Common Signs of Home Damage and Deterioration

A deteriorating homeDo you know the common signs of home damage and deterioration? It’s important to be aware of changes around your home or property that could be signs of deterioration. These signs could be sagging beams, discoloration on ceilings/walls, cracks in floors & foundations, rust on steel stairs, tipping of retaining walls or slope movement.

Let’s face it, home or property repairs are never fun. They’re costly and time consuming. Most of us want to get them done as quickly and economically as possible. Yet there’s one thing you should never exclude from your project — a consultation with an experienced construction engineer about the signs of home damage. Continue reading

When Does a Property Need a Floor Elevation Survey?

When Does a Property Need a Floor Elevation Survey?Is it time for a floor elevation survey? Have you noticed a lot of cracking of the foundation or patios on your property? It could be related to ground or soil movement. When the ground under a property shifts, it can  lead to cracked foundations, patio slabs and/or interior finishes such as drywall and tile. This can be especially true in places like Southern California where we have very adverse geology such as clays, loose sand and unstable hillsides. Add to this years of drought followed by an El Niño year, and ground movement is inevitable. Continue reading

The Dangers of Building Without A Permit

The Dangers of Building Without A PermitGetting ready to start an improvement project and wondering if you can start building without a permit? If you’ve ever been in the market for a new property, for instance a new home, you may have come across some that were remodeled without a permit. Buyers may encounter properties that have been updated since their original construction with additions that range from electrical work to an expansion of the building. So what should you do when you find that perfect property that’s had work done but the previous owner may not have obtained a permit to do the work? Continue reading

How to Deal With Rising Sea Levels on Your Coastal Property

Coastal ErosionProtecting properties on coastal parcels is critical, especially as we start to see much of our nation’s coastal areas affected by rising sea levels. Higher sea levels are allowing the tides to carry away much of the natural defenses and sands that keep properties and beaches protected from the oceans, especially during heavy coastal storms. In fact, some coastal communities are running out of beach sand due to global warming.

What can coastal property owners do to protect themselves? The answer is installing or improving existing seawalls. A bulkhead, also known as a seawall, helps prevent erosion of land area or damage to structures by placing a barrier between the sea and land. Seawalls protect properties and beaches against damage from wind, wave and ice forces. They may feature curved or flat-facing surfaces, and can be comprised of gravity retaining walls, cantilever retaining walls, and pile-supported retaining walls. New seawalls are commonly constructed of concrete, but older seawalls included materials like stone, an excellent buffer against wave energy. Continue reading

Avoiding Surface Water Drainage Issues

Avoid Surface Water Drainage Issues with a Gutter SystemStanding water can ruin a property and pose serious issues to a community’s health. It can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mosquitos, and can lead to structural issues for buildings on the property. There can also be issues for adjoining properties, which can in turn will draw the ire of neighbors and possibly result in increased litigation risks. If you’ve ever had a property that has issues with surface water drainage, then you know full well the damage and headache it can cause.

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Using Drones In Engineering and Construction

Done Used For Engineering SafetyDrones aren’t just for the military anymore. Drones are being used in all types of commercial industries these days, from insurance to the media to construction. Although military drones are the most familiar type of drone, they’re not very common in civilian airspace. When one does see a drone, they’re usually the kind of drone known as a hobby drone. These drones can be purchased by anyone and can be found on retail web sites like Amazon.

Drones, technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have become very affordable and easier to obtain than ever. In fact, these drones are becoming so popular that according to the FAA, in 2015 alone there were over 650 drone sightings by aircraft pilots – more than double the 238 sightings in 2014. Continue reading

When Do I Need A Building Permit?

When Do I need A Permit?acSeveral years ago I had a friend on the East Coast that had a problem. My friend came to me with questions after a project he was working on with a fence builder turned ugly. My friend purchased his property without a fence. Because he had several dogs on the property, he wanted a fence to keep them from wandering off the property. He called a fencing expert and began installing the fence. Everything was going well until he got a visit from his township informing him the whole fence needed to be torn down. It seems he was building without a permit. Continue reading

5 Things To Know Before A Property Renovation

5 Things To Know Before A Property RemodelAs a former guest on the popular HGTV Series Flip or Flop, I had to deliver some unfortunate news to the very talented hosts of the show who rarely if ever have a flop on their hands.  This time the home that they had purchased to flip had an old fissured, crumbling concrete foundation that would require expensive replacement.  It was truly one of the worst foundations that I’d ever seen as an engineer.

The response to this episode was overwhelming with many of you asking me, “How do I avoid that kind of trouble?”  The simple answer to the question would be for me to say, “Buyer beware and know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.” Continue reading

Protect Yourself From Code Violations

avoid-code-violationsNothing can turn a good property investment into a nightmare faster than discovering serious code violations that require unplanned and expensive repairs.  The trouble usually starts with tenant complaints.   When tenant complaints are ignored or poorly managed with substandard repairs, these situations can quickly snowball into major code enforcement violations, fines, accidents, evacuations, loss of life, litigation and even criminal negligence.

The building codes are different in every town, city, county and state.  They are living, breathing documents that continue to change as new materials, products and construction techniques continue to evolve.  Other contributors to changes in building codes are more subtle, such as socially recognizing that people with special needs must have equitable access or the true consequences of natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes and earthquakes. Continue reading

How Can I Repair My Building and Property To Code?

Code Compliance On Old Home Construction

Code compliance differs between old and new construction and repairs.

If you’ve ever been to Redlands, California, you may have seen its many historic buildings. There are dozens of Victorian-style residences and Craftsman era homes that date back more than 100 years.

I was recently talking with an acquaintance here in town that owns (and was looking to sell) an older home from the late 1800’s. He was telling me all about some of the renovations that he thought were necessary in order to bring the home up to code and make it habitable as a residence. There was a lot of work that needed to be done – ranging from replacing old electrical and plumbing work to repairing some damage to the structure that was a result of age and unstable land.

At one point, I was asked what I thought should be done about the structural issues due to the unstable land beneath the home? He was very concerned about what the city’s building department might require to repair the structure in order to sell it.  Since Helfrich-Associates has performed many investigations of structures that were built on unstable property, I knew he was probably dealing with issues that could range anywhere from minor cracks in the floors, walls, and ceilings, to difficulty operating doors and windows, to significant and serious foundation movement. If not repaired, these issues could discount the property value. Continue reading