Structural Engineers

Category: Featured

Shipping Container House, Connecticut

Here’s some pictures taken by the client for the shipping container house in New Haven, CT. This house was built from six containers, and features a more traditional architecture for the front. This project was built by Marengo Structures, and the designer was Christian Salvati. We worked closely with him to produce the structural design, and the intent of the project was to build an attractive house at an affordable price.  The house was built on a vacant lot in an older neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut.  The builder wanted to make the house fit well into the architecture of the neighborhood, which consisted of houses built in the 1920’s.  To make a container house do this, you have to cover the containers up to a certain extent, which was done in the front of the structure.  Please see the video to get the best feel for scope and intent of the Project:

 

The front is being furred out to allow a more traditional siding to be placed over it.

 

The house is finally starting to take shape!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Final Product

The final product is above.

The video below provides a very good explanation of the house and shows some interesting views of it while it was under construction:

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3d for Residential Structural Design

This is one of my more recent projects, the architect was dencity Design in Atlanta.  It’s a very difficult house – look at the cantilevers:

3d Structure of Residence In Decatur, GA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This kind of strucutre is difficult to engineer because you have to visualize a very complex 3 shape from a 2 drawing.  To make things easier, the Architect, Staffan Svenson, sent me a rendering done in Google Sketchup so I could visualize what was happening.  I then built a 3 model in RAM Elements software to cover all the different forces we would encounter.  The problem you get is not only vertical forces in a complex structure as this, but the wind action.  How do you brace it?  I used fixed connections to the foundations, which required me to spend time engineering anchor plates, anchor bolts, and very large foundations.  I could do this by hand (and I have) would be very time consuming, and you run the chance of what I call “calculation fatigue” – you do so many calculations you get blind to the errors due to simple mental fatigue.

Here’s a view of the rendering from RAM Elements:

Rendering From Structural Design Program – RAM Elements

 

 

Working this way, I was able to model all of the effects of the structure – note how I put in concrete walls in the basement and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) walls on the first and second floors.  All of this could factor into the design.  Once the structural calculations are done, it’s time to do what the illustrious professors I had as an undergraduate didn’t think was important, but is actually critical – translate it into a drawing that can be understood and constructed.  This is a pet peeve of mine, I run into engineers that can’t seem to understand how to develop their ideas into drawings.  In such case you may as not have any ideas.

I personally had two choices for drawing this, well I guess three:

1.  I could send the drawing out to a CAD service with hand sketches of what I wanted.  We could go back and forth for a week or so until I got what I wanted.  Maybe two weeks.  Well, really four weeks.

2.  I could draw it myself in AutoCAD – there is another type of fatigue you encounter when drawing.  After working so hard to do the calculations, now you are drawing all these boring details, and repetitious joists, and then trying to make it all work.  I could do this drawing in about 40 man hours.

3.  Draw the drawing in Softplan, and use exported details from RAM Elements for the connections, foundations, and baseplates.  RAM Exports details in DXF (Drawing Exchange format), so it’s easy to import into Softplan.  Softplan generates drawings in 3d from your floor plans, and automates a lot of stuff like drawing columns, foundations, walls, and joists.  The beauty is you can have a 3d model that constantly updates as you create your drawing.  That way you can catch things you might overlook.  I was able to make sure I had load bearing walls stacking to the floor, and that I had foundations placed properly under all walls.  Also I was able to show the Architect, Staffan, what I was trying to do.  To do this, I shared the model over GoToMeeting with Staffan, and he did point out a few changes I needed to do.  I modifed the drawing, showed the model to Staffan again on GoToMeeting, and finished it.  It worked out really well.

As you can see, I chose Option 3 above.  My father was an engineer also, and he generally did his own drawings.  He could draw well and very fast, and he said the time it took to explain his ideas to a draftsman (women weren’t in the business in his day), he could the same drawing several times over.  I have the same issue.  I can’t hand draw like my father could, I never had to put the time into it to learn the skill like he had.  However, I’ve taken a lot of courses on AutoCAD, and I think I’m pretty good at drawing on the computer.  I’m also pretty fast, so like my father, it’s not worth it for me to use a CAD person.  I do use my son on many jobs because we’ve worked together enough he knows what I want, but some jobs like this I really feel like only I could do right.

Anyway, the design of this project worked out pretty well.  The next stage is construction.  I hope to intimately involved in the construction.  My contract requires the client to contact me for a minimum of two site visits.  I also explained to the builder that I want to go over everything with him to make sure there are no misunderstandings.  The builder told me he has  a great steel supplier, and he understands how critical this structure is.  I have great hopes for this job, the key to making any job work is close communications between all parties.

