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Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?
8

Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
Bad shape = 170 years old, 1-story brick masonry bearing wall building with steel roof trusses, partial roof collapse for at least 8 years, open to the weather, tree growing inside building, etc.

If you were going to do an assessment on this building, what legal precautions would you take to protect yourself?

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

2
Just did a pair of them last month. I treated it like any other structural assessment. I have standard language in my proposals/contracts to cover inspections:

Inspections. Inspections of existing structures are intended to assist Client in evaluating the overall condition of the structure. It is based on observations made by <> of the visible and apparent condition of the structure and its components on the date of the inspection. In the conduct of the inspection, <> has not disassembled equipment, moved furniture, or opened interior finish or exterior façade coverings. Although care has been taken in the performance of any inspection, <> makes no representations regarding latent or concealed defects which may exist. Reports prepared by <> are not fully exhaustive, nor do they imply that every component was inspected or every possible defect discovered. <> does not warranty or guarantee the condition of any part or component of the structure.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
pharmENG,
Thank you - I have very similar verbiage on my reports and proposals. Thank you for the validation that other engineers aren't necessarily shying away from this type of work. I am just a little more concerned/cautious after the Surfside collapse, in terms of taking these type of jobs.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

A lawyer once told me not to use the word "inspection", rather, use the word "review"

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

2
Ben, I think there's a bit of a difference between an abandoned building with a collapsed roof and a building with several hundred occupants. When I do an occupied building, I put reminders on my calendar to follow up if I find something seriously wrong. If they haven't taken adequate action in a time frame that I deem appropriate, I call the AHJ and inform them of the unsafe condition. I don't make many friends that way, but that doesn't bother me.

XR - I'd be interested in knowing the rationale behind that.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Quote (Ben29)

Bad shape = 170 years old, 1-story brick masonry bearing wall building with steel roof trusses, partial roof collapse...

I'll suggest you pass on this one. Roof trusses c. 1850 (170 years old) were definitely not steel. Even wrought iron for structural use was high-tech in the 1850s... and this building definitely has roof problems. My point is, "The devil is in the details"... and you have to be right.

Most likely, the building << 170 years old. However, age remains critical, allowable structural properties changed with time. In this case, if the roof trusses are assumed to be "steel" and they are actually "wrought iron" you will over estimate their allowable loading... and not know it.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

pham - Review might imply that you ran calcs or checked the area in some other way than visual inspection. I usually use the wording, "in the observed areas", or "it appeared".

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

GC - XR's post says the lawyer said to use review and NOT to use inspection. I specify 'visual' and use the same wording you have. Maybe I'll check with my broker and see if they care.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Oops... misread it. I would be interested too.

Ben - Maybe you can note Slide's concerns in your report along with the condition of the truss and push for them to be replaced. Or keep the truss for aesthetics and go with a new structural roof system

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

The liability aspect is indeed important, but I would also consider if you really want to take this on. If it looks like a case where the structure is to be demolished, fine, but if it is to be repaired it is a very different situation. The repair of buildings like this are not for the faint hearted. Inevitably you end up involved in an endless number of problems where engineering judgement is required or your client does not appreciate the complexity of the question they are asking you. I have done many reviews or 50's vintage buildings and it added a great deal of stress during the construction time.

Our insurer has many guidelines about the use of the word "inspection." I pasted an excerpt from our insurer guidelines.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
XR250, I heard that many times from an old employer and I still follow that guideline. I think the word inspect carries some weight as it might infer that you are certified to inspect certain aspects of construction. I also use the word "observe".

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
Looks like Brad beat me to it.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
Sliderule is correct, the trusses are iron.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Sorry, I have to ask. Why ? Surely you're going to 'doz this wreck ? Maybe some of the building has historical significance and people want to salvage the "bricks and mortar" and rebuild the timber components. Then it would be inspection of the mortar and such ... sorry, "review", "cursory review" ...

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

I have a few times... only one was so bad that I asked the building inspector to remain outside in the event he had to call 9-1-1. I was young and foolish back then, you know 10' tall and bulletproof...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

The assessment is that the building is unstable because the masonry walls aren't stabilized by the broken roof. You can't get sued for saying that.

On a serious note, I would create a table of all the structural elements in the building on one side and all the "observations" on the other to force myself to think critically. For example, Foundations: not observed, but no signs of wall cracking indicating distress. ...assumes no liability for unobservable conditions.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

So if you have all these "I'm not responsible if anything goes wrong" in your contract, what exactly is the client paying you for?"

I just want to understand what exactly are the engineer's responsibility or any liablity on the engineer's part when you do evaluation like this.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Quote (AskTooMuch)

So if you have all these "I'm not responsible if anything goes wrong" in your contract, what exactly is the client paying you for?"

The client is paying for what a "prudent professional" would do in the circumstance. Or at least that is the way the courts would look at it.

If it is impossible to ascertain the residual strength of a given assembly via visual review (almost always is), and that was what an engineer was asked to do, they would not be derelict for issuing a report with such qualifications. That said, if a visual review could have or should have given the "prudent professional" an indication that more testing was warranted then they would be liable for not instructing their client to perform said testing should something happen.

