Ottawa family shares lesson learned after home deemed unsafe months after tornado
If it weren’t for two broken windows, some debris still stuck in the shutters and the neon green dumpster in her driveway, someone walking by Renata Scorsone’s house might never know it had been in the path of an EF-2 tornado that blasted through Ottawa’s west end five months ago.
In fact, when compared to other homes in the Craig Henry neighbourhood still covered by house wrap, Scorsone’s two-storey home appears to be in pretty good shape. But, as Scorsone learned late in the game, looks can be deceiving.
Nearly three months after the violent twister hit, she and her husband found out mid-December — about a week and a half before Christmas — that the plates holding their roof trusses together had loosened and it was unsafe for them to be living in the house.
“It was a bit of a gut punch,” Scorsone said in an interview with Global News in late February. “It was hard to comprehend because it’s fine, it looks fine. There’s no leaks.
“There hadn’t been any reason to believe the house was unsafe.”
Scorsone said she and her husband would have never found out the structural integrity of their roof had been “significantly compromised” had they not insisted on having their home assessed by a structural engineer when the service provider contracted by their insurance company was submitting the damage estimates for their home.
The project manager assigned to her house didn’t see any visible damage that suggested a structural engineer should be called in, according to Scorsone, but she and her husband didn’t want to take any chances.
The service provider filed their request and insurance approved it, but Scorsone said she wants to share her family’s experience in case any other Ottawa residents affected by the tornadoes either were told a structural engineering assessment wasn’t necessary, thought about asking for one but never did, or didn’t even know it was an option.
“It worries me that there might be people in the same situation as us that just don’t even know it,” she said.
“It worries me that a few years down the line, there’s either going to be another storm … or they try to sell their home and a housing inspector comes in and finds out something that was missed.
“…Know what you’re able to ask for. It does cost a lot of money… they’re not going to jump at the chance to send out a structural engineer.”
While he said he couldn’t comment on specific cases, Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada told Global News on Tuesday it’s not uncommon to “see situations that have initially been missed” during an insurance claim process. In cases like September’s tornadoes in Ottawa, sometimes it’s not until the shock of the event wears off that homeowners notice issues that have “popped up” or that require a second review, he said.
“Sometimes interior damage occurs, things such as doors not closing properly, [or] there could be cracks that have formed because the wind has shifted the house or damaged foundations,” said Karageorgos, the Toronto-based association’s director of consumer and industry relations.
Because of all this, Karageorgos recommended that affected residents have “regular conversations” with their insurance company and adjuster, and recognize that these types of processes take time.
“[Give] regular updates, ask questions [and] keep the lines of communication open … even on small questions [or] clarification of issues, until the claim has been settled,” he said. “There is no such thing as having too much contact with your insurance adjuster.”
Karageorgos said claims insurance typically have to be reported within a year to two years. In many of the cases involving Ottawa homeowners affected by the tornadoes, that’s been done and those claim files are open, he said.
“If there are disputes, if there’s some questions, there’s processes in place to have the adjusting staff or the insurance company management team or senior officials review things,” he said.
The six tornadoes and less severe windstorms that hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region on Sept. 21, 2018 caused about $300 million in insured damage, between 10,000 separate claims, according to Karageorgos.
He said the Insurance Bureau of Canada has supported and spoken to hundreds of Ottawa residents in the months since the tornadoes and added that any individuals with additional questions are welcome to call the association.
Family living in rental home until summer
Since the estimates process took weeks and the insurance company had to approve the engineering assessment, Scorsone said it was Dec. 5 before an engineer came by to evaluate her home.
The Ottawa family got the bad news on Dec. 14: “Due to the increased risk of collapse under the weight of ice and snow, it is our opinion that the building should not be occupied until the repairs are undertaken.”
“Luckily we hadn’t had a lot of snow at that point … but to find out that all of us on the second floor have been kind of sitting under this rickety roof truss was a lot to consume,” said Scorsone, who has two young kids.
After spending the Christmas break out of town, the family of four has been living in a rental home close by since early January, and it’s likely they’ll be there until June, Scorsone said. There’s lots of work left to do, including redoing the roof and all the siding and replacing all the windows on the front of house.
“We’re kind of at the bottom of the list of people that have been queuing up all the work to get done, because everyone started putting in these estimates somewhere in September,” she said. “We only started this process in December.”
Scorsone said having to vacate her home felt like the tornado “happened all over again.”
“Even colleagues have [said to] me, ‘Well, didn’t you already get your assessment? … Aren’t you done with that yet?'” She said. “The people that are in it are still in it.”
– With files from Mike Le Couteur