incidents.

The many issues associated with disputes over responsibility for cleanup are reviewed in this multi-part blog, as we attempt to answer the questions: When, what, where, who and how chemicals were released. Case studies are presented, highlighting the approach and results of these forensic investigations.

Tools of the Forensic Investigation

The tools of forensic investigation include, but are not limited to, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, flame ionization, thin layer chromatography, lead isotope analyses, library search site characterization, tracer additives, stable and radioactive isotope analyses, mathematical fate and transport models, and so on. These tools are presented with emphasis on how they might be applied at mixed or commingling plume sites.

The best tools to apply to a particular case depend on the questions posed, so clarity about the ultimate objective of the forensic work is important from the start. For example, a focus on product identification or source characteristics is usually quite different from age-dating the release(s). Crude oil and refined products are complex mixtures of hundreds to thousands of constituents that can have widely varying physico-chemical properties, and some forensic tools are better suited to certain constituents than others. In addition, it is very important to consider the phase of the chemical to be sampled, such as petroleum product, soil-sorbed constituents, dissolved phase constituents in groundwater, and vapor phase constituents.

For example, a forensic method that we use is called PIANO (Paraffins, Isoparaffins, Aromatics, Naphthenes, Olefins). The analytical method is high resolution GC/FID or full scan GC/MS. The distribution of the over PIANO gasoline-range constituents provides information on the source and age of the product, because it determines the amount of weathering. This method is applicable to gasoline, naphtha, and other light hydrocarbons. Other methods available for gasoline fingerprinting include: oxygenate analysis, organic lead and lead scavenger analysis, bulk and compound-specific stable isotope analysis. The figure below shows a typical PIANO histogram.

For diesel fuel fingerprinting we may use: PAH and alkyl-PAH analysis, n-alkane and acyclic isoprenoid analysis, biomarker and n-alkylcyclo-hexane analysis, total sulfur analysis, and so on.

Metropolitan is typically applying environmental forensic methods taking into consideration of the hydrogeological properties of aquifers, fate and transport properties of contaminants, and advanced chemical ‘fingerprinting’ to answer the posed questions and to assist clients define their relative responsibility in environmental cleanup at spill sites. Metropolitan uses a multiple-line of evidence approach and places a particular interest in cross-checks of results and interpretations with the goal to generate factual information to assist our clients in the fair settlement of the legal claim.

Estimation of the Fuel Release Time

At several of our projects Metropolitan is tasked with the determination of the time of the release of fuel oil. The correct determination of the time of the release insures that an equitable settlement of the resulting liability and damages occurs.

Estimates on fuel/oil release times are feasible in the presence of suitable data sets, including:

1. geochemical data

2. stable and radioactive isotope analyses

3. chemical, biological and physical data of soil and or groundwater, including analyses for trace elements

4. hydrogeologic system and groundwater level variations

5. nature and extent of hydrocarbon plume; concentration gradients within plume

6. microbial soil / water potential to degrade various hydrocarbon constituents

7. metal concentrations in the impacted soils and groundwater

8. contaminant sampling within and beyond the plume

Forensic Engineering Experience Case Studies

Metropolitan staff has developed and utilized scientific methods to assist clients in a variety of ways related to their claim issues. The following is a partial list of such projects:

· Provided expert witness services for plaintiff seeking remediation of contaminated groundwater that caused indoor air inhalation problems;

· Used CSIA to determine the source(s) of PCE and TCE at monitoring wells at a number of sites in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut;

· Testified that engineering and scientific evidence was improperly collected and analyzed and was inadequate to show the age of the release;

· Demonstrated that solvents in groundwater at client's property originated from off-site drycleaner and that client's site actually provided remediation for the off-site release of dry cleaning solvent;

· Expert witness for property owner impacted by industrial waste disposal from industrial manufacturer;

· Demonstrated that environmental analysis by a previous consultant for a manufacturing site was inadequate; as a result, the lender's concerns were alleviated and financing proceeded;

· Chemical "age-dating" and contaminant transport analyses of petroleum in groundwater at a gas station showed that contaminants originated from other parties;

· Age-dated petroleum release at a former gas station to show that the previous owner of the gas station caused groundwater contamination;

· Age-dated petroleum releases at an industrial facility to show that the on-site plume was the result of an off-site source;

