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.
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).
This project was to design the support of a facade to be placed over an old warehouse in Cartersville, GA with a mural showing scenes of Historic Cartervsville, GA. This project involved the structural design of the aluminum structure behind the facade that mounts it on an old brick textile mill warehouse. We designed it using aluminum tubes mounted to the building and had to come up with a system of securely bolting it to the existing building and designing a parapet to take the top portion of the facade. The facade had to be designed to resist wind loads that would try to pull it loose from the building, and keep the parapet it formed at the top from deflecting.
Facade Showing Mural of Historic Cartersville, GA on Aluminum Panels Mounted on an Old Warehouse.
This house was designed in the winter of 2010-2011, and is currently under construction. The containers have been fabricated and will be erected shortly. Here is a video showing where we are at:
The house will be two stories, each story will have 3 – 45′ containers. The containers were modified to have large openings between them and to have a stairway. The foundation is actually a deep crawl space, which we had to do because of site conditions. The site is a vacant lot where a house was demolished, and there is poor soil to a depth of 5′, so the easiest way was to build an uninhabited basement under the house.
These are the first two shipping container houses in Atlanta, the one on the left was the first. We performed the structural design of both.
The second house built of shipping containers in Atlanta was built next to the first one. The builder was g a d Design, the architect was Francis Kirkpatrick, and we were the structural engineers. This one was a little bit different from the first in that a balcony was put on the top floor, and there is a completely open floor plan on the top floor.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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, 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:
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?
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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:
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
This interesting project was for dencity design in Atlanta, GA. It’s an interesting house with multiple cantilevers. Here is a rendering of the house:
Rendering of proposed house.
The items in red are the steel beams. Notice we have a cantilever deck on one side, and we are cantilevered over the garage. This is not an easy thing to design, the beam sizing is hard, the connections are hard, and so are the baseplates and foundations. To design this, we used Bentley RAM Elements. Here is the rendering from the software:
This is a rendering for the steel cantilever structure in our structural software.
In the analysis process, RAM Elements solved 132 equations. I could have designed this by hand, but figuring about 15 minutes per solved equation, it would take me 30 hours. Considering I tried numerous alternatives, triple that number, it would be more like 90 hours. Since you can’t just sit and solve equations day in and day out, humans did not evolve to do such things, we’re talking about month to do this design by hand. That’s for an experienced engineer. Of course the chance of error is extremely high in such a complex undertaking too – typically on projects this complex in the days before computers another engineer would have to be assigned just to go over the calcs done to make sure everything was done right.
What was the biggest hassle? There is a bit of a gotcha in the way this house is built. In the first run of calculations, I had all of the deflections (bending) of the beams in accordance with Code, but the end of the house dipped down a couple of inches, which is not a good thing. What happened was the beam deflected ever so slightly, and so did the columns, and it all added up. So, I had to make the beams and columns really beefy to make sure there was next to no deflection. The beneficial effect is the floors feel really solid, which is important in a house with this type of architecture.
Here are some of the pictures of the house under construction:
This picture shows the cantilevered deck in the front.
The house is nearing completion – the sheathing is up, and the contractor is putting on the vapor barrier.
This is the rear of the house – the temporary posts are still in place. This part was harder to engineer than the front part oddly enough.
View down the left side (from the street) showing the rounded windows.
This is a good view of the second floor cantilever – the floor feels as solid as concrete when you jump on it.
This walkway crosses a two story foyer to get from the front to the rear of the house. It looks different, but actually this was one of the easier things to design.
This project is composed of a number of shipping containers that have been modified to contain equipment for processing contaminated ground water. The containers are stacked side by side to make a one story facility.
"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.