SHUMAKER: In defense of Mary’s kidney

Sue Shumaker, Speaking Out

I do not personally know Mary Ready, a weekly columnist for the Destin Log. I do, however, anticipate each week’s new column and look forward to hearing her unique observations on life, particularly life in Destin.

When I read last week’s (Feb. 9) column, “My derelict Destin domicile and the insurance blame game,” I felt the need to respond. If you’ve not read it, I would highly recommend that you do. It details her nearly year-long struggle to renew the homeowner’s insurance policy on her 1973 Destin residence.

I believe that her story can serve as a warning to other homeowners whose homes were built prior to the stricter building codes and insurance regulations that came into effect post-Hurricane Andrew.

As state certified general contractors, our company has performed a number of “Four-Point” inspections, the same inspection that Mary was required to have in order to renew her homeowner’s policy. The inspection covers four areas: roof, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. There were several issues in Mary’s story that raised a red flag and which should be addressed so that others might avoid a similar fate.

The first issue is the cost of the inspection. Mary paid $425, which is frankly absurd.

The four-point inspection typically takes between 45 minutes to an hour and our fee for this service is $100.  There are instances (depending upon the insurance carrier and their requirements), where a separate electrical inspection must be conducted by a licensed electrician.

The fee charged by the electrician’s inspection and certification can vary. However, the total cost for the four-point with separate electrical inspection should not exceed $225 to $250. 

The second issue is the roof. In Mary’s case, the inspector apparently told Mary that she needed to have hurricane straps installed in order to pass that portion of the inspection.

However, four-point inspections do not require inspection of “roof to wall attachment.” (This is required in a “wind mitigation” inspection, which is a separate type of inspection that gives homeowner’s “credits” (or discounts) for construction features, which mitigate wind damage during a storm event. Our fee for this type of inspection is also $100.

The four-point inspection, as it relates to the roof, merely seeks to determine the overall condition of the roof including age, expected remaining useful life, and whether or not there are any leaks or visible signs of damage or deterioration.

Nevertheless, Mary proceeded as advised and hired another party to install the hurricane straps. According to the article, this person spent two days in her attic only to announce that “the roof was so solidly built, he’d have to tear up the supporting beams in order to implement the insurance company-required straps.”

Again, this is absurd. Granted, some attics are very difficult to access or have a low pitch, which makes movement in and close inspection of the attic difficult. Even so, it should have taken no more than a couple of hours to reach the conclusion that the installation of the straps, based on the specific construction features of her roof, was both unnecessary and unadvisable.

The next item is the plumbing system. The general requirements of the four-point inspection for the plumbing system are to identify the age of the system, the type of material used (e.g. PVC, copper, etc.), indications of active or prior leaks, whether or not shut-off valves are present and whether or not the water pressure is sufficient.

In addition the water heater is inspected to determine its age, condition and whether or not a TPR valve (which is a pressure relief valve) is present.

In Mary’s case, she was informed that her plumbing system was “antiquated” and that the home’s copper pipes needed to be replaced with PVC pipes. Unless there was a problem discovered with the requirements noted above (evidence of leaks, etc) the age of the plumbing system alone should not have determined that upgrades to the system were necessary.

The electrical system can be a bit trickier. Aluminum branch wiring, common in older homes, has been determined to be less safe than copper wiring. A number of insurance carriers will not cover homes in which there is aluminum wiring. Therefore, not knowing Mary’s particular situation, it is possible that this retrofit from aluminum to copper was necessary in order to obtain coverage from the insurance carrier she sought. 

It should be noted that most homeowners, as was the case with Mary, are not experienced with matters of construction or the particular requirements as they relate to the insurance industry.

Therefore, they are vulnerable to those who seek to take advantage of this inexperience. That is what prompted this lengthy Letter to the Editor.

Mary lamented in her article that in retrospect she “should have sold a kidney” and paid the initial premium offered by her insurance carrier. It is shameful that Mary, and many others like her, have been subjected to unnecessary expense and stress in trying to obtain insurance to protect their homes.

Although I cannot specifically answer her question of “who to blame” it would seem from her story that there is plenty of blame to go around. My hope is that by reading this letter, others may be spared from enduring the difficult situation in which Mary was placed, specifically as it relates to the four-point inspection.

Click here to read Mary Ready's column. 

Sue Shumaker is with Trotter’s General Contractors, Inc. based in Destin.