· Prepared age-dating reports for over one-hundred residential fuel oil spills;

· Assisted insurance companies attorneys in defending subrogation claims; was able to demonstrate that the forensic data collected by the first party consultant were collected and analyzed using invalid methods;

· Demonstrated that structural damage to a residence was from a source other than the alleged high lake level

· Collected evidence (for the primary responsible party) that identified other responsible parties to share in the cost of a Superfund cleanup;

· Review of the site data at a bulk petroleum facility indicated that the site releases were not the result of regular oil transfer operations and that they were caused by the negligent actions of the insured’s agents; the case was settled in favor of the insurance company;

· Was able to demonstrate that the majority of the removal actions at petroleum release sites were neither reasonable nor necessary; as a result of our opinion, the insurance client settled the claim in favorable terms;

· At several drycleaner sites we were able to demonstrate that the age of the release was much earlier than the parties originally believed; as a result, the insurance client settled the claim at a fraction of the alleged liability.

Gasoline Fingerprinting Case Study – Applying the PIANO Analysis to Determine the Source of the Gasoline Product in Monitoring Wells

A typical situation we encounter in urban settings is contamination that may have been caused by multiple sources. Insurers and responsible parties want to know the percent contribution from each source or from a source so that they perform cost allocations. Forensic characterization of gasoline releases can be accomplished with PIANO analyses, an enhanced GC/FID or GC/MS technique which can identify and quantify hundreds of hydrocarbons. By quantifying diagnostic ratios of selected hydrocarbons obtained from the PIANO scan, investigators can obtain information on the magnitude of environmental weathering, the type of gasoline present and the refining methods used in its production and the gasoline’s compliance with environmental regulations. These parameters can be used to assess the nature of the gasoline release and when it occurred.

The objective of a typical investigation is to determine if LNAPL (a floating gasoline product) encountered inside groundwater monitoring wells or test pits downgradient from two or more gasoline and diesel service stations came from-phase gasolines found on the property of these service station. We typically must perform a detailed gasoline product analysis from each gasoline station and from the downgradient areas. It is well known that refiners that provide the gasoline and other product to the individual service stations use different blending compositions. Therefore, we can use this knowledge to determine the source of the gasoline as it is transported and degraded in the subsurface environment.

Weathering in the subsurface environment typically affects the product samples differently; therefore, some differences are always apparent. In a typical case, the gasolines samples analyses from each station revealed differences related to refinery blending. Formulated gasoline is generally enriched in isoparaffins and aromatics. One Station’s gasoline contained an abundance of particular isoparaffins, namely, 2,2,4-, 2,3,4-and 2,3,3-trimethylpentane, which indicate that the refiner blended alkylate into its gasolines. 

Another refiner that provided gasoline to a second station did not use alkylate in production of its gasoline(s). The relative absence of these isoparaffins in the downgradient monitoring well samples indicated that it was consistent with the gasoline from the first station’s refiner. Thus, we were able to prove with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the contamination in the wells had originated from only one of the gasoline stations.

In another case, we were able to determine that the subject gasoline was a leaded gasoline and that only two of the subject four gasoline stations were using that type of product. Furthermore, by using analyses for methyl lead and tetraethyl lead, we were to prove that only one gas station was using methyl lead gasoline.

Claims Closed

We are pleased to report the closure of the following claims.

Claim Closed #1: Release of One Thousand Gallons of Kerosene

We were asked to investigate the release of kerosene from an underground storage tank (UST) and associated piping. The insured claimed that the release was sudden and accidental, triggering coverage of our client’s policy. We investigated the leak site, collected forensic data and determined that the leak occurred over a period of many years and that it was not a sudden and accidental release. Our client settled the claim for a small fraction of the $150,000 claim price tag. Claim closed – at a record time.

Claim Closed #2: Historic Release of Gasoline at a Former Gasoline Station

We were asked to review a claim file for determining the age of the release(s) of gasoline and other petroleum hydrocarbons. Without collecting additional data, we determined that the gasoline releases were historic in nature (pre 1982). Since our client insurance policy covered the property for the years 1990-1995, an amicable settlement was reached with the insured without incurring additional claim investigation expenses. Claim closed – at a record time.

Issue Resolved

We are very pleased to report the resolution of the following issue(s).

Issue Resolved: Plume Commingling.

