Note: This guest post is by Steven Thomas. As president and owner of Roof Leak Detection Company, Inc., Steven Thomas has evaluated over 20,000 roofing systems on commercial, industrial, and residential properties, and has been qualified in court as an expert regarding roof testing and evaluations. His company is an approved Testing Laboratory and has held this certification since 1994.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation across South Florida in 1992, the realm of damage assessment, particularly for roofing, underwent a significant transformation. Initially, roof consultants, equipped with specialized training in roof damage investigations, were entrusted with the critical task of evaluating roof damages. When structural issues were suspected, engineers with a background in structural assessments were brought in. However, the landscape of roof damage analysis has shifted over the past three decades, and not necessarily for the better.

A Shift in Perspective

Upon reflection on two true incidents from my years of experience in the industry, a worrying trend emerged: The undervaluation of specialized expertise in favor of generic engineering qualifications.

Case Study 1: Questioning Expertise

During an insurance appraisal, I encountered a situation where the insurance carrier’s appraiser, an engineer, was also acting as an expert. Despite noticeable loose roof tiles, the engineer refrained from closer inspection, asserting that his engineering background alone qualified him for the task. This claim was challenged by an experienced umpire who questioned the engineer’s specific training in roofing. It became evident that the engineer lacked the specialized knowledge necessary for a thorough roofing assessment, highlighting a disconnect between perceived and actual expertise.

Case Study 2: The Unfamiliar Terrain

Following Hurricane Wilma, I was assigned to inspect a significant loss in West Palm Beach involving over 200 roofs. The insurance carrier’s “expert,” an engineer from Naples, Florida, admitted to never having been on a roof. His reluctance to physically inspect the roofs due to his inexperience underscored a critical oversight by the insurance carrier in assigning a qualified individual for the task.

The Essence of Specialization

These anecdotes underscore a critical point: the importance of deploying individuals with relevant expertise and experience in roof damage assessment. Credentialed and experienced roof consultants are specialists in their field, focusing solely on roofing. Their role should not be conflated with that of a structural engineer or a roofer. Dismissing the value of a roof consultant’s specialized knowledge is a disservice to the accuracy and efficiency of the insurance claims process.

Conclusion: Recognizing and Valuing Specialized Expertise

The incidents highlighted reveal a broader issue within the insurance claims process: the undervaluation of specialized expertise and experience. While engineers and architects (P.E.s and A.I.A.s) bring valuable skills to the table, their qualifications do not inherently equip them for specific tasks such as roof damage analysis. It is imperative for both insurers and policyholders to acknowledge the importance of specialized expertise and experience in ensuring accurate and fair assessments. Hiring a named engineering company is not the same as selecting a qualified person to do the job. The right expertise not only expedites the claims process but also ensures that assessments are grounded in scientific facts and practical knowledge, ultimately benefiting all parties involved.