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How Smoke and Fire Damage Exterior HVAC Components

The intricacies of HVAC systems and questions surrounding smoke and fire damage make these claims particularly complex. Fires as well as soot, smoke, and ash contribute to smoke and fire damage claims. Because of their location, exterior components such as condensing units and the equipment contained therein are vulnerable to smoke and fire damage.

When it comes to smoke and fire claims, HVACi experts have noticed a discrepancy between what the policyholder reported as cause of loss and the peril determined by comprehensive testing. Even confirmed smoke and fire damage may not require full replacement or costly repairs. Adjusters can make confident determinations by understanding how these perils pose a threat to exterior HVAC elements and common indicators of these damages.

The discrepancy between the reported cause of loss and the actual cause of loss in the CCG IQ 2021 Annual Report highlights the need for expert assessment in smoke and fire claims.

Fire Damage

An HVAC system that sustained fire losses often has visible evidence that can include charring, melted components, and burn marks. However, knowing a probable cause of loss doesn’t paint a whole picture. Determining the scope of damage for an affected HVAC system requires an HVAC expert, as does accessing units in a fire-affected area. The characteristics of each type of HVAC system determine its fire risk as well as its ability to be repaired or replaced after a loss.

Electrical components and wires housed in the condensing unit may be damaged by fire, but they may also be the cause of damage to other parts of an HVAC system. Catastrophic capacitor failure may cause an ignition that consumes the wires, leading to more damage throughout the unit.

Overheated electrical components

The control board within an air handler overheated and ignited, damaging other electrical components and leaving the unit’s interior blackened with soot.

Soot and Ash

Some damage to HVAC units doesn’t originate on the property. In fact, it can come from miles away. Wildfires are on the rise, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The environmental and human cost of these fires is devastating, and they also have financial implications for the property and casualty insurance industry.

Outdoor split system condensing units and package units are vulnerable to direct flames from a wildfire. However, smoke, soot, and ash from a wildfire can be carried for miles before being deposited on HVAC equipment. Condenser coils in good condition can often be returned to pre-loss condition with a simple cleaning.

cleaned coils

Condenser coils affected by dry soot, ash, and other particles can often be cleaned using a special solvent to return to pre-loss condition, avoiding potentially costly repairs or replacements.

Smoke Damage

Smoke may not be the cause of loss to an HVAC system even if a fire has been confirmed near or on a property. An objective HVAC system expert will ask the right questions and verify details of the affected components to confirm or exclude fire as the actual cause of loss. An onsite inspection can determine whether there is smoke odor impact, whether buildup is soot or dirt from deferred maintenance or missing filter components, and whether the system was running at the time of the reported fire.

There are two main types of smoke that can be found on the condenser coils. Dry smoke is the most common to external units and is often the result of a wildfire or other exterior flames. Wet smoke results from burning rubber or plastics. Unlike dry smoke, soot, and ash, its greasy consistency makes it more difficult to clean.

smoke

Wet, sooty smoke has a greasy appearance and is harder to clean from delicate wires and components, seen in this unit, than dry smoke.

Dry smoke damage can often be cleaned from exterior components, using a method similar to that employed against soot and ash, to return them to their pre-loss condition. The age and condition of the unit and the severity of the damage assist in determining how best to address the damages.

Repair or Replacement?

Several factors influence whether an HVAC unit can be restored to its pre-loss condition. While smoke and fire is the cause of loss for many claims where these perils are cited, many damages don’t warrant full replacement. The rest were found to function as designed, or they could be repaired with Like Kind and Quality components.

Don’t assume the worst or hope for the best when it comes to smoke and fire to HVAC systems. Trust the HVACi team to receive accurate causes of loss and repair or replacement determinations for your claim. Submit a claim to HVACi for quick, comprehensive solutions.

 

Wildfire Claim Case Study

Which HVAC Components Are at Risk for Hurricane Damage?

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricanes leave varying degrees of damage in their wake, such as this house destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.

HVACi was a trusted damage assessment expert that adjusters relied on to evaluate HVAC and Refrigeration equipment following Hurricane Ida. The Category 4 storm surpassed Superstorm Sandy and the three most destructive 2017 hurricanes to become the second costliest U.S. hurricane, according to recent Insurance Information Institute data. Adjusters can use the cause of loss determinations from those claims assessments to better understand which HVAC components are most at risk for hurricane damage and why.

