Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

I was sitting at my favorite greasy spoon when a stranger walked in and sat next to me. This was kind of strange since this local spot rarely has strangers. Most of the regulars are locals who live nearby, including the retired Admiral who tells the same story every day. Most are retired, but there are also the group I call the construction crew. These guys come in pretty early for a quick bite and a cup of joe. 

Flo poured my coffee, gave me that wink she gives me every morning and asked the stranger, “What ya havin’?” in her classic Southern drawl. The stranger said nothing for what seemed like several minutes and then he ordered a glass of water and some bacon and eggs.  Flo turned around to pour him a glass of water and when she turned back to place it in front of him, it spilled all over the counter. Part of it splashed on the stranger’s coat and he jumped up and in a loud voice yelled, “You’ve ruined my coat!” I offered him a few napkins and then I asked him very politely, “Isn’t that a raincoat you’re wearing?” He just stared at me and I mumbled under my breath, How does a glass of water ruin a coat that is designed to get wet?  I almost said something to him, but wasn’t in the mood to get into an argument or possibly get my face rearranged. Fortunately, he threw a ten on the counter and stormed out of the diner.  I asked Flo if she was OK and she nodded yes.  Little did I know that this incident would give me an insight into my next inspection.

I finished my breakfast, said goodbye to Flo and the other regulars and headed out the door, on my way to an inspection. Today’s case was your typical flooding issue. Some $7 million home had a pipe that leaked and flooded the upstairs bedroom and overflowed into the downstairs living room. I was told the floor was marble and I was asked by the insurance company to make an evaluation. The owner of the home claimed the stone was ruined and needed to be replaced. 

Water damage is a typical inspection that occurs frequently. In some cases, the stone actually is ruined, depending on the type of stone and the source of the water. So as far as I was concerned, this should be a cut-and-dried inspection.

I arrived at the home right on time and was greeted at the gate by the insurance adjuster. He introduced himself as the guy who I talked to on the phone a few days ago.  He proceeded to tell me that the homeowner was present, and warned me the homeowner was a know-it-all, arrogant individual, and he was likely going to argue about the case.  Well, this is going to fun, I thought. 

I grabbed my bag of instruments and followed the insurance guy into the house. As he opened the large front doors, there stood a tall, lean gentleman. He was wearing a pair of khakis and a red golf shirt with the local country club logo on it. For a minute I thought it was Jake from State Farm, but he was too tall. I introduced myself and he proceeded to tell me all about the flood and where the water had gone and how the stone was ruined.  I listened, not saying a word, and when he was finished, I took out my moisture meter and started checking numerous areas on the floor. The entire floor was dry. Not any evidence of moisture. By the way, the stone floor was travertine and not a marble. 

Travertine, despite its porous texture, is a limestone and has been used in fountains for centuries. So, depending on the subflooring (like concrete), a travertine floor won’t be damaged by a little water.

Travertine, despite its porous texture, is a limestone and has been used in fountains for centuries. So, depending on the subflooring (like concrete), a travertine floor won’t be damaged by a little water.

One of my pet peeves is when people call travertine a marble, when in fact it is a limestone. (Well, right now I do not have time for a geology lesson. Just take my word for it or Google it. LOL.)

I did a detailed walk-through examining every inch of the floor. I found no evidence of damage. The entire time, he was telling me how ruined the floor was. The funny thing is he did not give me any details. He did not say it was discolored, pitted or whatever.  I could not find anything wrong with the floor.  When I was through, he kept pressuring me on what I thought.  I rarely give my opinion in these cases, so I simply said it would be in my report. He kept insisting and finally I had had enough, and I pointed to the travertine that was in the fountain he had in the main entrance. This was a big fountain with about a foot of water containing the same travertine. I pointed to the fountain and asked if that travertine was ruined by the water. He turned around and walked away mumbling something. 

Later in my report I mentioned that the travertine was set on a concrete slab with the thin set method and that water did no damage. I also wrote a brief geology explanation that travertine is actually formed in water. Now, if the travertine had been installed on a wood substrate, it may have been a different matter. Of course, there are other considerations that I didn’t mention to him.  Now you know that travertine is similar to a raincoat – It can get wet with no damage. Another case solved.

The Stone detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. 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. Fred has also been writing for the
Slippery Rock Gazette for over 20 years. 

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