If you’ve ever used Google Earth, you know it’s amazing mapping tool from Google, the search engine company, that can help you find out all sorts of really neat geographic details about your property, neighborhood, city or region – and even the whole Earth. It’s such a useful tool that Google Earth is used in everything from the classroom to the board room.
At Helfrich-Associates we use Google Earth as a part of many of our projects. It’s a very useful tool that helps us plan our investigations and determine relevant conditions on a job site.
Let’s take a general look at how we use Google Earth for some of our work and how we used it for one real-world project. Continue reading
Standing 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.
Even in drought-stricken Southern California wood rot caused by water is damaging structures on both commercial and residential property. Rotten wood caused by moisture can be easy to miss, especially when the seasons have been as dry as they have been over the last 10 years. It’s also easy to put off the repairs – for some of us the drought makes dealing with wood rot seem like a back burner project. It’s easy to ignore the problem when we aren’t expecting wet weather.
Water-caused rot develops when moisture lingers on wooden surfaces that are unprotected. The lack of protection happens when wooden structures are not repainted regularly or resealed after a period of time. The moisture will settle into unprotected cracks and crevices and that creates a fantastic environment for fungi – the real culprit of the wood rot. Wood rot only needs 20 percent moisture content to live. That means it can show up in all but the most arid temperature zones. Continue reading
Drones 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
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