Hurricane Ida Cause of Loss

The CCG IQ 2021 Annual Report shows what insureds reported as cause of loss versus what HVACi experts determined during HVAC assessments from Hurricane Ida claims.

Wind Impacts to Exterior Components

Hurricanes are ranked by their wind speeds through the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, so it’s likely not a surprise that wind was both the most often reported and actual cause of loss for HVAC systems affected by Hurricane Ida.

External HVAC components in split systems and package units are most susceptible to wind-related losses.

Windblown debris could clog the condenser coils or cause major damages, such as this crushed condensing unit.

Windblown debris could clog the condenser coils or cause major damages, such as this crushed condensing unit.

Windblown dust and debris can clog the condenser coil, which is essential in the heating and cooling processes for most HVAC systems. Traditional condenser coils have aluminum fins surrounding copper pipes filled with refrigerant. Obstructed fins can restrict air flow, though lower efficiency occurs when they are almost entirely blocked. Safely cleaning off dust and debris could eliminate the need for replacements.

Tree limbs, patio umbrellas, and other objects blown into a condensing unit could require settlements for more major repairs. Policyholders may need new condenser coils, or in more severe scenarios, a new condensing unit. Rarely is a full HVAC system replacement necessary.

Wind directly impacts condensing units in split systems and package units, too. Equipment may be tipped or knocked from concrete or plastic pads, elevated brackets, or rooftop installations. A full replacement may be necessary for package units blown from a roof to the ground. A new condensing unit, lineset, and additional components could return split systems with major damage to pre-loss condition.

An objective HVAC system expert should determine the scope of damage and accurate solutions before carriers settle for unnecessary equipment.

Rain, Floods, And Storm Surges
Hurricanes, also called tropical cyclones, are made up of thunderstorms that form over the ocean and move inland. Water-related losses come from the torrential rains, flooding, and storm surges that are common when hurricanes strike coastal areas.

HVAC system location impacts which equipment is most at risk for water-related damages. Components on the ground or in the crawlspace and basement are susceptible to flooding and storm surge, though flood-prone areas often have building elevation requirements to reduce losses. HVAC equipment in the attic or upper levels isn’t immune. Roof damage could cause rainwater to affect indoor equipment.

HVAC system location impacts what types of water losses it could sustain.

HVAC system location impacts what types of water losses it could sustain.

Where water contacts the HVAC system also affects scope of damage. Condensing unit components most at risk for water damage include electrical equipment, the compressor, and the fan motor. The force of floodwaters could shift a condensing unit. Saltwater also corrodes or deteriorates condenser coils, though this may be a sign of wear and tear.

Inside, air handler or furnace components susceptible to water damage include the control board, wires, capacitors, gas valve, blower, and other equipment. Sheet metal ductwork, flex ductwork, ductboard, and insulation sustain varying degrees of water damage, which could result in repairs or replacements.

Once water reaches electrical components, more major repairs may be necessary; however, water contact with lower sections may have minimal impacts. An HVAC expert can assess the water damage to determine the scope of loss and what repairs would return equipment to pre-loss condition. An assessment would also define the source of the water, as flooding, surface water, and groundwater may not be covered by all insurance policies.

Lightning and High Voltage Surge Impact Electrical Components
Direct lightning damage is rare for HVAC systems. When it occurs, direct lightning causes visible impacts such as arcing, burning, and electrical malfunctions. In contrast, high voltage surge was the second most common cause of loss for HVAC equipment assessed after Hurricane Ida.

High voltage surge damage is common after hurricanes for several reasons, including nearby lightning, loss of power, or other voltage fluctuations.

High voltage surge damage is common after hurricanes for several reasons, including nearby lightning, loss of power, or other voltage fluctuations.

High voltage surges are the result of nearby lightning strikes, power outages, and other voltage fluctuations that affect the power grid, transformers, wires, and electrical components. Surge losses are confined to the electrical system and use wiring as their path. Malfunctions could occur to multiple components and may not be visible.

Non-Covered Perils Appear in Hurricane Claims
Hurricane perils, including wind, water, and high voltage surge, can cause minor to major damages, though it’s critical to note that these often don’t result in the need for full system replacements. Only 42% of HVAC equipment that HVACi experts evaluated after Hurricane Ida needed full replacement.

