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Dangers of removed or missing structural columns or posts:
Here we discuss removed or missing missing structural columns or posts, perhaps removed during remodeling, and risking building damage or even fatal building collapses.
Our page top photo shows a mark where a telepost has been removed: you can see the rectangular post-cap imprint (lighter colour) and you can see a mark where a bolt or nail had secured the post top plate to the under-side of the girder.
Watch out: Some of these residential column or post defects are dangerous and risk collapse.
This article series explains how to notice defective, damaged, improperly supported, or missing structural columns, and other structural column & pier mistakes.
Missing or Improperly-Removed Structural Columns & Posts & Footings
Detecting omissions, such as leaving out a column or it's pier or footing is an important step in learning how to recognize and diagnose various types of building failure or damage and collapse risks.
Completely missing structural columns, such as a basement Lally column or telepost, might be detected in a building where an owner has removed the column
to open up a basement space being remodeled for use as living area.
Our photo (above/left), illustrates one way you can spot a missing column: a Lally column top plate remains tacked in place on the under-side of a built-up beam in a basement.
How Serious is a Missing Post or Column in a Building? Potentially fatal.
In a modern two story wood frame residential building the removal of a single center post beneath the main girder in a basement is not likely to cause a catastrophic building collapse. More-likely the defect will show up first as a sagging girder and sagging floors above, perhaps cracking a ceramic tile floor above.
But removal of multiple posts could result in a beam failure and floor collapse in a frame structure.
Watch out: Worse, in a structural brick wall-built building, if one or more main beams lose their support, sag, and collapse, there is a high risk of a total catastrophic structural collapse. The hazard is similar to a structural-brick building collapse during a fire if the fire burns through floor joists or beams.
As the beams sag downwards in their center the ends of the beam actually bend upwards in the brick wall pockets in which they are supported. This upwards lift of the beam ends can break the masonry wall and bring down the entire building.
Reports of a Removed Column Cause Fatal Building Collapse in Mumbai
In Mumbai, India, at 10:45 in the morning of Tuesday the 25th of July 2017, a five-story building collapsed killing at least twelve people. Building occupants received a brief warning: a shudder in the building just before it fell, trapping at least six people in the rubble and killing at least seventeen people.
On July 26th 2017, The Times of India that twelve people, including two infants were crushed to death when a four storey building collapsed in Ghatkopar. - Richa Pinto & Ahmed Al,TNN, The Times of India, City, 26 July 2017, retrieved 2017/07/27, original source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/sena-man-held-for-illegal-repairs-after-ghatkopar-bldg-crash-kills-17/articleshow/59764300.cms
Photo: The Times of India, July 2017, original story link given above.
"The survivors allege that the extensive repairs being carried out in a maternity home on the ground floor owned by Sunil Shitap, a local strongman linked to the Shiv Sena, has led to the collapse."
Reporting in the New York Times on 26 July 2017, Geeta Anand wrote that Mumbai's mayor, Vishwanath Mahadeshwar had ordered an investigation of the building collapse and that anyone responsible for this catastrophe would be punished. - Anand, Geeta, "A Deadly Collapse in Mumbai Starts With a Shudder", The New York Times, 26 July 2017 p. A5.
The next day Anand, again writing in the Times, reported that Mumbai police had arrested Sunil Shitrap, a local man who was accused of making illegal alterations to the ground floor of the five story building causing it to collapse and killing at least 17 people and injuring a dozen more.
Shitrap, affiliated with Shiv Sena, a local political party, owned three flats on the building's ground floor. Anand reported that Shitrap had "... emptied and broken a foundational pillar, which is why the building fell" according to a building resident. At the time of that reporting rescuers in Mumbai were continuing to search the rubble for survivors. - Anand, Geeta, "In India, Arrest in Fatal Building Collapse", The New York Times, 27 July 2017 p. A7.
How to Spot a Missing Structural Post or Column in a Building
Visual Clues of Removed Posts
Sometimes you can spot the imprint of a Lally column top plate as a rectangular impression on the underside of a beam even though the steel plate itself was removed.
See our photo above/left: you can spot the rectangular imprint of a typical steel Lally column top plate and even two nail holes where the plate had been tacked to the beam underside.
How can we take a photo of a missing structural post or column?
Unless you believe in auras you can't photograph a missing object, but you can photograph and document conditions that suggest a strutural post has been moved or removed. Below we discuss contextual clues that may be helpful in spotting a missing structural column.
Historical Clues of Removed Structural Posts
If a building has been or is being "remodeled", perhaps to gain space or to combine areas whose floors or roof above were previously supported by structural columns or by partition walls, the original building plans, its construction history, or perhaps even jobsite photographs, may show that supporting columns or partition walls were included in the original construction.
Now they're gone. Which leads to contextual clues of missing building components.
