Recognizing Intentional Damage to Asphalt Shingles
Occasionally, dishonest roofing professionals, and in some cases even homeowners themselves, will intentionally damage asphalt shingles in an attempt to mimic hail damage. These actions are blatantly fraudulent and attempt to deceive insurance companies for the purpose of selling or obtaining a new roof. For this reason, it is important for insurance professionals to recognize conditions and circumstances that promote this type of behavior, as well as the patterns and characteristics of intentionally inflicted blemishes.
Hail fraud typically occurs away from the main path of the hailstorm, where legitimate hail damage is not obvious, but not so far away that the roofing contractor no longer has plausible deniability. It is most common within the fringe areas around a storm in question, where the hailstones were marginally at, or more likely below, the threshold energy level for legitimate damage to occur.
Since a neighbor down the street may have received a new roof due to hail damage, suspicious damage may be given the benefit of the doubt as possibly being related to hail by an unsuspecting homeowner or an inexperienced insurance adjuster. If shingle damage is found in a geographical area known to have received small hail, other evidence on site, such as dents in soft metals, should be considered before concluding that the damage was indeed caused by hail.
Circumstances often dictate the level of detail put into the attempted deception. Since these damages are often inflicted by individuals with very little knowledge of what actual hail damage looks like, and since the damage must be created discretely within a short timeframe, the methods used and extent of the damages are limited.
For this reason, intentional damage is often confined to an isolated area on the roof. Just enough damage is created to demonstrate to the homeowner or insurance adjuster that there has been an incident, which often doesn’t even come close to resembling actual hail damage. The observation of a series of suspicious blemishes within a localized area on a roof, with no corresponding damages elsewhere, should raise an immediate red flag.
Pattern recognition is also a key element in identifying intentionally damaged areas. As shown in Figure 1, a series of five identical blemishes were inflicted in an isolated area on one of the roof slopes of this house. The absence of similar patterns elsewhere on the roof leads to suspicions of intentional damage since hail does not pick and choose shingles.
A similar case is shown in Figure 2. In this instance, the implement used to create these blemishes (most likely a nailing hammer) left a distinct repetitive curved fracture in the shingle mat at the top of each blemish. Naturally occurring hail varies widely in size, shape and energy of impact and does not create this type of recurring pattern.
Other onsite evidence must be considered when evaluating the potential for intentional damage. There are many factors involved in determining the size of hailstones required to damage an asphalt shingle; however, experience has shown that hailstones generally ranging from 1 to 1-1/4 inches in diameter are necessary before noticeable granule loss or shingle mat fracture occurs.
Hailstones of this size readily leave their mark on exposed light gauge metal surfaces such as gutters, downspouts, roof vents and flashing. Impact marks may also be found on wood decks, screens and the cooling coil fins of air conditioning units. With experience, the size of the hail can be determined from these indicators with a high level of accuracy. It would be suspicious to find a pattern of blemishes on shingles that are noticeably larger, or smaller, than the size of the hailstones as indicated by these surfaces.
Consider the blemish shown in Figure 3. The impact marks found at this site did not leave any dents in any of the metal surfaces. The hail that fell at this site was no larger than ¼ of an inch in diameter, yet this deep “double-hammer-blow” blemish was over an inch wide.
The lack of large dents in metal surfaces or other indicators of hail impact may prompt a more devious contractor to create intentional damage to these items as well. As shown in Figure 4, a glancing blow from a nailing hammer was used to dent a metal roof vent cap. In this case, there were two factors that pointed to fraud.
The first was the scratches in the finish. Hailstones will not scratch painted metal surfaces. At worst, they will remove the oxidized layer of paint leaving a splatter mark that will fade over time. The second factor was the known direction of the hailstorm. These impacts were made from the opposite direction from where the hail originated, and based on the curvature of the marks, the guilty party was most likely right-handed.
Comparing blemish characteristics can be useful when judging whether or not intentional damage was likely. One characteristic is size as shown in Figure 5. As previously discussed, ¼ inch diameter hail does not damage asphalt shingles in most circumstances. Therefore this series of ¼ inch blemishes in an isolated area became suspicious.
Had this been a single blemish, it would have been attributed to unintentional damage. However, the presence of multiple similar blemishes in this area, as shown in Figure 6, supported the case for intentional damage. A closer look at these blemishes revealed concentric grooves in the asphalt mat which suggested they may have been made by twisting the edge of a ½ inch diameter pipe held at an angle.
The shape and size of an intentional blemish can vary widely depending on the type of implement used and the method employed. The same pipe responsible for the blemishes in Figures 5 and 6 may have been used to create the blemish in Figure 7, except this time the end of the pipe was flush with the surface of the shingle. Intentional damage in this instance was suspected due to the presence of many similarly sized and shaped blemishes within a confined area.
Figure 8 shows crushed granules and granules embedded into the asphalt mat. This type of damage cannot be achieved by the impact of a hailstone. When this type of blemish is found, suspecting intentional damage is justified. This blemish was most likely created by a ball-peen hammer. Coins have also been used to create intentional damages since blemishes can be made quickly and discretely, without the noise associated with hammer blows or other implement impacts. There have been cases where individuals were actually observed making the blemishes during joint inspections and marking them as hail damage. When these types of blemishes are fresh, the presence of granule dust as shown in Figure 9 is a dead giveaway.
Valid hail damage to asphalt shingles may have many different shapes and characteristics. Generally it is found in the form of a fracture of the shingle’s fiberglass or organic mat, identified by a deflection (bruise) through the entire thickness of the shingle. Granules may be displaced or missing, causing exposure of the asphalt layer of the shingle. Angle of impact, size, velocity and hardness of the hailstone, as well as the age and type of shingle all influence the size and shape of a valid hail blemish. For this reason, there is no such thing as a “typical” hail blemish; however, Figures 10 and 11 are provided as classic examples of valid hail damage.
Applying the principles described above allows detection of suspected intentional damage for the purpose of validating hail claims. Proving intentional damage is an entirely different topic and involves establishing a pattern of this type of behavior. More often than not, several different roofing companies may have evaluated the same roof, making conclusive identification of the responsible party impossible. Keeping accurate records of claims suspected of intentional damage and correlating them with parties known to have inspected the roof may be useful in recognizing patterns of fraudulent behavior.
In general, the best advice to offer a homeowner is not to accept free hail damage inspections from roofing contractors who show up at their doorstep with a pipe or hammer strapped to their tool belt. For property adjusters or others tasked with evaluating asphalt shingle roofs for hail damage, a thorough analysis that incorporates much more than just the shingles is recommended. Just as much value can be obtained from studying other exposed surfaces on site, regardless of the size of the hailstones.
Frank P. Battaglia, P.E. (firstname.lastname@example.org) and E. Brian Webb, P.E. (email@example.com) are with Donan Engineering Co., Inc., which provides full-service forensic engineering and fire investigation services.