Equally as important, many hurricane claims have causes of loss that aren’t typically covered. Wear and tear accounted for 21% of the damages assessed after Hurricane Ida, and 11% of equipment was non-damaged at the time of assessment.

HVAC system experts can ensure claim settlement accuracy by determining cause of loss and scope of damage. HVACi has a network of thousands of professionals who evaluate HVAC and Refrigeration equipment nationwide. Adjusters receive comprehensive reports with verified cause of loss, repair and replacement recommendations, and settlement recommendations based on market value pricing – without slowing down the claims process.

Need help with a hurricane-related claim that involves HVAC systems? Submit a claim to HVACi for quick, comprehensive solutions.

Get Your Hurricane Claim Case Study

Split System Hurricane Claim Case Study

Hurricanes leave incredible damage in their wakes, and it’s not unusual for policyholders to misattribute damage from other perils to recent weather events. This insured discovered that their HVAC system was no longer cooling the home. Two HVAC companies suggested that it had been damaged in a recent hurricane. The adjuster handling this claim turned to an objective third party with expert knowledge to receive a quick and accurate assessment that revealed the correct cause of loss, enabling the adjuster to settle the claim appropriately.

Request this case study to find out what HVACi learned when assessing the HVAC system, and how we arrived at our recommended settlement.

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Evaluating Spring Storm Damage to HVAC Equipment Webinar Recording

The number of hail-related HVAC system claims increases substantially during the spring storms months, along with the number of claims for damages caused by wind and foreign object impacts. Don’t fall into the trap of unnecessary replacements for these claims.

Find out how to avoid unwarranted or inaccurate settlements during the Evaluating Spring Storm Damage to HVAC Equipment webinar.

Topics include:

  • Storm-related claims trends, including the percentage of claimed equipment that was non-damaged
  • A brief overview of HVAC system components most susceptible to weather impacts
  • Types of damages to expect and their potential repair solutions
  • Real-life storm claim examples and their evaluation results

Watch our Evaluating Spring Storm Damage to HVAC Equipment Webinar recording by filling out the form provided.

Important: Pre-recorded webinars do not qualify for CE credit.

Watch the Webinar

5 Storm Claims That Benefited from Equipment Evaluations

Storms are related to thousands of HVAC system claims filed each year. Adjusters should verify cause of loss and scope of damage before settling for replacement equipment or assuming all damages are linked to reported weather events.

Below are 5 claims that adjusters assigned to HVACi that demonstrate the importance of expert evaluations to guarantee accurate claim resolutions.

1. Not All Claimed Equipment Was Damaged

Adjusters should confirm equipment is not working properly before settling a claim.

Hail and wind are among the top claimed causes of loss in HVAC system claims. However, policyholders claim hundreds of systems each year that are working properly at the time of assessment. Settling for them would cause unnecessary claims leakage.

A policyholder filed a claim for two HVAC systems with a total claimed amount of $8,180. The adjuster who assigned HVACi the claim wanted confirmation that hail impacted the units. Testing revealed the first HVAC system had hail damages, though it was still in good condition and operational. There were minor indentations on the top cover panel, and the fan guard was slightly bent. Each component could be replaced to return equipment to pre-loss condition.

The vetted technician tested the second system and determined it was operating as designed without any visual or measured evidence of damages. The adjuster avoided paying an unnecessary settlement for non-damaged equipment.

Total Recommended Settlement: $1,017

2. Damages Weren’t As Severe As Claimed

Two split systems had confirmed hail impacts, but a few minor repairs would return them to pre-loss condition.

Sometimes weather incidents impact everything that is claimed. However, these damages most likely won’t require replacements or major repairs.

An adjuster filed a claim for two split systems with reported hail damage. Their combined replacement costs totaled more than $31,000. A vetted HVAC equipment expert evaluated both systems and confirmed the cause of loss as hail for each. Noted hail impacts occurred to the condenser coils and the wire fan guards.

Luckily, the condenser coils weren’t impacted enough to require replacement systems. An HVAC professional could return them to pre-loss condition by installing new fan guards and combing the condenser coil fins. Neither are as expensive as a condensing unit replacement.

Total Recommended Settlement: $608

3. Cause of Loss Wasn’t What Was Reported

Lack of maintenance or wear and tear, which aren’t typically covered losses, frequently cause HVAC equipment to malfunction.

Even if a storm has caused widespread damages to an area, all the claimed damages won’t be related to the incident.