We were asked to review a claim file to determine if the releases from two diesel USTs were commingling. Other consultants had unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the issue and one of the insurance carriers was refusing to admit that the plumes were commingling. Based on constituents found in the diesel fuel(s), we were able to show that the two plumes were commingling; we were also able to determine the percent mixing of the plumes. As a result, our client requested from the other insurance company to contribute to the cost of site cleanup. The parties have reached an amicable settlement based on the conclusions of our work. Issue resolved.

Metropolitan Also Offers the Following Claim Management Services

Professional Errors and Omissions

Design Errors and Omissions: Code Compliance, Drawing/Plans Analysis, Quality Assurance, Defect Analysis, Design & Repair Scope, Conflict Resolution, Scheduling Analysis, Contract Analysis, Exhibit Preparation, Testimony, Expert Analysis

Construction Errors and Omissions. We perform the following basis services. Claims Analysis, Scope of Repair, Delay Claims, Estimating, School Construction, Timeline Analysis, Defect Claims, Negotiation of Claims, Report Generation, Exhibit Preparation, Testimony, Expert Analysis.

Construction Defects

We provide civil engineering and construction consulting services including technical advice, dispute resolution assistance and expert testimony. Services include construction contract claim preparation and analysis utilizing Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule techniques, loss of productivity studies and liability assessments; Construction project performance evaluations (including Standard of Care assessments); Construction contracts analysis; Property and casualty loss investigations and reconstruction estimates; Personal injury investigations and opinions of liability; Pre-litigation support services including interrogatory and opposing expert deposition question preparation; Attendance at opposing expert deposition; Provision of expert testimony at deposition, mediation, arbitration and trial.

When involved during construction, our basic strategy in addressing claims is anticipation, avoidance, mitigation, and then preparation or defense of the claim. To that end, we perform detailed research and comprehensive analysis of disputed issues and the responsibilities of the owner and the contractor related to each issue.


Metropolitan’s Pledge

Our goal is to help you resolve the claim at the lowest possible transaction cost. Since transaction costs are, on average, fifty to seventy five percent of the claim, Metropolitan believes that the emphasis should be placed in reducing the transaction costs by collecting high quality data early on to ensure unnecessary challenges by the insured and/or other insurance carrier, should the claim is subrogated.

We know that you want the facts; that you want them fast; that you want uncompromised quality of the deliverable; and at a rock bottom price.

forensic professionals are second to none and are dedicated to fast, efficient and effective response and creating a product of uncompromising quality and value.

forensic professionals are second to none and are dedicated to fast, efficient and effective response and creating a product of uncompromising quality and value.

Metropolitan is ready to assist you with a number of forensic engineering or age-dating determinations or evaluations to insure that the proper coverage trigger or period has been determined. We also have the scientific expertise to determine whether the releases were historic in nature, whether they were sudden or accidental, as well as to be able to differentiate plume contributions from various sources.

We are ready to assist you with E&O claims and/or construction defect claims. Metropolitan will also use proven forensic techniques in the determination of the cause, origin, and extent of foundation/soil movement, grating/drainage, structural failures, water intrusions, construction defects and other failures. Our job is to find out what happened and why, from the cause and origin through the extent of loss. Metropolitan will be able to point the way toward a speedy disposition of the claim.

Our job is to find out what happened and why, from the cause and origin through the extent of loss. Metropolitan will be able to point the way toward a speedy disposition of the claim.

Metropolitan Engineering, Consulting & Forensics (MECF)
Providing Competent, Expert and Objective Investigative Engineering and Consulting Services
P.O. Box 520
Tenafly, NJ 07670-0520
Tel.: (973) 897-8162
Fax: (973) 810-0440
E-mail: metroforensics@gmail.com
Web pages: https://sites.google.com/site/metropolitanforensics/

Metropolitan appreciates your business.

Feel free to recommend our services to your friends and colleagues.

We know you need to process damage claims quickly and knowing the facts is now faster than ever – within 24 hours of site visit. Our Pegasos Forensic Investigation Services (PFIS) feature:

· Expert Forensic Investigators on-site.

· Defensible, Readable, Conclusive Reports.

· Fixed-Prices starting at $499 per chimney or roof inspection (volume discounts are also available). Flood loss assessments start at $999.0. HVAC equipment only inspections start at $299 for local (within one hour one-way drive) assignments.

