Structural Engineers

Author: admin

Why I Think Crawl Space Encapsulation is Unnecessary

Typical Crawl Space Encapsulation from Basement Systems

In my work with foundation repair for houses, I run into a lot of marketing hype about crawl space encapsulation.  Encapsulation of a crawl space is done generally by laying down a very thick water proof membrane across the bottom of the crawl space and up the walls.  The crawl space is sealed with this membrane, all the vents are closed.  A dehumidifier is put in the encapsulated space to make it dry.  It makes the area very nice to enter into, it’s clean, dry, and bright (the membrane used is always white).  It’s easy to move around in because you’re not crawling in dirt and trash like you find in many crawl spaces.  What I like about the system is you get a really dry crawl space that is free of mold and other issues.

The problem is it is really expensive.  The other problem, which is not an issue with the system itself, is it often sold to unsuspecting homeowners as a solution to problems totally unrelated to crawl space moisture, or they are not properly installed.  The worse case I’ve seen was when a salesman tried to sell a homeowner a crawl space encapsulation system as a solution to cracks over a large archway – which were caused by a header beam that was too small.  The homeowner would have spent $25,000 to for a “solution” that would not solve the problem.   

The other issues I’ve seen is encapsulated crawl spaces put in without attempts to solve the incoming moisture problems in the crawl space.  If a crawl space is flooding, you need to take care of that with drains/sump pumps and so on before encapsulating.

So, other than improper installation, is it worth it to encapsulate your crawl space?  I’m going to run through the logic of it in this article and let’s see where it takes us.  Also, for a contrary view, please watch this excellent video.

First off, we want encapsulation to cut down moisture, water infiltration must be solved separately.  Moisture presents problems in crawl spaces when it condenses on the underside of the floor and insulation.  Once the moisture condenses into water droplets the wood floor can rot, insulation loses its insulating value and begins to fall, mold grows, and a great environment is provided for termites.

What makes the moisture condense?  When the temperature of the air goes below the dew point moisture comes out of the air and will form on solid surfaces.  That’s why in the summer when the temperature goes down at night you will find dew on the grass, your car, and other surfaces.  The same happens in your crawl space.  In the summer, warm moist air will come into your crawl space, and it gets cooled by your floor system (which is cooler because of your air conditioner).  Moisture then condenses on the surface of the underside of your floor.  In the winter, you have cold air come in, and warm moisture migrates through your floor, comes in contact with the cold air, and condenses.

The traditional solution is to provide ventilation in the crawl space, and place a vapor barrier such as a sheet of polyethylene plastic over the floor of the crawl space (which is almost always dirt).  This is supposed to circulate air through the crawl space, which lowers the vapor pressure in the crawl space, which allows the condensation that forms a chance to evaporate.  The plastic on the ground is supposed to keep water in the soil from evaporating into the crawl space and increasing the humidity.

Vapor pressure is the pressure in the air formed by the evaporated water (it can be any evaporated liquid, like gasoline, but we’ll focus on water).  When the vapor pressure is at its maximum, the air is saturated with water, and water can no longer evaporate.  If we circulate air into the crawl space with a lower vapor pressure, we can evaporate the condensation.  What’s important to know is that warm air has a higher vapor pressure than cool air.  So, if we hit maximum vapor pressure on air at let’s say 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius), it is at 100% relative humidity.  If we heat that air up to 70° F (21° C), our relative humidity will be much lower.  The air is dryer now, which is why your house is so dry in the winter.

The argument given by proponents of crawl space encapsulation is that when we ventilate a crawl space, we are bringing in more humid air, which adds to the condensation.  In the winter that doesn’t make sense, because the cooler air will cause the condensation that forms to evaporate quickly, because that cooler air is heating up in your crawl space.

What about summer?  Here we are bringing in warm air that is high humidity, and we cool it down in the crawl space.  Yes, that’s a problem.  You could argue that air movement from the ventilation would keep the vapor pressure down, which will evaporate any condensation.  This is the argument I’ve seen for crawl space fans.  I’ve recommended crawl space fans be put in, and they seemed to work well.  However, to really know you must observe them operating over time.  Also, if we have a wet day where the outside temperature is close to that of the crawl space, you are not getting any advantage from air circulation, since you are circulating saturated air throughout.