Contextual Clues May Indicate a Missing Structural Column or Post.
A clue that a supporting column could be missing is contextual: in a conventionally-framed contemporary one family wood structure with a finished basement, especially if the main center girder is a built-up wooden beam, notice that the basement has been converted to a large, open rec-room.
And notice that there is a long span, perhaps sixteen feet, with no supporting post. Perhaps the center girder has been boxed in or covered with paneling and corner molding.
When this building constructed? Think: given that typically I see a Lally column every 8-feet, I wonder if there was one in the center of this room.
Was a column removed to open up a space?
Has the center girder been reinforced with steel?
Should it have been reinforced? (Yes by a licensed deisgn professional if a required support was to be removed.)
Is there sagging in the floor above?
Are there cracks in ceramic tiles in the floor above?
Do doors stick or fail to open or close properly above this area?
Are there plans, photos, or historical or even anecdotal accounts that discuss removal of posts or partition walls?
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Arlene Puentes, ASHI, October Home Inspections - (845) 216-7833 - Kingston NY
Greg Robi, Magnum Piering - 800-822-7437 - National*
Dave Rathbun, P.E. - Geotech Engineering - 904-622-2424 FL*
Ed Seaquist, P.E., SIE Assoc. - 301-269-1450 - National
Dave Wickersheimer, P.E. R.A. - IL, professor, school of structures division, UIUC - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Architecture. Professor Wickersheimer specializes in structural failure investigation and repair for wood and masonry construction. * Mr. Wickersheimer's engineering consulting service can be contacted at HDC Wickersheimer Engineering Services. (3/2010)
*These reviewers have not returned comment 6/95
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Diagnosing & Repairing House Structure Problems, Edgar O. Seaquist, McGraw Hill, 1980 ISBN 0-07-056013-7 (obsolete, incomplete, missing most diagnosis steps, but very good reading; out of print but used copies are available at Amazon.com, and reprints are available from some inspection tool suppliers). Ed Seaquist was among the first speakers invited to a series of educational conferences organized by D Friedman for ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, where the topic of inspecting the in-service condition of building structures was first addressed.
Design of Wood Structures - ASD, Donald E. Breyer, Kenneth Fridley, Kelly Cobeen, David Pollock, McGraw Hill, 2003, ISBN-10: 0071379320, ISBN-13: 978-0071379328 This book is an update of a long-established text dating from at least 1988 (DJF); Quoting: This book is gives a good grasp of seismic design for wood structures. Many of the examples especially near the end are good practice for the California PE Special Seismic Exam design questions. It gives a good grasp of how seismic forces move through a building and how to calculate those forces at various locations.THE CLASSIC TEXT ON WOOD DESIGN UPDATED TO INCLUDE THE LATEST CODES AND DATA. Reflects the most recent provisions of the 2003 International Building Code and 2001 National Design Specification for Wood Construction. Continuing the sterling standard set by earlier editions, this indispensable reference clearly explains the best wood design techniques for the safe handling of gravity and lateral loads. Carefully revised and updated to include the new 2003 International Building Code, ASCE 7-02 Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, the 2001 National Design Specification for Wood Construction, and the most recent Allowable Stress Design.
Defects and Deterioration in Buildings: A Practical Guide to the Science and Technology of Material Failure, Barry Richardson, Spon Press; 2d Ed (2001), ISBN-10: 041925210X, ISBN-13: 978-0419252108. Quoting: A professional reference designed to assist surveyors, engineers, architects and contractors in diagnosing existing problems and avoiding them in new buildings. Fully revised and updated, this edition, in new clearer format, covers developments in building defects, and problems such as sick building syndrome. Well liked for its mixture of theory and practice the new edition will complement Hinks and Cook's student textbook on defects at the practitioner level.
Straw Bale Home Design, U.S. Department of Energy provides information on strawbale home construction - original source at http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/designing_remodeling/index.cfm/mytopic=10350
More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), Chris Magwood, Peter Mack, New Society Publishers (February 1, 2005), ISBN-10: 0865715181 ISBN-13: 978-0865715189 - Quoting: Straw bale houses are easy to build, affordable, super energy efficient, environmentally friendly, attractive, and can be designed to match the builder’s personal space needs, esthetics and budget. Despite mushrooming interest in the technique, however, most straw bale books focus on “selling” the dream of straw bale building, but don’t adequately address the most critical issues faced by bale house builders. Moreover, since many developments in this field are recent, few books are completely up to date with the latest techniques. More Straw Bale Building is designed to fill this gap. A completely rewritten edition of the 20,000-copy best--selling original, it leads the potential builder through the entire process of building a bale structure, tackling all the practical issues: finding and choosing bales; developing sound building plans; roofing; electrical, plumbing, and heating systems; building code compliance; and special concerns for builders in northern climates.
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: email@example.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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