A policyholder filed a claim for an HVAC system following a windstorm. A contractor advised it would cost $4,800 to return the equipment back to pre-loss condition.

HVACi’s comprehensive evaluation determined the primary cause of loss was wear and tear, which is not typically a covered peril. The contactor wire wasn’t connected to the contactor, and the overall system was in poor condition. However, the HVACi report stated that once the wire was reconnected, the system resumed operation, and all other components measured within an optimal range. Not only was the original cause of loss not typically covered, the damage could easily be resolved without any replacement equipment or labor.

The adjuster would have unnecessarily settled the claim without getting an expert to evaluate the equipment.

Total Recommended Settlement: $0

4. Lightning Didn’t Automatically Spell Replacements

Confirmed lightning damage doesn’t mean a replacement is the best or only solution.

Wind and hail often don’t require replacements, but what about lightning? Sometimes, lightning or high voltage surge can impact equipment and cause severe enough damages for major repairs or, in some cases, full system replacements. However, like other storm-related perils, it’s critical equipment with claimed lightning damage is thoroughly evaluated.

A policyholder claimed that the roof had been struck by lightning and the HVAC system had not been functioning properly since. The contractor gave a verbal quote of $15,800 to return the residential split system to pre-loss condition. An HVACi team member assessed the furnace in the attic and confirmed the cause of loss as lightning. A visual arc mark was present on the furnace cabinetry where the flue pipe connects. The disconnect box also had evidence of arcing. The blower motor’s winding resistances were not in typical ranges.

The extent of the damages required the policyholder to replace the gas furnace. Though this is a more major repair, a full system replacement was not necessary as advised.

Total Recommended Settlement: $3,133

5. Necessary Replacements Weren’t as Expensive as Contractor’s Estimate

Sometimes damages are extensive enough to require full replacements; however, contractor estimates should be compared to market value pricing.

Storm damage can occasionally lead to a full HVAC system replacement. It could be because of non-compatible equipment, repair prices that are close to or more than replacement costs, or too many impacted components.

The policyholder’s contractor provided an estimate for $11,365 to cover a replacement HVAC system. The estimate stated there was significant storm damage that impacted its efficiency and operation. A new condensing unit would not be compatible with the current system’s air handler; thus, a full replacement was necessary.

HVACi’s assessment also confirmed the primary cause of loss was hail that caused significant damage. The HVACi report also stated that the age and efficiency of the existing air handler made it incompatible to a new condensing unit. However, the HVACi team always researches market value pricing based on manufacturer databases and the loss location. The recommended settlement was thousands of dollars less than the contractor’s estimate, which means the adjuster – and the policyholder – could potentially be paying more than necessary.

Total Recommended Settlement $8,452

These are just a few of the thousands of storm-related claims that the experts at HVACi handle each year. The team is experienced and knowledgeable about HVAC and Refrigeration systems and the insurance industry. We provide comprehensive equipment evaluations to determine cause of loss and scope of damage and deliver an accurate recommended settlement cost along with other necessary information in a thorough report sent to assigning adjusters. Don’t let storm claims be the cause of unnecessary claims leakage. Submit a claim to HVACi to guarantee more accurate resolutions.

Save Your Hail Claim Case Study

Scary Story: Inflated Replacement Estimates

You’ve probably looked at hundreds of claims over your career and can notice when repair or replacement estimates seem higher than usual – even if you aren’t sure what they should be. That’s what happened after this claim was filed for damage sustained following Hurricane Irma.

In this edition of Scary Story, replacement cost estimates from the insured’s contractor seemed to be more expensive that what was in line with market value, and the adjuster wasn’t sure the damage was even caused by a covered peril. Fill out the form to find out if the adjuster’s suspicions were correct and how an objective third-party partner can help carriers make more accurate claim settlements.

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Hurricane Claim Preparation eBook

The severity and amount of activity during hurricane season continues to break records with increases in the number of named storms and hurricanes making landfall. Having both indoor and outdoor equipment, HVAC systems are often in harm’s way and are prone to damages that will wind up in claims. Know what to expect and the best methods for handling these claims with HVACi’s eBook, “Catastrophe Claim Preparation: Tips for Hurricane-Related Claims with HVAC Systems.”

Adjusters like you can better understand how hurricane-related perils, including wind, water, and lightning or surges, impact HVAC systems and some approaches to return them to pre-loss condition. You can also review actual HVAC claim damage assessment results from some major U.S. hurricanes, including hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Matthew.