So, I think we’ve got some good logic for encapsulation.  The other question I have is, can we go short of crawl space encapsulation?  What if we place a vapor barrier on the ground, and put in a dehumidifier?  In such case, we need the crawl space vents open to comply with Code.    I’ve seen this work well on one job where we had serious warping issues in the floor due to humidity in the crawl space.  However, to make a judgement, we really need to do a controlled experiment of a number of houses.  I think this makes sense because in crawl spaces I’ve entered where water infiltration is controlled, there really isn’t a moisture issue.  So, encapsulation could be overkill.

Now, if we do encapsulate a crawl space, the cost of the membrane installation is very high.  Also, to comply with the latest Code, the following requirements must be met in Georgia:

  1. Exposed earth is covered with a continuous Class I vapor retarder. Joints of the vapor retarder shall overlap by 6 inches (152 mm) and shall be sealed or taped. The edges of the vapor retarder shall extend at least 6 inches (152 mm) up the stem wall and shall be attached and sealed to the stem wall or insulation; and
  2. One of the following is provided for the under-floor space:

     2.1. Continuously operated mechanical exhaust ventilation at a rate equal to 1 cubic foot per minute (0.47 L/s) for each 50 square feet (4.7m2) of crawlspace floor area, including an air pathway to the common area (such as a duct or transfer grille), and perimeter walls insulated in accordance with Section N1103.2.1 of this code;

    2.2. Conditioned air supply sized to deliver at a rate equal to 1 cubic foot per minute (0.47 L/s) for each 50 square feet (4.7 m2) of under-floor area, including a return air pathway to the common area (such as a duct or transfer grille), and perimeter walls insulated in accordance with Section N1102.2 of this code;

    2.3. Plenum in existing structures complying with Section M1601.5, if under-floor space is used as a plenum.

I haven’t seen any of this done in the encapsulations I’ve examined.  All of the encapsulated crawl space I’ve looked at were totally sealed, which is a violation of Code in this state and most other states that use the International Residential Code or its variations.  That doesn’t mean the system is bad though, it means you need to assure your contractor is following the Code.

Based on the above, I don’t think crawl space encapsulation is bad.  You must solve the water infiltration first, you don’t encapsulate a wet crawl space.  Also, the encapsulated crawl space must be ventilated.  My issue is, is it cost effective compared to a simpler method of controlling water infiltration, a vapor barrier, and possibly a dehumidifier?  In my opinion it isn’t.

I’ll go one step further.  If you have problems with moisture in your crawl space, you have the water infiltration problem anyway.  Laying plastic on the ground in your crawl space isn’t expensive at all.  A dehumidifier is not prohibitively expensive either.  If that solution doesn’t work, you won’t be spending much more to come back and encapsulate the space.  You are going to be out the minor expense of laying plastic on the ground, and possibly a few hundred for the dehumidifier if the contractor won’t leave it in the encapsulated space (which it can be, there is no “special” encapsulated crawl space dehumidifier).

Therefore, I will almost never recommend encapsulating a crawl space when I make a structural assessment.  It’s an expensive solution that may not be necessary.  Now, if you are a contractor that puts in these systems and you disagree with me, please send a rebuttal to me at georger @runcon.biz.  My opinion is not written in stone, and I am interested in counter arguments.  

George

Continue Reading
Continue Reading
Continue Reading

Shipping Container Engineering

This is a brief video of how we do the structural engineering of a shipping container building.  If this video is received well, we will post a more in depth video.

Continue Reading

Center for Civil Rights, Atlanta, GA

This project involved engineering a number of different types of panels to give the architectural effect.  We worked under Seco Architectural Systems, Inc on preparing the shop drawings.  The project involved determining the wind loads on the panels to determine if they would be able to meet the required span, and determing the required connections.  This was unusual because in the front the panels are perforated to provide a screen effect, which made working out the connections and the checking of the spans challenging.