While courts can interpret what a "prudent professional" would do in an unrealistic manner at times (read: without budget constraints), they are not wholly unreasonable. That is, if something cannot be determined without superman like powers then they wouldn't say a prudent professional should have determined it on their walk-through. That said, I would be very, very careful of saying one did a "cursory" review or something of the sort. A prudent engineer does no such thing. They may not look at everything but for the things they do look at, they are expected to look in detail at least as much as is possible given the information available.

CWB (W47.1) Div 1 Fabricator
Temporary Works Design
https://www.enable-inc.com/

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

The engineer isn't liable for the building. The engineer is liable for the report and specifying required repairs per the Existing International Building Code. That would produce an acceptable report, but a better report will notify the building owner of risks due to unknowns and methods of risk mitigation.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

yes, "cursory" smacks of unprofessional but if your quote to the customer says "for $X I'll review the structure for only a couple of hours or $Y for a week's review" then that is what was purchased and I don't think the courts should say "you should've spent Z hours to uncover the deeply hidden faults". The client is buying a specific service and "should" understand the limitations (because you've described them to him, and given him the opportunity to ask questions) of what he is buying. I mean you won't do a soils analysis to fully understand the state of the foundation (will you ?), but maybe you can detect major issues from a visual inspection ??

If this building is so derelict, really is the any option to 'dozing it ? Maybe there something very targeted worth saving.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

I think we're all forgetting that ASCE 11-90 doped this all out several decades ago.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

rb - there's always other options (well, almost always). Around here, we have historic tax credits. If you meet all the wickets, you can get tax credits back worth 40%+ of the construction costs to restore the building. There's a fair amount of red tape, but there are firms that do nothing but the paperwork for these credits. It's one of the reasons we have so many old industrial districts turned trendy apartment districts. Those old warehouses can be adapted to apartments with relative ease, and the developer saves quite a bit of cash vs. demo and building all new. So you could take this old building down, or you could pay $0.60 on the dollar to put a new roof on it and patch the walls.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

It seems like the building being in bad shape would be WHY you would perform a structural assessment.

If the building was in good shape, why would someone want a structural assessment? (Unless maybe the use or occupancy of the building is to be changed).

As long as your assessment is honest and thorough, the condition of the building should not matter. Just report what you see and include any qualifications.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

@RPMG....the way you frame your report can make you liable for the building.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Would I ever do an assessment of a 170 year old building with a partial roof collapse, water problems and a tree growing inside the perimeter? Well I would definitely think twice about doing it, for sure. And perhaps think again before committing myself to the assignment.

It would depend, to some extent, on the purpose of the assessment. If the purpose was to give the client a rough idea of what remedial measures were required, I might consider it, but if the purpose was to satisfy a bank or lending institution who were considering lending money to my client to buy or repair the building, probably not. Banks want engineering assessments guaranteeing features about which the assessor cannot possibly feel certain.

BA

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Never use inspect... always review.

SRE: For a building of that time, I would make sure coupons were taken to determine what it was actually constructed of. Are there any heritage issues.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?

-Dik

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Ben29:
Even an old derelict building deserves a knowledgeable opinion as to its actual conditions, by an experienced Structural Engineer. How else will an inexperienced owner/buyer know what they have to deal with, and whether it is worth trying to buy or save? All of the above admonitions about contract language and our obligations, responsibilities, abilities and liability are absolutely applicable. But, owners still need an opinion from a knowledgeable third party who does not have a particular ax to grind. While there are plenty of good contractors out there, way too many of them will bias their opinions to the products or type of contracting services they offer. They are not really lying or acting fraudulently, but their opinion is not unbiased either. For example, you don’t often have a roofer tell you that you don’t need a new roof, after his free inspection. Although, this particular bldg. may actually need a new roof. Of course, you do have to be careful about what you offer or promise to do, about claiming what you can and can’t do, and about the wording of your report.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

(OP)
Long story short, the owner of the adjacent building is trying to have this property condemned. A lawyer instructed my client to have a structural engineer give an assessment of his property "just in case". This assessment is not in conjunction with a sale or changing of ownership.

When I spoke to the client I said, "Are you looking for an engineer to tell you everything is fine? or do you want the facts?" I don't want to get involved with a client who is just looking for a certification letter. He said he wants the facts. thumbsup2

I budgeted 16 hours for the site visit and report, which I think is adequate given that this building is basically one big room with all structure exposed.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Good discussion. Still torn on what would be the most suitable language to be used for this type of work. I'm abit uncomfortable using the word review as I feel most laypeople would interpret any review as a 'thorough' review.

Words that come to mind are: limited visual inspection, limited visual review, limited visual observation, 'i-walked-on-site-for-one-hour-and-noted-anything-i-saw-which-doesn't-look-right' report.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

the degree of "inspection" should be clear in the contract.

another day in paradise, or is paradise one day closer ?

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

In all my 30 years I have never had anyone answer the question, "Are you looking for an engineer to tell you everything is fine? or do you want the facts?," with anything but what you said they did. You need to do a bit of research to understand if the client is well financed, or just scraping by. Repair costs and losing money on an investment has a very interesting affect on people.

RE: Would you ever do a structural assessment of a building in "bad shape"?

Would you say this building is in "bad shape"?

BA

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