Fill out the form to also discover the prevalence of hurricane-related HVAC system claims that have equipment that is non-damaged or damaged by a non-covered peril to prevent that from happening to your carrier.

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Debunking “Frozen Refrigerant” And Other HVAC Claim Myths in the Aftermath of the Texas Winter Storm

Snow and ice from Winter Storm Uri caused widespread damage, power outages, and other repercussions throughout Texas – but it is not the only cause of loss for damaged equipment. Photo Credit: “Snow Covered Bare Trees” by Haojie Xu / CC BY 4.0

Insured losses from Winter Storm Uri are expected to exceed $10 billion; however, adjusters shouldn’t assume resulting property claims with HVAC systems are all related to the unusual weather events that overwhelmed Texas and caused catastrophic damages in mid-February.

HVACi has completed thousands of equipment evaluations for HVAC systems in Texas that all began to fail around then. While many have signs of damage or aren’t functioning as designed, comprehensive testing based on engineering best practices has led to cause of loss determinations that differ from what many insureds – and their contractors – expect them to be. Before settling another claim where an insured has stated their system failed because of freezing conditions or frozen refrigerant, insurance professionals should better understand why that may not be accurate and requires verification.

Know the Freezing Point of Refrigerant

Refrigerant is the lifeline of most HVAC systems. It’s used to absorb heat during the process to condition air to be a more desirable temperature in a home or business. Refrigerant comes in synthetic forms, including Chlorofluorocarbons or Hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and natural forms, such as Hydrocarbons and Carbon Dioxide. Among the elements used in many of these are Carbon, Fluorine, Hydrogen, and Chlorine. Consequently, refrigerant’s freezing point is well below that of an unexpected winter storm in Texas – or Antarctica.

Earth’s coldest temperature ever recorded was -136 degrees Fahrenheit on the East Antarctic Plateau on Aug. 10, 2010. Yet even in these conditions, the most frequently used refrigerant in HVAC systems wouldn’t freeze there.

A widely used refrigerant, R-22 has a freezing point of -256 degrees Fahrenheit at the atmospheric pressure of 14.7 psia. Another extensively used refrigerant is R-410A, which has a freezing point of -247 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow and ice may cover a condensing unit outside, but the refrigerant inside of it won’t freeze causing leaks in the copper tubing, as some policyholders claimed. Photo Credit: “Air Conditioner” 17046710 / CC BY 4.0

It’s evident that freezing temperatures in Texas, or elsewhere in the United States, don’t cause refrigerant to freeze, expand copper tubing, and leak out. These kinds of failures are more likely to stem from wear and tear and occur over time.

Consider the HVAC System’s Delta T

Reports state Winter Storm Uri could become the costliest winter weather event in Texas history. Freezing conditions are so atypical of the area that not everything is designed for them, including HVAC systems.

Heat pumps are most effective in temperate climates where they do not need additional heating sources.

Heat pumps work best in temperate climates, and policyholders in Southern states may prefer them. However, extreme heat or cold can be problematic for these systems.

Heat pumps primarily rely on compressed refrigerant and then electric heat strips. Calculating an HVAC system’s Delta T, the difference between the return air temperature and supply air temperature, determines the temperature split a system can produce. Heat pumps typically are capable of a 20- to 30-degree temperature split – i.e., if it’s 40 degrees outside, the HVAC heat pump has little trouble maintaining a 70-degree indoor temperature.

The temperatures in Dallas, Texas, from Feb. 14-17 never went above freezing – ranging from 14-29 degrees Fahrenheit. Policyholders trying to keep their homes and businesses heated may have caused the Delta T to be larger than a heat pump is designed for, which could have put excessive strain to the system.

Heat pumps have a lifespan of 15 years under typical circumstances. To make up for the larger Delta T, they would have run longer without their required downtime that ensures longevity. Freezing conditions caused heat pumps to work harder, but the resulting overheating and failures would have directly come from the intensified wear and tear, particularly if signs of usage damage were already present. An expert assessment will confirm whether the damage was a repercussion of overuse and not freezing conditions.

Distinguish Wear and Tear, High Voltage Surge, and Freezing

Freezing and high voltage surge were frequently claimed perils after the winter storm, but definitive testing would verify them as cause of loss.

