J.Schwartz,llc Construction Blog (PAHIC#861)

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is “long term” success, truly success? Picking the right team.

How many times have you been doing something that you were not sure of and had no expertise in, and the proof that you were successful is that the project “worked” immediately after you were done? Who knows what will happen after a week, or a year or longer? We all do it, maybe it is a plastic kids toy on Christmas, or maybe while working on a car, or our homes.
Well, read this story and maybe you will think twice next time…
During the heavy rains of this last month (December, 2009), a family was gathering for an occasion in a home in South Jersey. The matriarch of the family had lived in the 40 year old home for over 8 years. She had cared for the home and it was in seemingly immaculate condition by anyone’s standards.
There was a loud “pop” and the floor shuddered – and one of the sons went to investigate. What he found was silty mud rushing into the basement, and an entire section of the foundation wall missing.
After a call to the fire department and a night filled with news vans, camera crews and firemen, the house was left uninhabitable, without water, electricity and gas. It was wrapped in caution tape with a big red sticker on the front door that read “DO NOT ENTER”. The basement was shored-up so that no further immediate damage would occur and a women was left homeless.
Well, why did this happen? This foundation was there for decades, so it must have been installed correctly, right? After all… it lasted for such a long time. Well, I loaded this question, so we all know the answer.
The typical foundation wall (hollow block – in this case, real “cinder blocks”) stacked and pointed didn’t do the job this time – not in the long run. Maybe a soil test would have solved this problem? Maybe a structural engineer would have included the potential soil and water pressure in the calculations that he used to design the reinforcing of the wall? Probably so.
Now I cannot say with any certainty that this wall was not engineered; but my very strong assumption is that the builder and/or Architect just decided to use the “typical” foundation wall and didn’t think twice about the specific conditions or the longevity of the product that he/she built. After all, this worked before… Well, was this successful? It did “work”, right? Well, again, no need for an answer.
In many cases, that foundation wall would have been fine; but in this case, it failed catastrophically and risked life and limb in the process; and although no one was physically injured, the costs to repair the home will cause harm, as will the distress in the meantime.
So now the homeowner is left battling a “reluctant” insurance company, while J. Schwartz,llc expediently gets the team of Soils Engineers and Structural Engineers together to do what should have been done in the first place…. But now, there will be the added expense of new HVAC systems, new finishes and furnishings and the project will all take place under a home that wants to follow the laws of gravity.

This most likely happened because someone was either ignorant of the possibility of involving professional engineers, or because they just knew better and “knew” that this would work…. Ignorance, either way.
So when considering your next project – whether it be putting together a Big Wheel , or having a house built, make sure that you and/or your chosen “team leader” (General Contractor), know what they are doing and who should be on the team. It is not good enough if it “looks good” when they are done – it must be designed and built correctly, too. (And when putting together that Big Wheel, you can look at the directions – I won’t tell!)
The lesson is: This could have been avoided. Oh yeah, and what about the dozens of neighboring homes built by the same team?

View of failure from front shooting towards back

posted by Joe Schwartz - J. Schwartz,llc at 11:18 am  

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