· 10-State Coverage Area.

· All of our employees and associates are subjected to full FBI background investigations and security clearance.

Winter is coming and will cause burst pipes, wet floors, leaking ceilings, cracked chimneys, settled porches and foundations, roof collapses

Winter is coming
For those of you who watch the HBO series Game of Thrones[1], "Winter is Coming" is the motto of House Stark.  The meaning behind these words is one of warning and constant vigilance.  The Starks, being the lords of the North, strive to always be prepared for the coming of winter, which hits their lands the hardest.  The deeper metaphorical meaning is that even if things are good now ("Summer"), we must always be ready for a dark period when events turn against us ("Winter").
With last winter’s polar vortex there was a significant rise in winter season property damage claims.  Burst pipes, wet floors, leaking ceilings, cracked chimneys, settled porches and foundations, roof collapses are just a few of the numerous forensic investigations we had to perform.  This past year, ice damming was cited by the insureds as the cause for the leak in the roof or the ceiling/exterior wall, peeling paint and stained/rotted wood framing or the collapse of the gutters and so on.  Because winter is coming and the forecast calls for an equally bad winter as the last one, below you will find information about roof failures, ice dams and how to prevent the costly property damage they can cause.

Failed roof due to the weight of snow and ice.  Structural deterioration due to lack of proper maintenance and wear and tear were additional contributing factors leading to the failure

What is an ice dam?
An ice dam is a frozen barrier to the free flow of rain and melting snow and ice.  It can form when melting snow and ice from the roof refreezes at the gutters and eaves or gutter-stored rainwater freezes in these areas.  When temperatures rise and ice and snow on these unheated edges of your roof do not melt as fast as the heated areas that cover the other parts of the roof, then this melting water will be backed up by the ice dam that was formed along the gutters.  Unfortunately, this causes water to drain improperly and unpredictably, finding its escape routes through the home, mostly through the joints around the chimneys, roof/wall intersections, windows, and so on.  The end result is damaged ceilings and walls and, if left unabated long enough, significant structural damage and potential loss of life or property.  See image below from one of last winter’s casualties.

What causes ice dams?
The ice dam is a warning sign that something is wrong with the design, construction or maintenance of the roof, the attic, the ventilation of the home, and the drainage system along the roof.  A poorly constructed roof or inadequate insulation or improperly directing heat to the attic can result in significant heat transfer to the roof.  The heat transfer results in enhanced melting of the snow and ice on the roof, while the ice that had been formed along the gutters will not melt as fast because it does not receive much heat from the attic.  So this roof meltwater or melt off will accumulate behind the ice barrier located along the gutters, soffit or other non-heated areas of the roof.  Then you have your ice dam that will force this accumulated meltwater to find openings in the roof to enter the structure. 
Due to so many differences in temperature levels involved and the different structural elements and materials (such as brick chimney, asphalt shingle, wood, metal, etc.) we get different expansion and contraction rates in the roof material that leads into the creation of openings in the roof: joints between the chimney and the roof, connections between the roof and the exterior wall, etc.)
A better view that shows how this issue happens – in this case it is further exacerbated by the soffit venting which helps cool the area even faster.

                            Schematic showing the process of ice dam formation

A picture from this past winter’s inspections showing the water entering the soffit vents and forming icicles is shown below.

Note the icicles coming through the soffit vents.  The ice dam is further exacerbated by the soffit venting which helps cool the area even faster.

How can you prevent ice dams?
As was explained above, ice dams occur after heavy snowfall when warm air in the attic causes the roof to warm and the snow to melt. Water running down the roof refreezes when it reaches the colder roof edge, forming a mound of ice. The ice traps meltwater, which can seep back up under shingles and drip through the roof into your house, causing wet and stained ceilings and walls, and peeling paint and rot.   Based on what we said earlier, you should focus on increasing the ventilation of the attic, eliminating the warm-air bypasses (they are numerous!), increasing the attic insulation and clean the gutters prior to the winter time.
Clean the Gutters and Remove other Obstructions – Make sure that the gutters are free from leaves and other debris.  You would be surprised what we find inside gutters every time we do these investigations.  When the gutters drain freely, it reduces the potential for accumulated rainwater to freeze and cause ice damming; also, when the gutters are clean, the melted water has a nice route to drain away from the home.

