February 28, 2014
Worst Basement Failure Ever
I was going through my photos this morning, and I found this one:
This was the subwall in an apartment building. The building was built back in the 70’s, and was built as part of a development of low income apartments. If there is ever a case for proper building permitting procedures, these types of apartments in the Atlanta area make it. In every one of these buildings it appears to me that there was almost no structural engineering, the foundations are often minimal or non-existent, the structure is all wood and all of the members are overspanned, there is no consideration for wind bracing, and as you see here, the subwalls are never strong enough. I suspect all that was done for the design was a floor layout, some elevations, and that was it.
It also appears that there was no inspection in most of these because the errors in construction are often so extreme that even the most inexperienced building inspector should have caught them. I always wonder how this worked. I assume the that at the time the builder submitted the floor plans and elevations, fees were paid, and the permit was issued and that was that. I suspect there was no inspection at all, or maybe just plumbing and electric.
In this one the subwall was not reinforced properly, the site wasn’t drained properly, and there was not a working underdrain system. As it rained, water pressure built up against the outside wall and we had a catastrophic collapse. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Sad thing is, I have been in one building where a tenant was seriously injured in a failure – while he was in bed the ceiling collapsed on him. The ceiling was not nailed to the joists above, it was glued. In time the glue deteriorated and the ceiling fell loose and seriously injured the person below.
The brick wall in in danger of collapse. By this time the building was condemned and apartments cleared out. It could have been much worse. The repairs were done (by replacing the subwall with an engineered one) and the building put back in service.
Every time I go to the old low income apartment buildings I come back away irritated. The shoddy construction is downright criminal, and shows a total lack of concern for the people that live in the buildings. The structural problems are many, and in addition the bathrooms are never adequately designed to contain the moisture. In every building of this type you will find rotted wood all around the bathrooms. This is not only a danger for the structure, but presents a great place for mold to grow. Also, the windows are usually improperly flashed, so you will see moisture in the structure around the windows – again, causing structural issues and mold.
How was this allowed to happen? Were the building officials corrupt? Were they incompetent? Were they racist (figuring it was primarily minorities that would live in these buildings and thus they didn’t care)? Was the system itself too lax? Most likely it was a combination of all. The sad thing is it hurts people that have no other options in life.
By the way, every time I go to these buildings I talk to a lot of the people that live there. They don’t seem like the stereo type “welfare recipient/drug dealer/thug” to me. All of the ones I’ve talked to just seemed like regular people, the kind you’d be happy to have as a neighbor. They have jobs, families, hopes and dreams. They just are poor. That makes it even more irritating to me.
Above all else, it shows how when people don’t do their jobs, it can seriously hurt other people.