15751858214_8d3a67c10c_o 16188076959_3e5281255f_o 16374299225_1699510883_o

Continue Reading
Continue Reading

That Seventies House

In my years of evaluating properties, one type of house that has always amazed me is the one that time forgets.  The house gets built in a certain period, and it stays that way, no updates, no modifications.  When I get into them they’ve usually been vacant for a while and they can be in pretty rough shape. That’s not an idication of how they were taken care of, a vacant house can deteriorate very fast.  This house is time frozen in the Seventies, which I thought was kind of cool in its own way.  It was also sad when I thought about the people that lived in it.  Here we go:

A panoramic view of the basement.  The ceiling is false, the real ceiling is actually above the ridge beam.  Apparently they put in the false cathedral ceiling to make the room look a bit more proportional.  The ceiling tiles are of a wood veneer I've never seen anywhere else.  At the time this house was built, I worked in a building supply store, so I thought I'd seen everything awful from the period, but I guess I missed something.

A panoramic view of the basement. The ceiling is false, the real ceiling is actually above the ridge beam. Apparently they put in the false cathedral ceiling to make the room look a bit more proportional. The ceiling tiles are of a wood veneer I’ve never seen anywhere else. At the time this house was built, I worked in a building supply store, so I thought I’d seen everything from the period, but I guess I missed something.

A built in entertainment center.  This was the rage among people my parents age.  Younger people liked the stereo components type systems where you had separate turntables, tuners, speakers, and 8 track tape player.  So, whoever built this was probably either of WWII or Korean War generation.

A built in entertainment center. This was the rage among people my parents age. Younger people liked the stereo components type systems where you had separate turntables, tuners, speakers, and 8 track tape player. So, whoever built this was probably either of WWII or Korean War generation.  That means when the house was built, the owners were probably already in their mid-fifties.

The carpet hasn't aged well.  Sadly, this looks like something my mother picked out.  Sadder still, at the time we thought this was rather attractive.

The carpet hasn’t aged well. At the time we thought this was rather attractive.

This was a picnic pavillion on a slab behind the house. It was probably really nice in the day.  Sadly, it looks like it was never updated, and was in bad shape for years.

This was a picnic pavillion on a slab behind the house. It was probably really nice in the day.  I’m sure they had some really cool parties there in the day.

Another smaller picnic area.  This is in a nice part of the yard, well shaded.  I'm sure it was nice in the day.

Another smaller picnic area. This is in a nice part of the yard, well shaded. I’m sure it was nice in the day too.

Whenever I see a house like this, I wonder what happened.  It looks like whoever moved into a place put a lot of care into building it, and then never did anything to update it over the years.  Did the people get sick?  Did they start getting old, and let everything go?  Did they have financial issues?  Usually the story is the people live in the house much longer than they probably should, lack the ability to maintain it anymore.  Should they have gone into an assisted living facility?  I talked to an elderly lady about this once, and she said she figured she had about 5 years or so to live.  She was going to spend that time living in her house where she was comfortable, and whatever happened to her house after that didn’t concern her the least.  So, I guess I have to agree.  I’d rather spend my last days in a house that looks like this rather than go to a retirement home and live in the sterile unfamiliar environment there.

George

Continue Reading

Job Hunting Advice From An Employer

For as long as I can remember, I have met people who just can’t seem to find a job.  They send out resumes and answer all the want ads, and get nowhere.  They read books on job hunting tips, they go to job fairs, and still they get nowhere.  They spend loads of time polishing their resumes, working out the “right” cover letter, and still nothing… Why is this?  I first started on this problem back in the 90’s when I was writing part time for the Motley Fool Investment Forum.  My job at the time with The Motley Fool was part-time, and to put it mildly, I hated my full time job with every ounce of my being.  I had two priorities, the first was to get out of that job, the second was to avoid getting into an even worse job (which happened to me once before).  I found out with a bit of research that almost everything that I had learned about job hunting from the career development center in college, books, and articles by “experts” was wrong.  A few years later I found myself running my own company, and I can tell you why common wisdom is wrong.