Provide better insulation in the attic Inspect the attic and check the depth of your attic insulation.  Building codes require about 12 to 14 in. of fiberglass or cellulose insulation.  Add more if you have less than 8 in. and have had ice dam problems in the past.  It should be noted though, that the United States Department of energy recommends that ceilings, both cathedral and regular, have insulation levels of R49. That’s a 15″ thick layer of cellulose or a 27″ thick layer of fiberglass.   Blown-in cellulose and fiberglass are usually better than hand-placed batt, because they fill more tightly around rafters, joists and other obstructions, leaving fewer gaps.  When renovating rooms, consider removing and replacing older insulation in your ceilings.  Some preventative renovation is easier than costly ice dam damage repair or  replacement.

Ventilate Your Attic Properly and Adequately - Good insulation, air-tight ceilings, low humidity levels in your home and proper ventilation usually will keep a roof cold enough to prevent ice dams from forming.  Start by making sure heat does not escape around chimneys, pipes, skylights, attic accesses and vents.  Then address any ventilation issues your current roof might have.  A well-ventilated attic continually replaces warmer air in the attic with cold outside air.  Research suggests that maintaining an attic air temperature below freezing when the outside air temperature is in the low 20s can help reduce the occurrence of ice dams.

Reduce or eliminate all attic bypasses – Attic bypass leaks can cut the effectiveness of attic insulation by 30 to 70 percent.  Based on our inspections, we have found that ALL homes plagued by ice dams have a significant number of bypasses.  Some examples are shown below.  Typical culprits include:  furnace flue or furnace vents openings; spaces around masonry chimneys; recessed lights; electric conduit openings; and many-many others.

                                       Attic bypass around vent pipe

                                Bypass around furnace vent

Remove accumulated snow from your roof – This is the least preferred method of preventing ice dams and should only be attempted in emergency situations, using an appropriate roof rake.  Avoid using salt or chemical snow-melt products to melt ice on the roof. These can erode shingles and gutters and potentially void the roofing manufacturer's warranty.  It should be noted though that partial removal of snow can cause ice dams to occur on other areas of the roof, away from eaves and gutters.

When comes to ice dams, an ounce of prevention could weight its weight in gold.
Attic Condensation, Ice dams and Mold
Attic condensation can cause a variety of issues in your home. These issues, if not addressed promptly and repaired properly, can be very detrimental to the structure of your house as well as the health of you and your family.  Condensation during the winter months help create an environment conducive to the formation of Ice Dams, where ice and snow on the unheated edges of your roof do not melt as fast as the heated areas that cover your attic space. Once an ice dam has occurred, water tends to backup under roofing materials and infiltrate into attics and living spaces.  These Ice Dam leaks account for a large percentage of roof and structural damage to homes every year.  Roof leaks can also severely degrade the R value of your attic insulation as well.  The United States Department of energy recommends that ceilings, both cathedral and regular, have insulation levels of R49. That’s a 15″ thick layer of cellulose or a 27″ thick layer of fiberglass. If these insulations get wet, they become compacted which degrades their insulation effectiveness.  Another destructive as well as dangerous product of Attic Condensation is mold, specifically Black Mold. It is common knowledge that molds are the main cause of allergies. Most every chronic sinus infection (37 million Americans) can be linked to mold spores. Molds are now classified as one of the leading causes of allergies. Attics with condensation issues and bad ventilation are prime breeding grounds for molds to grow rapidly. And where molds flourish, sickness closely follows.