A heat pump’s electrical components, refrigerants, and motors aren’t affected by colder temperatures and wouldn’t be physically harmed. Prolonged operation causes wear and tear to compressors and heat strips, but motors within the heat pump system, including the fan motor and blower motor, can handle it. On the other hand, failures to commercial boilers and chiller water coils as well as residential water heaters were prevalent due to the freezing conditions in Texas.

Fan motors inside a heat pump typically wouldn’t be affected by colder temperatures and wouldn’t be physically harmed.

Power outages were widespread after the Texas storm, and high voltage surges could have impacted HVAC systems once electricity was restored. High voltage surge was the cause of loss for 11% of HVAC systems assessed last year, according to the CCG IQ 2020 Annual Report. Equipment testing would prove if a surge caused the damage, which would be more limited to electrical components.

Another critical aspect to consider is how much of the system sustained damage. When freezing or high voltage surge are the direct cause of loss, HVAC damage is more widespread and could require major repairs or replacements. However, when these perils are indirect causes, the damage is typically limited to single-component failures that may only need a repair to return the policyholder to pre-loss condition.

HVAC Damage Assessments Remove Doubt

Catastrophe claims vary in size and severity. It’s essential adjusters rely on expert support to verify cause of loss and ensure a carrier isn’t settling a claim with equipment in properly working order or for components that were damaged by a non-covered peril. It’s also critical adjusters have access to manufacturer-direct research to certify policyholders can obtain the needed components to easily return to pre-loss condition at market value costs.

HVACi delivers expert onsite damage assessments and desktop reviews, regardless of if the loss stems from a catastrophe or a minor event. Adjusters trust HVACi to provide objective, actionable, and comprehensive reports with enough information to make settlement decisions quickly, confidently, and accurately. Submit a claim to determine cause of loss, most appropriate repair and replacement options, and market value pricing.

Heat Pump Claims Case Study

Top 5 Strongest Atlantic Basin Hurricane Seasons Since 2000

A major news outlet described one hurricane as “the strongest storm on the planet right now” while it approached the United States from the Central Pacific area during the 2020 hurricane season. At the time, the storm was a Category 3 with winds of 115 miles per hour. While the headline may have been true for that moment, the strength of hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin has surpassed that many times since 2000, and their severity has been on the incline. From 2000 until present day, there have been 13 Category 5 storms, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with a maximum sustained wind of 157 miles per hour or greater.

More hurricanes mean more catastrophic storms and losses adjusters will have to settle claims on. Here are the top 5 worst hurricane seasons in the Atlantic Basin since 2000, chosen by the number and severity of the storms.

 

No. 5 The 2008 Hurricane Season

This NASA image of Hurricane Ike was created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response team. Photo Credit: Earth Observatory

The 2008 hurricane season packed a punch with 16 named storms, including 8 hurricanes with 5 major tropical cyclones of Category 3 or higher, according to the StormFax Weather Almanac. It’s the only year on record where a major hurricane took place every month from July to November in the north Atlantic Basin, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported. The largest was Hurricane Ike, which the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) recorded as the 7th costliest hurricane in the United States, costing an estimated insured loss of more than $12,400 million in 2008 dollars.

 

No. 4 The 2010 Hurricane Season

The 2010 hurricane season was described as hyperactive, though no storms made landfall. Photo Credit: “Hurricane” by David Mark / CC BY 4.0

This was the second consecutive season that no hurricane made landfall, but that didn’t make the storms any less intense. StormFax recorded 19 storms, including 12 hurricanes with 5 as a Category 3 or greater. They caused 11 deaths despite none of them reaching the mainland. NOAA described the 2010 season as “hyperactive” because of the number of major storms, though none of them were Category 5. The strength and number of the storms are attributed to the record warm Atlantic Waters, favorable winds off Africa, and weak wind shear aided by La Niña, according to NOAA.

 

No. 3 The 2004 Hurricane Season

This NASA image of Hurricane Ivan is courtesy of Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Photo Credit: Earth Observatory

This year marked one of the most active and destructive hurricane seasons on record; although, the first storm didn’t make landfall until August 3. The season ravaged with 15 named storms, including 9 hurricanes and 6 major storms, StormFax reported. These combined for $61 billion in damages and thousands of deaths over several countries, an article from NOAA states. Four out of the nine named storms that hit the continental United States struck Florida. The two strongest storms were Category 5 Hurricane Ivan and Category 3 Hurricane Jeanne. Ivan had sustained winds of 165 miles per hour and hit the Gulf Coast in mid-September. Jeanne caused 3,000 deaths in Hispaniola and later made landfall in Florida with winds topping 120 mph. Hurricane Jeanne caused an estimated $7.5 billion in property damage in the United States, according to the I.I.I.

