Living near the ocean is a dream for many, but the reality can be anything but. Property damage or loss caused by coastal bluff erosion can destroy the reward of a lifetime of hard work. First, what is a coastal bluff and what can happen to a property when erosion occurs? Coastal bluffs consist of the entire slope that lies between a marine terrace and the sea. They are formed when there’s a rapid uplift of the shore relative to sea level. Erosion is a natural process that occurs to bluffs over time and through various mechanisms, leading to instability.
Coastal bluffs are subject to erosion via several mechanisms, including creep, sheetwash, rilling and gullying and sudden collapses. Creep refers to the slow, downslope movement of a mass of sediment. A large factor in the promotion of creep is groundwater seepage, and engineering solutions include irrigation restriction and the installation of horizontal drains, or hydroaugers, and pumping wells. Continue reading
Several 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
As 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
Nothing 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
When a property owner decides they want to repair or add on to a home or other type of structure, they often have an engineering firm design the project and then hire a construction firm to build it. All too often, however, the engineering firm fails to create a practical design that will be easy for the construction team to build. That’s where “constructability” comes into play.
Constructability is a technique in which construction processes are reviewed from start to finish during the initial engineering design phase. It all boils down to understanding and coordinating the construction process during the design and planning phases. This technique prevents problems in construction by identifying problems before the project begins construction. Don’t be surprised when your design firm wants to know early on who will build the project. As design engineers, we know the best construction firms for your particular project and want to be confident that our clients are choosing a responsible construction firm—not necessarily the lowest bidder, although competence and economy are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Continue reading
You may have read our post on stabilizing seawalls a few months ago. But what about raising them?
As ocean levels begin to rise due to global warming, it will become more common to raise seawalls to help combat flooding during high tides.
Seawalls help prevent erosion of land area or damage to structures by placing a barrier between the sea and land. This helps prevent damage to structures from wind, wave and tidal forces. Typically, seawalls are curved or flat-facing, and can be built using gravity retaining walls, cantilever retaining walls, and pile-supported retaining walls. Seawalls are usually constructed of concrete, but in the past stone was used due to its durability. Stone is also used as rip-rap in front of seawalls to prevent or minimize scour as well as reducing wave energy. Continue reading
Los Angeles, California now requires Seismic Retrofitting.
As Californians, many of us have been waiting for “the big one” for years.
In 2015 Los Angeles set the nation’s strictest earthquake regulations. 15,000 of the city’s buildings will need to be retrofitted so that they can withstand the shaking of severe earthquakes.
Seismic retrofitting involves the process of securing buildings that may not have been adequately anchored prior to current retrofitting standards.
Most of the retrofitting will need to be done to the city’s apartment-style structures.
Smaller and medium-sized complex owners may not have the capital to complete their projects, but the city is offering various programs to help fund the cost. Also, many contractors have banks behind them and can offer financing to help fund the retrofit process. Continue reading
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
Concrete cracking due to tree roots.
If you’ve ever bought an older property with trees on it, you may have run into problems with tree roots. Often you’ll find that tree roots can damage both your foundation and your plumbing.
If there’s a problem with your tree’s roots invading your plumbing, its usually an easy fix involving scraping the pipe lines and then flushing some chemicals down the toilets to keep the roots at bay.
If you have a problem with tree roots disrupting your foundation it can be a little more difficult to deal with.
One of our projects in San Marino, California dealt with tree roots from two trees that had grown under the house. Continue reading