Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

It was going to be one of those days. I woke up at the crack of dawn, got up and tripped over my shoes, and bumped into the door on my way to the loo. My brain was foggy, but I had a great night’s sleep dreaming of running through a stone quarry (LOL!). Can you tell I’ve been in this business a long time? 

I had just finished brushing my teeth with my falling-apart toothbrush when I heard a buzzing, rattling noise. It took me a while to figure out it was my phone, vibrating on the bedside table in the next room. By the time I picked up my phone and said, “Stone Detective here,” no one replied. I could hear a faint “Hello, hello? but it sounded far away. I finally realized I was talking into the remote control! (Don’t judge me, the room was dark!). 

I set the remote down, picked up my phone and tried again. I thought, I hope the rest of my day doesn’t go like this, but I had a funny feeling this was just the beginning. The person on the other end spoke with a quiet, feminine voice. She said she was an attorney, and she had a client who installed a limestone around a pool deck, and the owner was suing because the stone was falling apart. She asked if I could come take a look at it today. Well, it was only a few miles away from where I live, on the beachside. So I agreed that I could be there in a few hours. 

I finished getting dressed only to realize I had put my shirt on backwards and was wearing two different colored socks! I thought, I should call her back, reschedule, and go back to bed. But I figured some much-needed coffee would take care of my clumsy feet and foggy, sleepy head. I headed off to my favorite greasy spoon before heading out to this inspection. I have them on speed dial, which should tell you a lot.

I arrived at the diner where Flo had my cup of joe ready. She looked at me and said, “You look like you got out of the wrong side of the bed.” I just picked up my coffee, took a sip and told her that she had no idea, as I missed my mouth and spilled coffee all over my trench coat. This should have been my final warning to just go back to bed, but did I listen? NOOOOO. I finished my coffee, went back home to change, and hopped in the Woodie to head over for my inspection.

Spalling tiles, caused by flooding salt water and evaporation.

Above: Spalling tiles, caused by flooding salt water and evaporation. 

Adhesive failure in the Limestone coping of a Lumberton pool, visited by Hurricane Katrina. This is one I’m glad I didn’t fall into!

Adhesive failure in the Limestone coping of a Lumberton pool, visited by Hurricane Katrina. This is one I’m glad I didn’t fall into!

I arrived at this huge beach house where I was greeted by the soft-spoken attorney and an entourage of other attorneys. There must have been at least a dozen people present. I sure hope I can get my act together so I don’t look like a fool, I thought.

I was introduced to the Dewey, Cheatem & Howe group. Ms. Soft-Spoken introduced me, and I was told to “Hop to it,” by Squire Cheatem, I kid you not. I grabbed my bag of gear and was led to the back of the house to a huge pool surrounded by limestone pavers. The first thing I noticed was the limestone was falling apart. Almost every paver was spalling and flaking. It looked like this stone had been installed for over 25 years or more. However, the lawyers told me it was only a few years old. 

I reached in my bag to pull out a golf ball to do a sounding test. If you don’t know this technique, then you should take my class this January! I began testing and noted it was hollow, many stones were loose, and it was just a very poor installation. 

I went into my Columbo act and began asking all kinds of questions, but none of their answers gave me a clue to what was causing this severe deterioration. I finished performing the sounding test, and as I went to put my golf ball back in my bag, I tripped on a rough, crumbling paver and fell right into the pool! 

All the attorneys immediately rushed over to me as I climbed out. Talk about being embarrassed, I can’t remember a time during an inspection that I was more embarrassed. 

I climbed out of the pool and the homeowner handed me a towel and said, “I hope you enjoyed your swim.” Everyone laughed at his attempt to lighten the mood, except me, of course. 

I sat there drying off, looking at the waves on the ocean pounding the nearby beach, when a light went off in my head. It was what the motivational gurus would call an “Aha!” moment. I immediately got up and went over to Ms. Soft-Spoken and asked if this installation was here during Hurricane Matthew, last year.• She said yes, it was. I then asked her if the waves on the ocean ever flooded the pool deck, and guess what she said. “Now that you mention it, yes, it did. The whole area flooded when the tide came up.”

“Bingo, that’s what’s causing all the deterioration,” I said. “The salt water penetrated the stone and the salts crystallized, causing the spalling and flaking.” I felt so overjoyed that I almost jumped back in the pool – but I didn’t have to. As I was talking, I stepped back, stumbled on the coping, and fell in the pool again! Well, at least I solved the case. It was a splish-splash moment that I’ll remember for a long time!

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to be entertaining and educational. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your comments to Dr. Fred at

*On October 7, 2016, Hurricane Matthew moved north along the east coast, previously hitting Cuba and Haiti, and it moved into Florida as a much weaker hurricane than Irma, in September 2017. Luckily, Matthew never made landfall, but the eye barely missed Cape Canaveral. Matthew killed twelve people in the state, and created flooding, high winds, and knocked out power to 1.1 million people.