Let’s start with the typical way people look for jobs.  Back before the Internet, you would get the Sunday paper and scan through the classifieds.  You’d find a job that most likely fit, and send in a resume.  Maybe you didn’t have all the requirements, but you would think, “hey, what the heck, maybe they’ll hire me anyway”.  You’d type up your cover letter, copy your resume, and mail it all in and keep your fingers crossed and wait anxiously by the phone like a teenage girl would do back then hoping her latest crush would be calling her for a date.  The problem is what happened on the other end.

The employer doing the advertisement would find themselves snowed with applications.  I advertised a job once in the paper and I got about 100 responses.  Out of those, maybe one or two people were qualified.  A lot of the respondants to the advertisements didn’t meet any of the requirements at all.  Many of them were on a downward spiral in their lives, you could see a pattern of short term jobs that were ever lower paying.  If the employer was dumb enough to list the company name with the advertisement, they would also find themselves flooded with calls by very obnoxious or desperate people.  Generally, if anyone got hired out of that mess, it was the very first few qualified resumes to show up that got interviews.  Everything else went to the slush pile.  So, if you twiddled about for a day before getting your package in the mail, you may have been number 50 resume to show up, and by that time someone else got lucky and was already going through the selection process.  Your resume and cover letter either ended up in a file to be forgotten, or thrown in the trash.

Now we can advertise through job websites like Monster.  That turns out even worse.  I advertised for a part time position that had a few requirements: 1. You had to be studying engineering in college, second year or higher. 2. The job was part time.  3. You needed to commute to Lawrenceville, GA.  Apparently no one read the ad.  I got an application from a PhD in Texas, who I guess thought he could commute to Georgia and make Intern pay for 20 hours a week.  I got loads of applications from people with no education at all.  I got applications from mid-career engineers.  The closest application I got was from a young woman who was studying business at a local college that wanted a part time job.  Too bad I was looking for an engineer intern.  I wasted my time with over 100 worthless applications.

What a lot of employers do, and I will also when the company gets bigger, is use a “headhunter”.  That’s a corporate recruiter that finds and screens the applicants for you, and gives you some suitable people.  I have been contacted by headhunters, and I was lucky enough to be found by one that got me out of my miserable job and moved here to Atlanta.  The problem is headhunters tend to call you when you aren’t looking for a job.  If you manage to find a headhunter on your own, you have to hope they know of a job open that you are qualifed for – they don’t keep business by referring unqualified applicants to potential employers.  So, the othe alternative is to act as your own headhunter.

Here’s a good tip – call potential employers yourself.  If you call me looking for a job, I will talk to you.  It will be a short conversation, but I’ll ask you some specific questions, and if you are potentially qualified, I will ask for your resume.  When I’ve looked for jobs, I’ve gotten the same warm reception mostly.  There are two exceptions, one when I called a very large engineering firm’s personnel department, and the guy hung up on me.  I found out later (surprise) that it was kind of a miserable company.  The other one irritated me a lot.  I knew an executive in a large engineering firm that ran its office near where I lived in New Jersey.  He referred me to the manager of their Washington, DC office, where I was looking for a job. I called the DC office, told the receptionist my name and asked for the guy.  She came back on the phone and asked me why I was calling. I said “I’m looking for a job,and I was referred by xxx”.  She put me on hold, and then came back and said the individual I was calling was out, and she would take my number.  Of course he never called me, and he wasn’t out.  He was obviously a jerk, and I ended up avoiding working for him and having to look for a job AGAIN.

Generally every time I called a company I was called in for an interview.  Not every interview led to a job offer of course, but in every case the people I talked to were very polite, so it does work.  The fact is that many of us don’t advertise for job openings, and in a small business we really don’t even have job openings.  If you come in to see us, and we think we can make use of you, you may get a job.  OR, we may refer you to someone that is looking (that happened to me once).

