Case of the Month: Broken Shakes

Feb 1, 2014 by

The composite shake roof on the insureds’ home was cracked and broken.  They turned in a claim for wind damage to their carrier.  The adjuster called in GEI to find out what really happened.

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Our expert met the homeowner and his roofers at the site.  The property was a single-family, timber-framed building, constructed circa 1952/1957. The homeowner and his roofers stated that an inspector hired by the adjuster walked over the roof surface, causing even more cracking and damage. They considered the roof to be too fragile to withstand being stepped upon again and that anyone not observing this precaution would cause further damage.   Accordingly our inspection was conducted without walking or traveling over the roof surface.

Our client supplied photographs of the roof, taken at the time of his original inspection, but the digital resolution of those photographs was too low to determine whether the shakes were damaged prior to the inspector’s review of the roof surfaces.  Our expert took his own high-resolution photographs through a telephoto lens and examined the broken edges. This showed that none of the cracks viewed were recent (less than 3 months old).   The vertical crack edges were oxidized and the cracks viewed were indistinguishable from each other as to age.   The age of the cracking observed was, in his opinion, greater than twelve months prior to his inspection. 

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The shakes were affected by curling and cracking.  No shakes were completely missing, although some portions of some of the field and ridge shakes were displaced. The majority of the shakes present appeared sound.  The homeowner reported no water intrusion.

Our expert reviewed the available, reliable, and court-verifiable records of wind speeds at around the time of the reported date-of-loss.  The closest readings showed maximum wind speeds of 55 mph as gusts (wind experienced for 3 seconds). Wind speeds recorded at downtown Los Angeles (18.1 miles away) and at the Mount Wilson Airport (3.98 miles away from site), showed lesser wind speeds (29 mph and 20.7 mph respectively) on the date-of-loss.   The homeowner stated that wind speeds were at 94 mph, but could provide no verifiable record of that wind speed or direction.  Building codes in force in 1997 require wind speeds of 80 mph to be used as the base for calculating wind resistance of the structure.  Allowances exist for reduction of this base wind speed if the circumstances around the property can be demonstrated to have a greater degree of protection from winds.  In addition, the expert noted that a property adjacent to the north, together with a large tree, provided some shelter to the property during wind episodes from the claimed direction.  The pattern of cracked and curled shakes present on the residence and garage roofs did not indicate cracking induced solely by wind, which pattern would indicate a distinct swath of lifted and cracked shakes consistent with the wind direction.  Cracked shakes appeared in all locations (ridge and field shakes, high and low, near edges and far) of both roofs.

The roofs of both the residence and garage were covered with shakes manufactured by American Cemwood.  Those shakes were the subject of a class action lawsuit, settled in 1999 for $65M and later amended with more funds ($75M) in 2003, against the parent company, their insurers, and assigns.  The American Cemwood Company ceased production of the shakes in April 1998.  That lawsuit (settled without admission of liability) alleged that the shakes were inherently unsuitable for the purpose intended.  The shakes were manufactured by mixing approximately 2/3 cement and 1/3 wood fibers into a paste with water and binders and extruded in various profiles for roofing of residential property.  The shakes were found to suffer from crazing, cracking, and curling, resulting in loss of function of the waterproofing and weather-resistance of the roof finish.

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The homeowner also reported that the shakes were approximately 15 years old (therefore possibly installed in 1997), and that he had them fitted new to the roof at that time.   The cracked shakes that were present on the roof did not show a trail or pattern of regular cracking as if an individual had stepped on specific areas of the roof during an inspection, (although there was an unlikely possibility that only some shakes, which may have been stepped upon, cracked because of that/those steps).

Because cracked shakes appeared in all locations (ridge and field shakes, high and low, near edges and far) of both roofs, without the damage patterns that wind would have caused and because of the evidence submitted during the class action lawsuits, our expert concluded that the cause of the roofing failure was faulty manufacturing. There existed no other proximate cause for the damage.

As an aside, the homeowner did not state whether he was a member of the class action lawsuit that received compensation.  His share would have been approximately $3,450.

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