Here’s a final view of my model in Softplan:

Structural Rendering of Residence From the Side

 

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Using Technology Effectively

Here’s a project I’m working on right now, a hotel in Florida.  It’s a 4 story hotel, and we are building the upper stories out of modules made from Cold Formed Steel.  I drew the structural concept in Softplan and showed it to the client today through GoToMeeting.  This can save a lot of trouble when doing a design, because I am able to make sure I am on the right trace with what I am trying to accomplish, and instead of handing the client 2d drawings to decipher, we were able to look at this 3d model and rotate it as needed to see how I plan on doing the structure.  It worked very well.   Additionally, this kind of modeling helps us avoid errors and figure how we’ll run wiring, piping, and HVAC:

 

Multi Story Rendering of Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This concept was approved by my client, and the next step is to put these together in the hotel.  Right now this is looking absurdly simple, since “all” I have to do is design the walls and framing on the first floor and the stair wells.  Softplan automates a lot of the drafting I have to do, such as the foundations, walls, and so on.  I’m hoping this will speed up the process, I’ll update this post as the design continues.  I have only recently started designing in 3d with Softplan, and I’ve seen my drafting time drop to less than half the time I spent before.

One of the issues as a business owner, or any kind of manager is how you delegate the work.  If you try to do everything yourself, you limit the amount of work that can be done.  Also, there are people that can work for you that can do the jobs better than you can.  The flip side of this is if you hire the wrong person that person can do tremendous damage.  You may spend more time trying to supervise people than you would if you just did the work yourself.  For a business (government agency for that matter) employees cost money, and can drag funds away from other areas where they are needed.

My personal theory is that technology can be used as somewhat of a replacement for delegating to a person.  Coming out of several years of recession and the collapse of my former primary market (housing), cash is not available for hiring someone.  However, for me to spend hours on AutoCAD drawing is not productive either – I have to use a much lower billing rater, and it takes me away from doing more productive things.  The compromise is technology, in this case I am automating by using Softplan to do the heavy lifting for me.  It’s not the perfect solution, but it is a good solution and a way to move forward.

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Retaining Wall Failure, Gainesville, GA

This project involved replacing a poorly constructed residential retaining wall. The failed wall was 24 feet high, and was constructed in 4 foot increments of treated yellow pine timbers to get around permitting requirements (generally walls under 4 feet high don’t have to be permitted in most jurisdictions).

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Wayne Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons

On this project, we designed the structure to support the architectural panels on the penthouse. This design included the steel supports, the welds, and the anchor bolts.

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The House of Pain

Every now and then you come across construction that is so bad it takes your breath away.  This house is the most extreme example that I’ve seen.  It’s not uncommon to see shacks out in the woods put up in a haphazard manor, usually that’s because the people that are putting them up have very little money, so they get stuff to build with as they can.  They also have little in construction skills and can’t afford to pay contractors to do the work.  This house was in a very nice suburban neighborhood, and actually looked somewhat OK from the street with the exception that it was on temporary power.  It hadn’t gone to permanent power because it hadn’t passed any inspections and there was no certificate of occupancy.

The homeowner called me because the county had shown up with an order for them to vacate the property.  Apparently they had bought the property “as is”, and they wanted to sue the seller.  I was asked to do a report on the property, and I knew immediately after I entered the house that I’d never get paid for my work.  However, curiosity took over and I did the evaluation, wrote a lengthy report, and of course got stiffed for the fee.  I never did find out what the final disposition of the house was.  I talked to one of the senior county inspectors about it, and he said the house had changed hands numerous times and the ownership wasn’t too clear.  That should be expected, because it’s hard to believe any financial institution would lend for something like this.

While this is an extreme example, there are a fair number of houses out there that have similar defects.  Towards the end of the housing boom a lot of people jumped in to build houses that shouldn’t have, and many of the foreclosures on the market have very significant construction defects.  What looks like a bargain price may be in the end an expensive transfer of misery.

Let’s start from the outside:
Rear of House

This is in the rear of the house – where do you start?  The stucco is totally jacked up, look at how it’s peeling from the house.  There are no joints in the stucco.  The deck is made from untreated lumber and is not supported correctly from the post.  There should be a concrete landing outside the door, and there is no drip edge under the stucco.  The paint is peeling off the windows, there is excess erosion, and it’s not a good idea to leave trash around your foundation, it attracts insects and vermin.

Garage entrance
No gutters, the roofing is sloppy, look at the garage door opening, it’s a mess too.  The difference in color of the stucco is due to lighting, it doesn’t actually have multiple tones.  Here’s a close up of the electric meter:
Electric meter
The holes are supposed to be sealed to keep the weather, insects, and rodents out.  I don’t think that meter was hooked up by the way.  Let’s go inside, it gets much worse:
Living room
Ok, the wallpaper is peeling off.  It also is two clashing styles.  The house was moderately messy, I’ve seen worse.  It was the rotting garbage in the sink that made it uncomfortable, but we’ve only just begun.