The major cause of attic condensation is due to moisture escaping from the living portion of your home and migrating up into the attic. The average household of four generates anywhere from two to four gallons of water vapor per day, from everyday activities such as cooking, laundry, showering and washing dishes. These activities should not cause an excessive amount of condensation in your attic, unless your living space is not properly venting these vapors out.  There should be exhaust vents in your kitchen and bathroom to vent vapor out of your house.  Sometimes builders when building houses will vent bathroom and dryer vents into attics, crawl spaces or over hangs, and not out onto the roof. This is a very bad corner cutting procedure common in the construction industry today. Penetrations in your ceilings and walls (such as ceiling fans, outlets, and attic doors) are great entry points for water vapor to enter your attic.
If you suspect that you have an condensation issue with your attic, there are several things that you can do to diagnose as well as help eliminate this issue, including:
·         Look for wetness on the nails piercing through the wood deck.
·         Check for condensation or moisture on rafters and wood decking.
·         Look for water stains on the roof decking that normally indicate a leak. If you find a leak mark it with electrical tape so that you can show your roofer if you call for a repair.
·         Look for mold on the structure of your attic. If you find mold, you can kill it with household bleach. Dead mold can still make you sick, so be sure and add a coating of kilz (easily found it at your local Hardware store) to the affected area to seal the area up.
·         Check your attic for exhaust vents and make sure that they are properly vented through the roof.
·         Check all penetrations in your ceilings such as light fixtures and make sure there are no excessive gaps between the fixtures and ceiling.
·         Make certain all drywall is finished properly with no gaps or cracks for moisture to migrate through.
·         Consider installing an insulated zip cover onto the entrance of your attic.
·         Check for soffit vent and make sure that it isn’t blocked by insulation.
·         Check for roof ventilation, such as power vents, louver vents or ridge vents. If you have ridge vents, you shouldn’t have any other roof venting systems, except soffit vents, which work hand in hand with ridge vent.

Roof Failures from this past winter’s Snow and Ice Loads

Public works garage roof buckled Feb. 8, 2014 apparently under accumulated weight of ice and snow.
This past winter we had a very significant increase in failures of the roofs.  The insureds claimed that the weight of snow and ice caused the roof failure.  Certainly the snow and ice accumulation on the roof likely contributed to failure of a truss.  This is just one example of a structural collapse in the Northeast (especially in New England) following a series of severe snowstorms and freezing rain that have made accumulated snow denser and heavier, especially in southern New England.
Of the 200 distressed roofs Metropolitan has assessed in the past year, we found only a few buildings where the total weight of ice and snow was approximately equal to or slightly above design code requirements.  Most collapses are related to details of design, structural deterioration or building modifications.  Property owners should be cognizant of any structural changes and assess whether they have proper drainage to avoid refreezing of any melt off.  If an owner builds a new roof, they should be sensitive to issues that can affect the total load on the roof during the snow season.
Both New Hampshire and Vermont, which have received mostly light powdery snow, have experienced only a handful of collapses, including many barns.  However, in Massachusetts, which received wetter, heavier snow, 172 roof failures were reported to state emergency officials from Feb. 1 to Feb. 9, including 98 commercial or industrial buildings and 10 institutions, including schools and churches.

Most collapses in New England have involved structures with long-spans, including web-joist structures with flat roofs; modified designs or older abandoned buildings.  Existing building codes are adequate if designers allow for a factor of safety.  But we recommend designers make proper allowances for snow accumulation such as when designing roof structures near parapet walls, especially those that are four feet or higher.  We’ve had many roof collapses this year involving accumulation of snow on roofs when snow builds against the parapet. You have to design for these kinds of snow loads.
Multi-level roofs with steps instead of roof flashing can also be problematic with snow accumulation on a first-story portion, for example, piling up against the second story.  It’s best to avoid stepped designs unless you design for them.  While an average of 40 psf may be adequate for designing most roofs, designers should allow 60 psf to 80 psf for the parapet wall.  Mountainous regions may require twice as much strength for the roof structure.
Solidification of Several Layers of Meltwater
While state building codes address snow drifts with requirements for the shape and slope of a roof, this year’s record snowfalls and ice accumulation with little thawing has led to a greater number of collapses.  Even two feet of freshly fallen snow or more totaling 16 to 20 lb/sf was not a danger to buildings.  However, invisible loads caused by accumulation of ice have been a serious problem since ice weighs 7.5 to 8 times more per cu ft. than snow.  In many cases, even before reaching two-foot snow loads, we were in excess of 30 pounds because of the ice.

This occurs when two layers of ice form in the snow from solidification of melt off when the temperature drops at night.  One layer of ice can form during a cold but sunny day in the upper section of snow from melt off that penetrates into the snow and the other forms at the lowest level while the building is heated.  This invisible load has been overlooked by many property managers, since this has not been a typical problem in prior winters with time for snow to melt between storms.
We recommend developing an educational program to educate building owners about unusual situations involving snow, wind and ice.

Metropolitan Engineering, Consulting & Forensics (MECF)

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[1] An adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's series of fantasy novels.