 

No. 2 The 2017 Hurricane Season

Hurricane Harvey caused upwards of $20 billion in estimated insured losses in 2017 dollars. Photo Credit: “Hurricane Harvey” by Andrewtheshrew / CC BY 4.0

With Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey, 2017 holds the record for the first time three Category 4 hurricanes made landfall in the United States and its territories in the same year. Those three storms also were the second, third, and fourth most costly hurricanes in the United States, according to I.I.I. Maria and Irma each caused upward of $30 billion in estimated insured losses, and Harvey caused between $18-20 billion in estimated insured losses in 2017 dollars. The 2017 hurricane season also made a name for itself as the seventh most active season in historical record dating, which goes to 1851. StormFax reported 17 named storms with 10 hurricanes, including 6 major storms.

 

No. 1 The 2005 Hurricane Season

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest hurricane to ever strike the United States. Photo Credit: “Calamity” by Gabe Raggio / CC BY 4.0

The 2005 hurricane season broke more records than any other year, easily taking the top spot as not only the most active and strongest hurricane season since 2000 – but of all time. StormFax recorded 14 hurricanes and 8 major storms of Category 3 or greater. And there were several greater – including Rita, Wilma, and Katrina. Hurricane Katrina is the costliest hurricane to have ever struck the United States, according to I.I.I., with $41 billion in estimated insured losses in 2005 dollars. It easily overshadowed Hurricane Wilma, which was the ninth costliest hurricane with an estimated $10 billion in insured losses. The 2005 hurricane season exceeded the 1969 record for most hurricanes. There were also 27 named storms formed in 2005, which broke the 1933 record of 21. The 2005 season was the most destructive for the United States, largely due to Hurricane Katrina, and in all, damage estimates are more than $100 billion.

 

What Does This Mean for Adjusters?

The 2020 hurricane season continues to be predicted as above average for storm activity. From January 1 through July 29, there were eight named storms, which was the most named storms to date in any year since record keeping began in 1851; although, there had only been one hurricane and no major hurricanes. El Niño and La Niña, ocean water temperatures, and weather forecasts, as well as other conditions, make storms ripe for forming, and future hurricane seasons are also likely to continue to be active.

This means the number of large loss claims or ones with high settlements will likely increase. It’s important adjusters have someone they trust to help them with claims, particularly handling accurate and comprehensive assessments to define scope of loss. It’s also essential insurance personnel can confirm cause of loss before assuming a hurricane is to blame for damage and settling for something that shouldn’t have been covered by the policy.

HVACi is here to help adjusters find the answers and better handle claims related to HVAC systems. To learn more about how hurricanes can impact these systems and what to look for, check out our webinar recording for a quick, but comprehensive, overview by our team.

Don’t wait until a hurricane occurs before seeing what HVACi can do for you. Submit a claim and find out how we base our recommendations on just the facts to better equip adjusters to settle claims more accurately.

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Hurricane Havoc: Damages in Storm-Related HVAC Systems Claims

The following article on “Hurricane havoc: Damages in storm-related HVAC systems claims,” written by Jay Dykstra of HVACi and StrikeCheck, was originally published on Property Casualty 360.

It’s easy to understand why hurricanes have such a bad reputation compared to other thunderstorms. The images of large, rotating storms created over the warm, tropical waters can be alarming, especially factoring in the minimum 74 mph winds and the storms’ erratic paths. They can impact anything in their way, including residential and commercial HVAC systems. But insurance professionals shouldn’t assume a hurricane is the cause for all HVAC system damage during that timeframe because there are issues to look for and to be wary of following a storm.

 

Condensing unit takes the brunt

Hurricanes and tropical storms cause more costly damage than inland storms because of flooding from heavy rains and storm surges and damage from hurricane-force winds. A 2019 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that expected annual economic losses from most types of damages caused by hurricane winds and storm-related flooding total $54 billion for households, commercial businesses and the public sector.

Hurricanes, depending on their category, can have wind speeds of 74 mph to upward of 157 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. It’s no wonder that wind is the main concern related to HVAC systems.

