4 ways to find out whether your condo building is safe and structurally sound

NS the sudden collapse of an apartment building in South Florida there are many Americans worried about the safety of their apartments and condos. But residents and buyers alike can take steps to make sure the building they live in is safe and not prone to such a disaster.

In late June, Champlain Towers South, a 12-story waterfront condo in the Miami suburb of Surfside, collapsed overnight. So far, 97 people have been confirmed to have died in the tunnel collapse, of which two have yet to be counted. The tragedy ranks among the deadliest building collapses in US history.

After the collapse, reports came to light that engineers had warned that there was major structural damage to the building before the incident, although the apartment’s owners were told otherwise. . The engineer’s report comes as part of the building’s push to be re-certified 40 years after it was first built, as part of regulations that went into effect after Hurricane Andrew .

The tragedy has served as a wake-up call for apartment owners across the country. Here’s what residents and condominium owners need to know when it comes to the structural integrity of their building.

Know what materials the building is made of – and when it was built

Mehrdad Sasani, an engineering professor at Northeastern University who specializes in concrete structures, says different construction methods will show structural problems in different ways.

“Steel structures do not have the same type of cracks as concrete structures,” says Sasani.

A general rule of thumb is that buildings taller than 10 stories will be made of concrete or steel, while smaller buildings can be made of wood or brick-and-mortar structures. Here the appearance can be deceiving: Steel structures are often encased in concrete, and concrete buildings can have aesthetic masonry.

The age of the building can be a factor. In 1989, specific standards, including “so-called structural integrity requirements,” changed, Sasani said. “So buildings built after 1989 are more resistant to continuous collapse than those that preceded them,” he said.

By region, building codes may change to require more balustrades to prevent structural collapse. In Florida, for example, building codes were revised after Hurricane Andrew to account for the need for protection against severe tropical storms.

Pay attention to certain warning signs

In concrete buildings like the one that collapsed in Florida, there are several signs to watch out for that can indicate major structural problems. Sasani divides them into three categories:

  • Crack

  • Crush or break concrete

  • Corrosion and damage of rebar

With cracks, an important feature to pay attention to is the width. If a crack is wider than 15 thousandths of an inch (or 0.015 inches), a professional should evaluate it, Sasani says. An inspector will then look at the size of the cracks, their location, and whether they follow an angle of inclination.

As for rebar, any exposed metal that was once covered by concrete is worrisome. Concrete buildings consist of metal reinforcement, and as metal corrodes over time, it can expand. That will cause the concrete cover to peel off. A small spot where the reinforcement is exposed can be a sign of corrosion throughout the structure.

Even seemingly cosmetic problems can be a sign of larger problems. According to Canada’s Home Inspection Service, when doors or windows don’t close properly, it can be one of the first warnings that there’s a problem with the building’s foundation. The home inspection company notes: “If things start to go out of order, it is likely that the foundation has moved, which could lead to wall breakage, separation and major foundation failure,” the home inspection company notes. note.

The same is true for other minor issues like cracked tiles, wrinkled wallpaper or musty odors, which could be signs of foundation or plumbing problems.

However, the absolute presence of cracks is not an indication that a structure is about to fail, especially in concrete buildings. Cracks can appear on partition walls throughout a building due to floor problems rather than structural problems. In other words, don’t panic at the first sign of a crack.

“Jailbreak is part of the game,” Sasani said. “We don’t stop the cracks – we control the cracks, so they don’t expand.”

Read about the history of the condominium

Knowing the past problems the apartment has solved – and how the apartment owners’ association solved them – can be illustrative for potential buyers. Apartment associations can provide buyers with inspection reports, technical reports, notes from COA meetings, building certifications, and information on the financial condition of the apartment.

If an apartment lacks cash reserves, it can be a serious sign. Those reserves are collected through association fees paid by unit owners, and those funds are used to pay for repairs and replacements. If an apartment doesn’t have enough reserves to cover that, it could be a sign that the building isn’t properly maintained. It can also be a warning that COA fees may increase after the purchase of the device.

Read more: Apartment safety is often about money — how to check if a building is vulnerable

Similarly, reading through the minutes of an association’s meetings can provide insight into the unresolved issues there. Are the upstairs neighbors complaining about the leak? Was someone’s car in the garage downstairs damaged by a falling concrete patch? Again, these are the kinds of warning signs that can be helpful.

Don’t skip home inspection

When purchasing an apartment, the owner will have the option to decide between an interior inspection and a full inspection. In the interior-only test, the tester only tests the unit itself, while the full test includes the loft, crawl space, building exterior, roof, garage and other components. other common spaces in the building.

With larger apartment and apartment buildings, unfortunately, a full inspection may not be possible, due to limitations in the inspector’s access.

“Full inspections are not as comprehensive as commercial inspections, but they will give you a good general sense of the overall condition of the building or buildings,” real estate agent Redfin

noted in a 2019 report. “You can then take the information gathered from inspecting the entire unit as well as the disclosure you receive from the HOA and try to assess the overall ‘condition’ of the apartment.”

See more: Apartment safety is often about money — how to check if a building is vulnerable

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