Let’s go up into the upstairs:
Yes the wires are hot
Yes, those wires are hot.  In the upstairs they didn’t finish the wiring, and it was hanging out of the junction boxes and fixtures.  By the way, the wires aren’t supposed to be all the same color.  Typically black is hot, white is neutral, red is hot, green is ground.  That’s so the electrician can wire things right and you don’t get electrocuted in your shower because the wrong wire was grounded.  Now we better go up and see what awaits us in the attic:
Attic 1
No junction boxes, the condensate piping is all wrong (note the tees are in for some unknown reason).  The framing is chopped up, and water damage is apparent in the right side.  How do you like the way the wiring is wrapped around stuff?

Attic 2
I couldn’t for the life of me figure why the vent pipe had the tee in it and branched out through two different outlets on the roof.  Note the wire that was used as a support.  The framing is completely wrong, and space doesn’t permit me to outline everything.  Note how the rafters aren’t properly supported at the bottoms, and the purlins are wrong too.
Attic Framing
Look in the rear of the photo wher the braces for the roof come down onto the beams.  There is nothing to keep those beams from twisting, which they will ultimately.  The framing is more or less randomly done.  Note the orbs in the center lower right – some believe those are spirits caught on film.  I think they’re dust particles, but maybe being confined to this attic is some poor soul’s punishment for misdeeds in a previous life…

More Random Framing
More random framing in the attic.  Note the ceiling joists seem to be placed with no rhyme or reason.  Also, look at the lower right and see the water damage.

Really Bad Wiring
We can’t stay in the attic forever, so we’re going downstairs.  But first, look at this wiring – it is sandwiched between the floor sheathing and ceiling joists.  That will wear the insulation off the wire and start a fire ultimately.  Although it will be a race between that and all the other wiring misdeeds to see which one will ultimately burn the house down, if it doesn’t fall down first.

Now, before we go in the basement, I want you to look at this shower:
Shower
This is the shower.  I’ve seen worse, but usually in places where the people are really poor, or in third world countries.  I wouldn’t step in here barefoot though.  However, look at the underside:
Under Shower
The shower doesn’t connect to the house sewer.  It just drains into the basement.  That sewer line slopes upward by the way.  They kept a plunger by the toilet to help things on their way.  Now, even though the shower didn’t drain into the sewer, the people here in this house were very clean.  Look:
Basement
They showered and bathed anyway!  Look at the water in the basement, AND the black mold.  The sheet rock was put up to cover worse mold behind it.  I am highly allergic to black mold, and I should have left.  However, like watching a train wreck, I couldn’t turn away.  I ignored my sinus pain and kept on…

Bathtub
While bathing may be healthful, it probably is risky in this house.  The rotten floor joists are under the tub and you might make a very quick trip to the basement.

Rough in Plumbing
Ok, they were roughing in a bathroom in the basement.  Look how close the sink drain is to the toilet.  That way you can sit on the throne and do your business while you brush your teeth.   The pipes were above the floor slab, so they never finished.

Water heaterWater heater 2
Part of the basement was bare ground, and that’s where the water heater was set.  The installation wasn’t quite completed.  Note the there is no pipe attached to the temperature and pressure valve, and the panels were left off.

Well, we’ve been here long enough, and just looking at this makes me have an allergic reaction, so let’s go, but…
The Stairs
Be careful going up the stairs.  These look like something you tried to climb in college after a night of heavy drinking, don’t they?

I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit in the House of Pain.  Please don’t buy anything like this.  If I find out what happened to the house, I will update this page.

George

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Hotel Structure

"Hotel" Building, Muscatuck Urban Training Center, Indiana

 

This structure is a five and a half story building that is a simulated hotel for urban warfare and law enforcement training at Muscatutk Urban Training Center, Indiana.  It was built for the Indiana National Guard by GroupVTI, we performed the structural design.  The primary issues with this building were the foundations, at this kind of height it wants to roll over in a wind storm, so massive concrete foundations were required.  We originally had the design for 7 stories, but we reconfigured because additional bracing issues appeared at that height that were easily eliminated by widening the building and lowering it one and a half stories.

 

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Shipping Container House – Atlanta

Architect: Francis Kirkpatrick
Structural Engineer: Runkle Consulting, Inc.

These are photos of the house being constructed

This is the first house in Atlanta, GA built with shipping containers.  It was built in 2007, we did the structural design.  It is fabricated of 6 containers and sets on top of a four car garage.  Since then, an additional house has been placed on the lot next door.

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