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

The Importance of Constructability in Engineering Design

The Importance of Constructability in Engineering DesignWhen 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

Raising Seawalls

Raising Sea WallsYou 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

Preparing Your Property for Seismic Retrofitting

Los Angeles Requires Seismic Retrofitting

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

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

What To Do When Tree Roots Threaten Your Property

Concrete cracking due to tree roots.

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

How Do I Know If My Stairs Are Too Rusty To Be Safe?

Unsafe, Rusty Stairs

When you’re a kid, some things – like stairs and heights, can be really scary. As an adult, perhaps not so much. Yet there are few things scarier than stairs that have not been properly maintained and are on the verge of collapse.

We recently had a project in Central California’s Salinas Valley that involved rusted stairs. These stairs led up to the second story of a large apartment complex.

The stairs were very wobbly, and possibly close to collapse, which was of major concern. A collapse would almost certainly cause serious injury to any tenants that were on or near them. A collapse could also affect access to the upper floors of the building. Continue reading

What Should I Do If My Window Cracks?

Broken Glass Thermal StressRecently we were called out to a client who’d just installed new windows in their home because some of the new windows, nine in fact, had cracked. The cracking was a bit of a mystery, as there had been no impact to the window itself prior to the crack appearing.

So, what happened? In this case, thermal stress cracking is the likely culprit.

Thermal stress can happen when one part of a window’s temperature differs from another part. This can happen as the sun moves through the sky and heats different portions of the glass, especially if the glass is partially covered by eaves or awnings. Continue reading

Is The Building Doctor In?

Need a Doctor for your Property?

Your structural/civil/geotechnical engineer is a lot like a doctor, but for your property. Image courtesy pixabay.com

Sometimes we connect with property owners who ask, “Do we really need an engineer to inspect and provide a solution here?”

Let’s look at it from this perspective:  Would you feel comfortable taking very expensive medicine (typically tens of thousands of dollars) without a doctor’s advice and prescription?

Your structural/civil/geotechnical engineer is a lot like a doctor, but for your property. When looking for an engineer, look for one who’s a Licensed Professional Engineer and can stamp your report with a Professional Engineer (P.E.) stamp. You should be sure that your Engineer has affiliations with organizations like the NSPE (National Society Of Professional Engineers) or the NABIE (National Academy Of Building Inspection Engineers).  Each state has a license for engineers who are working in those states. Continue reading

Why You Should Speak To A Structural Engineer Before Buying A Property

Home Inspections With A Structural Engineer

Start with a Structural Engineer to evaluate a property before you buy. It could save you money in the long run. Image courtesy pixabay.com

Whether you’re buying a property as an investment opportunity or as a property you plan to use as a home or place of business, there’s always a lot to consider.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Check comparable property values
  • Make sure you look at the crime statistics.
  • Check on the quality of the schools in the area. This can tell you a lot about the neighborhood.
  • Find out about any HOA dues, taxes and insurance costs.
  • Talk to the sellers about their experience with the property.
  • Schedule an inspection.

When you schedule the inspection, make sure you contact a specialist to look over each major part of the property. It’s a good idea to hire an electrician to check out the wiring, a plumber to review the pipes, and a structural engineer to look for any structural issues. Continue reading