Water loss claims are often wrongfully adjusted because the insurance adjusters does not fully investigate the loss. Damage that is hidden behind walls, roofs, ceiling and floor can be detected by using tools that are made for finding water and moisture in these areas.

In my research involving "ice dam" claims noted in Christie and Causes of Loss, I noticed that a number of ice claims became mold claims that were not detected by the original adjusters. I kept thinking that many of these coverage and bad faith lawsuits could have been avoided by more thorough and prompt investigations.

IRMI published an article, Infrared Detection of Water Damage, by insurance lawyer, Barry Zalma. The article is instructive and notes:

The time saved using infrared, and the larger areas covered rapidly by an IR Camera, can save time and money by providing a faster, more efficient and more reliable survey. An IR camera can detect moisture located behind interior walls under the right conditions. The temperature difference created by the presence of moisture on the inside surface of a wall will appear differently than the surrounding area. IR and IT experts recommend that property owners or their insurers should use IR cameras and IT for moisture detection under the following circumstances.

  • After any water damage event like a flood, broken water lines, equipment failure, roof leaks, etc.

  • Before warranty expiration on new construction. (In many cases, those damp basement walls are explained away as "during construction" moisture. It pays to make sure before warranty expiration.)

  • Before acquiring real estate suspected of having hidden moisture damage. (Don’t believe the story about the house has been vacant and closed up. Musty odors are caused by moisture.)

  • When basement walls are covered by finish materials, and the inspector cannot give a definitive answer on moisture issues.

  • When suspected plumbing leaks have occurred from in-slab water supply and/or waste lines.

  • When doors, windows, or other openings in the structure are suspected of leaking.

  • When performing an energy audit of the building to determine areas of infiltration and exfiltration.

  • To determine adequacy of insulation. Wet insulation is a poor insulator but is a great conductor of heat.

  • Infrared inspection of the roof can determine potential for ice dams, plugged drains, and water retention that may cause roof damage and/or leakage.

  • Locating hidden leakage and/or dampness under resilient flooring.

  • Locating wet areas in non-accessible crawlspaces.

Infrared technology is especially useful for inspecting flat roofing systems and synthetic stucco systems, which rarely give any visual clues as to their condition or the location of leaks and moisture retention. Litigation involving synthetic stucco, or exterior insulating finish systems (EIFS), is rampant nationwide. EIFS exterior cladding is blamed by many property owners for retaining moisture behind.

Good faith adjustment demands that adjusters look for all damage and do a thorough investigation. Insurance companies that send field adjusters to investigate water losses without providing them with these tools, training, and technology are failing to conduct a good faith and reasonable investigation. Without such a full investigation, second catastrophes often occur because the water and moisture never get removed.

  • Insurance adjusters as well as remediation contractors routinely underestimate the damage caused by a significant water loss. I have found only a handful of remediation contractors who truly know how to properly dry out and clean a structure. I have found no adjusters who fit into that category. It seems their main role is butchering the reserve limits. I have a chosen a remediation contractor on every water loss who utilizes a third party CIH to set proper protocols. On larger losses, these protocols can be 3″ thick and cost up to $75,000. I have yet to have a problem getting a carrier to pay for the CIH as a necessary part of the remediation….much like an engineering fee in a structure loss. Some policies afford a sublimit for professional fees and I have been able to push the CIH to those areas when able as well. As a public adjuster, you have a duty to ensure the settlement you agree to properly indemnifies the insured. In my opinion, you have professional liability if you are settling water losses assumed to be Category I or II losses by simply drying out the structure with minimum demo and not testing. If you have a break on an upper floor that causes damage below, think of all the septic surfaces that water travels across before it gets to it’s final resting place. I have yet to see a loss of that nature not needing to be treated as a Cat III loss, which requires a completely different set of standards.

  • Steven Thomas

    Infrared testing can also give “False Positives” or even fail to find damage (moisture) at all! Especially on roofs! It is imperative that all testing be validated as accurate and applicable to a particular type of roof. Just because someone says they have an Infrared Survey does not ensure it was done correctly! Of the 3 major types of equipment used for moisture detection in roofs (Nuclear, Electrical Capacitance and Infrared) it is my opinion, based on the performance of 1000’s of moisture surveys utilizing all 3 technologies that Infrared is the least reliable!