Is there anything else you can do?  Some people think networking is good, like going to professional society meetings or civic organization meetings.  I got a job offer for repairing doorbells at a Lion’s Club meeting.  I’m not exaggerating, this happened when I was trying to leave the miserable job.  I politely explained to the guy that I was a graduate engineer with something like 15 years experience and a Professional Engineer license, and he went on to tell me what a big mistake I was making….  So, my feeling is that networking events are a waste of time, unless you like that sort of thing.  It’s the same problem with answering the job posting online – you are there with hundreds of other applicants if it is a job fair.  If it is a professional society meeting, you will be lucky to talk to a handful of people who probably have no hand in the hiring process in their companies.  If it is a civic organization, you may end up having your time wasted by someone in a doorbell repair business, some other oddball venture, or a distributed marketing venture.

Should you answer want ads in the paper, or go to online job sites?  The recruiter that got me the job in Atlanta said yes, it is important to get your name out there.  I think it is another waste of time for the most part, but it’s not much time wasted. It’s not like spending an afternoon at a job fair and coming home with a bunch of applications but no job in hand.  It is certainly better than going to some civic organization meeting and getting cornered by some guy who wants to recruit you to sell vitamins or insurance with a promise that you could be a “Regional Vice President” or some silliness like that if you can recruit people under you.  So, I reluctantly agree with the recruiter.  Also, when I was trying to leave the miserable job, I actually got a job offer from posting my resume online.  So, the 5 minutes or so I spent posting my resume wasn’t a waste of time.

What about your resume?  I don’t know what it is, but two guys I hired gave me resumes that were impossible to figure out.  Just give a chronoligical record of your jobs and the responsibilites.  Skip fancy fonts and expensive paper.  NO COLORED PAPER PLEASE!  I get resumes with so many different fonts that they look like ransom notes from the old days.  Also, I don’t really care about your personal interests, like that you garden, read books, or fish. You won’t do any of that at my office, so it matters little to none.  Don’t give any information on your religion or political views.  I really don’t want to know, I want to evaluate you on what you can do. Some people send pictures, don’t do that.  Please don’t do that.  You want the people screening you to be blind to your race, looks and age as much as possible.  Your picture doesn’t help.  To me three things are important – education, professional societies, work experience.  For entry level people, even unrelated work experience helps, I want to know if you’ve ever had a job.

Gaps in employment don’t help on resumes.  Hopefully if you were laid off and out of work for a long time you can fill in the gap with some sort of educational activity.  Maybe explain it with something like caring for a sick relative, or taking a sabbatical to travel or whatever.  Try not to make it look like you were sitting at home staring at the TV set feeling bad about yourself, even if you were.  Also, look at the job titles that you give yourself on the resumes.  I once was hiring an engineer, and I got an applicant that put down his present job as “Industrial Engineer Intern” at a local steel company.  He was out of school for about 4 years. He didn’t get the job.  Why would I hire a graduate engineer that was out of school for 4 years that was just an intern?  I thought about it later, and I would bet that Personnel at the company he worked at would only authorize an “Intern” position, and that’s what he was hired in.  More than likely he was doing real engineer work instead of getting coffee and making copies like interns do.  Now, it is a little tricky to change your job title on your resume if you work for a big company and have a formal job title.  So, he should have put down “Company xxx – Perform Industrial Engineering”.  Don’t let an awful job title kill your chances at another job.

Now, let’s get to the interview.  Some things go without saying.  Don’t drink before you go to an interview.  If an interviewer takes you to lunch and treats you to a glass of wine or a beer, and you have another interview later in the day, you just lost your chance for a job at the later interview.  If you get taken to lunch, don’t drink alchohol.  If the interviewer pushes you, tell him or her you have an important meeting to go to later and you don’t want to smell like alcohol. Dress properly.  Different types of job the dress is different.  If you come to see us, we’ll ask you to wear old clothes because we are going to take you to a jobsite.  Don’t wear revealing clothing, dirty clothes, or worn out clothes.  Show up on time.  Don’t show up super early, then they have to do something with you while you wait and that is not appreciated.

