Every building has a lifespan. When its materials have to function beyond it, they may deteriorate and cause structural damage.
Factors such as poor construction practices, overloading, moisture, and termite infestations can reduce a building’s lifespan, while earlier code adaptations leave older homes at risk of perilous earthquake damage.
If you’re a homeowner, discovering sagging floors or foundation cracks can be alarming. If you’re a prospective buyer, you may want to know about structural defects, as well as the home’s earthquake resistance, before you make the purchase.
An on-site structural evaluation gives engineers a chance to perform a visual observation of the structure, identify flaws, and suggest effective remedies before it’s too late. If you’re wondering whether your building needs a structural evaluation, check out the guide below for the symptoms of common structural defects.
Cracks in concrete
Cracks in your concrete foundation are an understandable cause for concern. That said, some cracks occur naturally as concrete cures or undergoes thermal changes. These are typically vertical or diagonal and may originate from the corner of an opening in the concrete wall or slab. Unless they are wider than 1/4 inches or allow water to leak through, these cracks generally should not cause you any panic.
Horizontal cracking in the foundation may emerge if the foundation is subjected to severe hydrostatic pressure or is otherwise loaded beyond its capacity. Diagonal foundation cracking occurs as the house settles onto soil that is harder in some places and softer in others.
An engineer’s assessment will determine whether the cracks in your concrete pose a structural threat, and pinpoint underlying problems, such as overloading or poor drainage. The engineer’s report will recommend the best course of action to reduce further cracking and damage.
Two tragedies happened right here in California, only weeks apart. In both incidents, rotting wood failed under the weight of its users and claimed their lives.
In wood, rotting is a process of decay caused by fungal growth. Dry rot and wet rot are the two common types of decay.
Despite its name, dry rot occurs in wood that has prolonged exposure to a moisture content of 20% or more. The moisture can come from a variety of sources, such as leaky pipes, or rainwater getting through the envelope.
Dry rot fungi produce orange spore dust; spotting large patches of it in your house is a visual cue of a dry rot outbreak. Because the fungi consume wood’s cellulose and hemicellulose compounds, affected wood becomes weak and brittle; evidence of crumbling timber in your home points to an outbreak that is already causing damage.
Other signs of this condition include gray strands, white cotton-like growths, and mushroom-shaped fungi that appear on timber, as well as a damp, musty smell.
Wet rot is a fungal growth that’s similar to dry rot. That said, wet rot requires a higher moisture content to germinate and tends to be localized to parts of the wood that are soaked regularly. Lumber affected by wet rot turns dark, soft, and brittle, may exhibit fungal growths, and give off a musty smell. Although less severe than dry rot, this condition can cause grave structural damage if left untreated.
If you suspect dry or wet rot in your home, your structure may continue to suffer damage until the outbreak is contained. The source of moisture must be identified and sealed off to prevent future outbreaks. An on-site structural evaluation will help reveal the extent of the deteriorating lumber, and the inspecting engineer will recommend the next steps.
Every year, termites destroy billions of dollars worth of property in the United States. But material damage pales in comparison to the loss of life and limb. Just recently, a balcony collapse in North Carolina sent two people to a hospital; the investigation pointed to termite damage in the balcony’s wooden structure. Closer to home in Isla Vista, a balcony collapse injured partygoers in 2013; once again, termite damage was revealed as one of the causes.
Termites leave plenty of signs to alert you to their presence.
During the summer months, termites look for places to establish new colonies. If you find large swarms of winged termites in or close to your home, you may be lucky enough to identify an infestation before it begins.
Because termites eat wood and burrow tunnels through it, affected timber may become soft and brittle. You may find wood dust and termite droppings close to termite colonies. At this stage, the infestation is well underway, and after you locate and exterminate the colony, a structural assessment may be necessary to identify hazards.
Homes not retrofitted to current code standards may be vulnerable to massive earthquake damage. If you live in an older home or consider buying one, it’s in your best interest to have its seismic soundness professionally assessed. Some common unsafe conditions that engineers can pinpoint in older homes include:
- unbraced cripple walls
- homes detached from foundations
- soft stories
- unreinforced masonry foundations
- lack of shear walls
An on-site structural evaluation can reveal most of these flaws without costly, invasive investigations, and recommend corrective action.
How We Can Help
Whether you’re noticing signs of deterioration in your home, or want to make sure that they’re not present in a home you’re about to purchase, we can help. Our engineers’ on-site structural evaluation will reveal hazardous flaws and recommend ways to correct them without breaking your bank. Call Design Everest at (877) 704-5727 for a FREE consultation and quote. We can connect you with a professional engineer or designer right away for a virtual consultation or virtual on-site!
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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