Buying a property is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many. That said, maintaining one is an ongoing task that continues for a lifetime. Since every building is composed of diverse materials and components, structural issues do occur over a period of time. Interior problems, cracks, splits and movements are some of the common issues. But problems are quite easily noticeable in the balconies, foundation and drainage, thanks to some warning signs. In severe cases, their impact on the overall structure can be significant.
Prompt and periodic maintenance is the way to ensure that the building and the components inside are in mint condition for years to come. It’s true that structural maintenance is a specialized domain that calls for the services of a professional engineering services company or consultant. But a fair understanding of the nuts and bolts of structural maintenance would definitely help curb unnecessary expenditure.
A constructed structure can be maintained, restored or improved. Irrespective of the nature and complexity of maintenance, the building owner/manager needs to watch out for some visible signs of damage. That’s because a complex damage could increase the cost of repair. Most importantly, it could become a safety concern.
Not everybody can forget the tragedy that happened in California a few years ago: Early in the morning, a balcony in Berkeley* collapsed and six innocent students lost their lives. No building owner would ever want to hear about a nightmare like this.
Here are some warning signs that indicate that the condition of your building calls for some maintenance work.
Prone to hazardous dry rot, decay and fungus, balconies deteriorate in due course of time. Cracks allow water to penetrate the concrete and continue to create bigger damages. Also, if the balcony is unevenly sloped, it could lead to improper drainage of water. Some issues related to balconies might look minor. But, if ignored, they could morph into major problems that could have disastrous consequences.
Similarly, guardrails can become a safety hazard if left to the wrath of nature. Guardrails have to be strong enough to support a minimum amount of load. When they are exposed to high winds, they could become detached at fixture points. Also, proximity to the ocean could result in the corrosion of these guardrails.
Be it the balcony or the guardrail in particular, maintenance and periodic inspection by professionals is recommended. Damage to components, wear and tear, missing components, impact of vandalism and rust are the common problems to consider while performing an inspection. Structural inspectors can also point out locations for a contractor and/or handyman to view areas of concern (with an investigative demolition) and concealed structural elements and connections. After the inspection, they might even make recommendations for a remediation plan.
Time, weather and soil composition are the common causes for settlement; which is sinking or displacement of the foundation. Frequent fall of brick chunks is a sign of a foundation settlement. Cracks on the walls could lead to moisture and water seepage, which in turn create serious damages. Excess moisture can result in the growth of unhealthy fungus. Cracks on steps/walls and sticking windows are some of the signs that need to be taken seriously. Shrinkage/expansion of the foundation, and gaps in the roof are some other critical signs building owners may fail to notice.
Homeowners have to be vigilant, and they need to pull up their socks as soon as they spot the signs of settlement. Major issues, like a sinking foundation, have to be ironed out by leveling. In plain lingo, it is the job of raising the foundation to its original height. This could even involve digging deep and placing piers to balance the structure. Some experts suggest slabjacking in certain cases. In this process, they pump a special mixture and fill the holes for fixing sunken concrete. Sealing is also considered after assessing the moisture level in the soil.
Water leakage from plumbing systems near the structure can erode the soil and damage the foundation. Odor in the basement, crawling insects, damp carpets, visible mildew, warping of wooden floors, and water pooling are a few telltale signs of water leakage at the foundation level. A small-time contractor might cover up the problem with a quick fix that could aggravate the problem later. So, homeowners should aim to get to the root of the problem and solve it permanently.
When dealing with a foundation leak, the first step is to determine the cause and effect of the same. A leaking foundation might seem like a DIY task. But, unless professional engineers perform an inspection, it is hard to gauge the magnitude of the problem. Regular inspection of the basement walls for cracks and leaks is vital to ensure that the foundation does not suffer serious damage in the future. Proper waterproofing of the basement is important. This can prevent problems like mold, insect/rodent infestation, and even water infiltration. Taking professional help is the best way to fix tricky leak problems.
Water is certainly the lifeblood of every home. But too much of it in the wrong place is no good. Poor drainage is a cause for concern for all the residents, pets, and greenery within the building. Water clogging is a common problem confronted by city dwellers. The problem could be either due to poorly maintained drains or lack of a proper sewage disposal system. Malfunctioning in the drainage, overflowing gutter, water stains in the basement, puddling, saturated soil, deposits on walls, wet spots on the lawn, mildew in the attic and undirected water in the downspout are some signs that can’t be overlooked.
Different homes have different types of drainage systems, but the issues are oftentimes the same. Drainage issues have to be fixed instantly, since they could become foundation-level issues that in turn affect the overall structure. Care has to be taken to make sure that gutters are cleaned and inspected for issues regularly. A best practice is to have both the internal and external drainage systems functioning seamlessly.
A well-designed structure will have the ground sloping away from the home. Though there are multiple options, like dry wells, corrugated tubes, grassy swales and more, it takes a professional to zero in on the right one for a specific home.
Got questions related to structural engineering? Our team of experienced California-licensed engineers can help you with the right advice and services.