Dressing for job interviews used to be a lot easier.  You wore a suit and that was it.  There was a book called “Dressing for Success” which was good to follow.  Today we are all casual.  We wear shorts and flip flops in my office.  I usually go around in my stocking feet or barefoot, which was unheard of when I got out of college.  I still would wear a suit or a sports jacket if I were a man.  A woman should wear the female equivalent.  If you are older like me, don’t wear “old people clothes”.  That means no slip on orthopedic shoes (it won’t hurt you to wear regular shoes for an hour or two).  NO CARDIGAN SWEATER!  Remember the Dennis the Menace TV show? – if you are old enough to, this definitely applies to you.  Mr. Wilson always wore a cardigan sweater, to make sure you knew he was a crochety old man.  Don’t dress like Mr. Wilson.

Now, for the less obvious stuff.  I’m going to go through my pet peeves of an interview.  Don’t overshare – don’t volunteer about your treatment for Depression, or talk about how you were arrested for DUI at 17.  When you are being interviewed, the interviewer is looking for a reason to turn you down, don’t give him or her that reason.  Show some expression. I am always interviewing people who show a poker face and speak with a monotone all through the interview.  The same corporate recruiter I mentioned earlier found that annoying too – she thought it might be due to nervousness.  I tend to interpret it as you are the type of person who has no interest in anything, and will show no initiative.  Ease up, the interviewer is no better than you.  Smile, show some emotion.  Don’t do the nervous laugh.  This is typical oftentimes of young people, and it is real annoying.  I’ve had bad experiences with people that had this habit, so it will kill your chance of getting a job with me, and I suspect others may feel the same.

Don’t badmouth ANYTHING. I don’t care how much you hate your present job, don’t say it during the interview.  I made the mistake in one interview of telling the interviewer I was having trouble with my boss.  Everyone that knew my boss knew he was a petty tyrant, and so did the interviewer (who was the owner of the company I was interviewing at and knew my boss for years).  He spent two hours pumping me about how bad my boss was and what happened.  It was terribly depressing and I didn’t get the job.  Fortunately, I got a job shortly after, because that conversation could have found its way back to my former boss (actually it did after I left), and as bad as things were, it would have made things much much worse.  I’ve also had interviews where the interviewer badmouthed a former employer that I liked and still had very good relations with.  The best thing in that case is to not comment in any way.  Don’t tell the interviewer about bad experiences you had with other job interviews, the interviewer will be afraid you will do the same wih him or her.

The worst part of any interview for me is the end when they say “any questions?”.  At this point in time I always feel I’ve been trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose, and there really isn’t anything else I want to know.  I always have wanted to say, “I’ve had enough today, can I go home now?”  Even if the interviewer has had it, and would like you to leave too, don’t do that.  Ask something fairly simple like “can I see one of your company’s projects?”  That’s easy, not to painful for anyone, and you can get out.  Don’t ask about pay and benefits until you are offered the job.

If you get offered the job, make sure it is in writing with a start date.  I was once offered a job verbally, and the guy that hired me forgot that he offered me a job.  I quit my job, and went to work at the other place.  No one in the company knew who I was and why I was there when I showed up on the appointed date.  I had to cool my heels to wait for the guy (he was about an hour late).  He showed up, and got an “oh s*$t” look on his face. I ended up with a much lower job than I was originally offered.  A couple months later my former employer took me back, and the guy that hired me cursed me out when I gave him notice.  That was one of my first experiences with what I call a “Stupid Employee”.  That will be another blog post.

Some jobs make you relocate.  My first job out of college was with a major oil company in New Jersey, I lived in Maryland.  I didn’t ask about relocation expenses.  The company’s headquarters was in Cherry Hill, NJ and I was goig to work in Moorestown, NJ.  I went in to see the personnel guy, and told him I was ready for the corporate move.  He said “well, we hired you in Cherry Hill, and you are working in Moorestown, and that is only about 5 miles, so there is no move involved”.  I was horrifed.  I mentioned to him that I lived in Gaithersburg, MD, which was a good 150 miles away.  He told me that it didn’t matter.  Moral of the story – check about the moving benefits if you have to relocate.  I never let that happen again.

I hope this helps you in your job search, and I wish you the best of luck.

