Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Residential

Testing As Part of Gas Applicance Incident Investigation

Equipment and appliances supplied with fuel gases like natural gas, propane and butane are a common and convenient part of most of our lives.  Such devices as gas grills and ranges, ovens, furnaces, space heaters and water heaters usually perform without incident.  However, when they malfunction the potential for incidents such as fires and explosions, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and burn injuries may occur. These incidents may be due to design and manufacturing defects in the product, or improper installation or operation of the device.

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John_Holecek_WEB
Under the sink chemicals

Not Your Father’s House Fire

Remember the good old days when our homes were built with only lumber, dry-wall, and roofing?   Me neither.  However, we talk about ‘modern’ construction materials like this is a new phenomenon.  The truth is ‘modern’ construction materials started sneaking into homes over fifty years ago.  It’s not only construction materials that have changed: a century ago, we furnished our houses with wood, cloth, metal, and glass. Today, it’s plastics, foams, and coatings.

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Figure 1: A typical Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) Receptacle.

Testing…testing… Is this thing on?

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Many people just take for granted that something is just going to work, and in many cases assume that it will work forever.  One such device that does not get enough attention is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).   Simply put, a GFCI is a protective device that compares the current flowing on the hot and neutral wires of the circuit and will “trip” to disconnect power to the circuit if a small imbalance of current is detected.  The imbalance of current is an indication of a dangerous alternate path for the current to flow from a damaged line cord or a fault inside an appliance and constitutes a shock hazard to a person. Read More

Figure-1-Drone-in-use-2

Ready, Set, Fly! – Understanding Another Technology for Forensic Investigations

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This is the first blog in a series on integrating new technologies into the process of forensic investigations.  Documenting the scene of an incident accurately, efficiently, and safely is a key step in every investigation.  Busy roadways and unstable structures present hazards to the investigator during the investigation process. The use of remote sensors can reduce these risks and provide data that otherwise could not safely be obtained. Read More

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Chemical Engineers: More than Glorified Plumbers – Really!

As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications.  So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need. Read More

NFPA-921

New 2017 Edition of NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations

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Over the course of its 25-year history, NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations has changed the practice of fire investigation for the better.  Without a doubt, NFPA 921 has appropriately driven a more rigorous approach to fire investigation that seeks to avoid cognitive bias and reliance on techniques that, when rigorously examined, are little more than pseudoscience.  One need look no further than the Cameron Todd Willingham matter, wherein a Texas man was executed in part based on a flawed fire investigation, to understand the importance of conducting a proper fire investigation. Read More

Figure 1:  A view of the improperly constructed fireplace alleged to have caused the subject fire. 
 The hearth extension has been largely consumed in the fire.

Improper Fireplace Construction: Testing the Impact of Non-Compliant Clearance to Combustibles

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As the weather turns cold, many people use fireplaces to provide supplemental heat. The warmth from a fireplace is a comfort and the aesthetics of a glowing fire are a pleasure.  However, there is nothing pleasurable about a residential house fire that results from an improperly built or used fireplace or chimney. Read More

Charred-Wood-Structural-Members

Structural Evaluation After a Fire – Post-Fire Tips for an Insurance Adjuster, Part I

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This is a 3-Part series to help insurance adjusters during a claim inspection make a post-fire assessment of a building’s structural framing system.  From my numerous case history inspections involving damage to structural framing members after a fire, what appears obvious and straightforward is not always the case.  This article is a quick synopsis to help the adjuster be better prepared for a structural inspection and assessment while understanding what needs to be looked at, and if there are hidden factors to further investigate. Read More

The interior of this chase and the surrounding roof framing was badly burned in a fire.  The fire resulted from construction defects in the installation of the chimney system.

Fire Losses Involving Improper Construction and Installation of Fireplaces and Chimneys

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On a cold winters night a family is gathered in the living room of their home enjoying the warmth of their fireplace.  After using the fireplace all day, they go off to bed to a nice restful sleep.  However, they are soon rudely waked by the sound of a smoke alarm in the home.  Rushing out into the cold night they can see smoke, but no flame in the home.  Outside, they can see that the chase around the fireplace chimney is burning.  The fire department is called and thankfully extinguishes the fire before it does widespread damage, however the family must leave the home for several months as repairs are made. Read More

A portable electric generator should never be operated indoors, including garages, crawlspaces and sheds.

Winter Safety Tips for Portable Electric Generators

During winter ice storms, power to residences is often lost and homeowners revert to using gasoline powered portable electric generators.  It is often thought by some homeowners that leaving a generator outside in the severe weather may damage it or affect its performance and therefore resort to bringing the unit inside the shelter, typically, the garage. This is particularly hazardous when the generator is run for an extended period of time as carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from the toxic exhaust gas can cause death. In addition, other hazards including electric shock, electrocution, fire and burns potentially can occur. Read More

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