Condensing units on HVAC split-systems have multiple components prone to hurricane damage.

 

The condensing unit is the component most at risk for hurricane winds damage in split systems, which are the most common residential HVAC systems. The condensing unit is always outside and can be on a concrete or plastic pad, elevated on brackets, or installed on the roof. The all-in-one package units, which are most common for commercial properties, are also susceptible to wind damage.

The most minor wind-caused damage is dust and debris clogging the condenser coil, which surrounds the compressor on the condensing unit. This restricts airflow, which, over time, could impact the condensing unit’s efficiency. If the condenser coil aluminum fins aren’t dented, a policyholder can get them cleaned using a special cleaner and a hose. (Note for your insureds: Pressure washers and cleaners meant for bathtubs could cause more damage to the coils and should be avoided.)

The most common scenario with wind and condensing units, particularly for residential systems, is that the condensing unit could be blown over or pushed off its pad. The damage this causes are electric whip and disconnect pulled apart, cabinet damage, coil damage, or kinked or broken refrigerant lines. This may require an insurance carrier to settle for some equipment repairs, but a full replacement isn’t likely.

Wind can cause package units to fall to the ground and be damaged, frequently requiring replacement.

 

On the other hand, in commercial systems where package units are on the roof, the equipment could be ripped off and thrown to the ground. If this is the case, a full replacement is often needed, but adjusters should be mindful to ensure models are like kind and quality and pricing is in line with market rates.

Wind can also be the culprit related to another peril: foreign object impact because tree branches or other heavy objects can be picked up and damage all or part of the condensing unit. This can dent the malleable aluminum fins. If the condenser coils aren’t spine fin or microchannel coils, they may be able to be combed, which is considered a minor repair that can be completed in a matter of hours.

If the fins are torn, or a type that’s not able to be combed, bringing the policyholder to pre-loss condition still might not require a full replacement, though some components may have to be switched out. Cause of loss is frequently easier to determine with foreign object impact; although, it’s often more difficult to evaluate repair options and their cost-effectiveness.

 

A surge in water-related claims

Flooding is a frequent consequence of hurricanes either because of the onslaught of precipitation falling in a short time or because of the storm surge that can sometimes increase the water level by more than 30 feet along the coast. Standard homeowner’s insurance policies typically don’t cover surface water, groundwater or general flooding. On the other hand, water from wind-driven rain that causes damage to HVAC systems may be covered in some scenarios. It’s important adjusters know where the water is coming from to accurately handle the claim.

Flooding isn’t usually covered by homeowner’s insurance policies, but it can still cause major damages. (Credit: “Hurricane Harvey Flood Army,” by Andrewtheshrew /CC BY 4.0)

 

Water at the bottom of the condensing unit is typically not cause for concern; however, water up to the compressor may require some repair. Once water reaches electrical components, repairs are much more challenging, especially if it’s saltwater that causes corrosion. Horizontal air handlers or furnaces found in a crawlspace are more likely to be damaged because the rising water can reach the components much faster.

Ductwork, furnaces, and other indoor equipment could also be claimed for water damages, especially in circumstances where a roof is damaged or ripped off.

 

Maybe it’s a maintenance issue

With the influx of claims that occurs following a weather-related event, it’s easy to have a non-covered peril slip through, which could result in unnecessary claims leakage for the insurance carrier.

HVACi, which offers claim assessment support nationwide, analyzed the assigned claims from Hurricane Dorian, which took place Aug. 24–Sept. 10, 2019. The storm caused an estimated $1.5 billion in losses, both damages and economic, in the United States.

Clogged condenser coils are likely a maintenance issue, and not related to a hurricane.

 

According to the HVACi 2020 Annual Report, 59% of the systems claimed as damaged from Hurricane Dorian didn’t have hurricane-related damages. Of the 36% of claims reported as being wind damaged, only 11% of them had wind as the actual cause of loss. Nearly half of claims stemming from Hurricane Dorian were determined to be age-related wear and tear not typically covered by a policy. Adjusters should be mindful that wear and tear is just as likely a cause of loss as repercussions from a hurricane.

This year, forecasters have predicted more storms like Hurricane Dorian. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the influx of claims, insurance personnel should ensure they consider all the factors during assessments on HVAC system components before making settlements to ensure accuracy and that they are not creating unnecessary claims leakage.

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