George

Continue Reading

This (Really Surprising) Old House

Our company does a lot of structural condition assessments of residences, oftentimes for Architects when there is a planned major renovation of an old house.  The City of Atlanta requires an engineer to evaluate the foundations of old homes if a second story is proposed, because there are often problems with the existing foundations.  This house was at first unremarkable, it was an old home in the west side of Atlanta, and was a fairly standard small home built in the 1920’s for working class people that had employment in the cotton mills and factories that once dotted the City.  However, this one had a surprise.  Let’s look at it:

House view from side.

House view from side.

View of house from front

View of house from front

It was just what we call a “shotgun shack”, it was an old duplex that had been subdivided into apartments as the neighborhood got poorer.  I was surprised though when I looked around the side20170512_115649

Notice the subwall is stone – that was not typical of these type of houses.  Usually they didn’t have subwalls, they had brick piers and were open underneath. You usually see concrete block that was placed around the brick piers at a later date to close in under the house and add some space for storage and usually a washing machine.  Also, what was the deal with the blocked up window? Around back  the subwall changed to block, which was odd:

Block placed at the back of the house.

Block placed at the back of the house.

I thought the whole thing was rather unusual, but the answer came when I went into the basement.  I found this:

Doorway to old house.

Doorway to old house.

The house had been built on top of an older stone house!  The stone house underneath has to date back to the mid 1800’s.  It’s rare to find such things around here, most of the older homes were built of timber, which is long gone.  Apparently when they built the shotgun house, there was an old house already on site, and the builder just built on top.  Here’s some more photos:

Interior of older house - note the old window that was blocked in.

Interior of older house – note the old window that was blocked in.  Very impressive stone masonry around the windows.

The front corner - note the newer stone work - it is under a fireplace.  Also, we see a window blocked in.

The front corner – note the newer stone work – it is under a fireplace. Also, we see a window blocked in.

Old timber used to support first floor - this was also salvaged from even older buildings, it is rough sawn.

Old timber used to support first floor – this was also salvaged from even older buildings, it is rough -sawn.

Another view of the recycled timber.  The workmanship here is very poor, unlike the workmanship on the original stone house.

Another view of the recycled timber. The workmanship here is very poor, unlike the workmanship on the original stone house.  The builder simply stacked stone and set the timbers that he salvaged on top.

I have seen the older homes containing salvaged timber, that is rather common.  Reusing timber from old houses or barns that were torn down would have made sense to the builder.  The cost of materials vs. labor probably was more in favor of using the labor and trying to save on materials.  Hopefully the investor that bought the house and the Architect will make use of the old house in the basement and make this a more distinctive house.  This is one of the most interesting homes I’ve ever visited.

George

Continue Reading

Why We Don’t Do Work in California

We get a lot of requests for engineering in California, and we have turned them all down.  Why are we doing this?  Wouldn’t it be better to make the money?  Turns out it is not so simple.  There are really severe problems that we can’t overcome right now.  Let me go through it:

1. I am not licensed as a Professional Engineer in California.  To get licensed requires a specific Seismic Exam, which I have not had time to take.  I had to first complete my Master’s Degree, and now I am preparing to test for the Structural Engineer license.

2.  I have had people say they could get a Professional Engineer to stamp my drawings in California.  “Plan Stamping”, where an engineer stamps another unlicensed engineer’s work is forbidden in every state. While this restriction is sadly universally ignored, if something happens there can be very severe adverse consequences to my license and my liability.

3. One way we have worked around the “Plan Stamping” is that I have partnered with another engineer in California.  This has caused my costs to go way up because I’m working with another engineer that lacks experience in this type of work and we end up spending a lot more time then budgeted on the project.  Worse, the partnering engineer also spends more time than he or she budgeted, and that runs their costs up too.

4.  The distance.  We are thousands of miles away from California and 3 time zones.  If there are problems with a project, this can be a serious issue.  To fly out to California to deal with an issue will take up 3 days and a significant cost for air fare, car rental, and hotel.

It just doesn’t make sense at this time for us to take up projects in California, so for the foreseeable future we won’t be able to help you in that state.

Continue Reading