Usually when thinking about planting a new tree, landscape aesthetics and shading plays a very big part in the decision-making process. However, proximity to your structure should be a consideration as well. While a tree may appear to be a reasonable distance away from you structure, tree roots can spread as far as five time the radius of the tree canopy and can grow underneath foundations and, in extreme cases, through cracks in your foundation walls. These roots can swell and contract during heavy rains and prolonged droughts, respectively, disrupting the soils below the foundation and leading to potential settlement of the foundation. Roots of trees too close to retaining walls can place intense pressure along the rear of these structures, causing bulges to form or even causing the wall to fail completely, as seen in the adjacent photograph. Foundation and retaining wall issues can be extremely costly to repair and greatly impact the lives of residents in your structure, as opposed to removing improperly placed landscaping before they cause structural issues. If you have any concerns regarding landscaping impacting your structure, ETC can help you examine your options before they become a problem!
Metal guardrails can provide stylish, long-term fall protection for balconies, walkways, garages, and many other elevated structures. While metal guardrails can last almost twice as long as wood guardrails, periodic maintenance is still required to ensure they remain serviceable and do not pose any life-safety hazards due to deterioration of the aging railing components. A few steps taken every few years can allow these vital building components to last well into the future of the building:
- Understand your railings. Are they aluminum or steel? Do they have a protective coating such as a powder coating? Are they surface mounted or embedded into a concrete slab? The answer to these questions and many more are crucial to determining exactly which approach is best for maintaining your railings!
- Routine cleaning of the guardrails will help remove built-up organic growth and other stains that could contribute to deterioration of the railing finishes.
- Make sure water has a way to get out of the railings. Many times, these railing systems are comprised of numerous hollow tubes which can trap water that enters the railings through cracks or holes or from condensation build up. The placement of weep holes throughout the assembly and especially at the post bases can help evacuate water from the railing interior, reducing the potential for corrosion of the metal.
- Restore protective coatings. Peeled/missing coating will expose the underlying metal member to elements, exacerbating corrosion at these areas. Recoating railings will ensure this protective cover between the metal and the environment will remain effective.
- Clean corrosion as soon as possible! It is imperative to clean corrosion from steel members before it progresses to section loss. If holes start appearing in the guardrails due to corrosion, more intensive repairs measure will be required, including replacement of the member.
If you are looking for a professional evaluation of your building’s railings, ETC can provide the evaluation services you need.
Wood-framed balconies can look sharp on a building, not to mention the comfortable outdoor spaces they can provide. One of the most important ways to protect your wood balconies and decks is to prevent water from deteriorating the framing. Deterioration typically occurs when water cannot properly drain and becomes trapped against wood surfaces. Consequently, this type of deterioration oftentimes occurs where we cannot see it!
A common location for deterioration on wood balconies is along framing members that connect to the
building (i.e. ledger boards, joists, etc.). Water often migrates behind these framing members and does
not have a way out. Additionally, frequent moisture in this location can deteriorate interior building
framing elements, such as wall studs or floor joists. This photo shows a building exterior following
demolition of wood-framed balconies. The deteriorated exposed framing on the left-hand side shows
why it is so important to protect wood framing from trapped water. What is the important difference
between the left and right sides?
A metal flashing was installed along the original balcony framing on the righthand side, but not the left. Flashing is an impervious material, such as metal or plastic, that prevents water from intruding to an interior space by providing an alternate drainage path (see the sketch below from FEMA Home Builder’s Guide to Coastal Construction Technical Fact Sheet No. 24 for a typical ledger flashing detail). After more than 30 years of exposure to the elements, we can see how flashing played an important role in protecting the wood framing of the building shown.
Does your building have lightning rods? The summer of 2020 brought with it some incredible lightning storms. Without a lightning protection system, buildings may be at risk of lightning-related damage, including electrical fires and physical damage to the structure. For example, take a look at the lightning damage to these rooftop parapet walls on a local high-rise building. Bits of concrete tumbled down to ground level, and the embedded steel even featured black char marks. Fortunately, the damage was minimal, quickly repaired, and nobody was hurt during the storm!
Although the cost for installing lightning rods is known to be high, protection against lightning-related damage can save buildings and save lives. Check out this Lightning Protection Institute website for an overview of lightning protection standards, technology, and design: https://lightning.org/lightning-protection-overview/
As the hurricane season is fast approaching, it makes sense to have an architect and engineer look at possible areas of damage/water intrusion in your building. This is the perfect time to address these issues before any damage is caused to your building due to heavy rains and/or high winds.
Here is a list of areas to inspect before the next rainstorm.
- Site Grading; Making sure that the soil is sloping away from the building;
- Building and Site Drains; Ensure that the drainage provisions (such as roof gutters, downspout, landscape drains) are clear of debris and are operational. If the gutter terminates at the building foundation, consider extending it away from the building.
- Exterior Cladding; Ensure that the building facade components are adequately secured to the building, such as gutters, downspouts, metal coping, canopy, cornices and are not loose or partially detached.
- Sealants; Ensure that an excessive opening in the sealant joint is visually inspected and repaired.
- Roofing; Inspect roofing membrane and associated components (joints, penetrations, parapet wall caps, chimneys, etc.) to help assure that these components are intact and watertight.
The wind driven rains can be very unpredictable and can cause damage. However, larger damage to the building can be avoided/minimized, if the above mentioned areas of concern are addressed before a major rainstorm.
It looks good and it feels nice underfoot, but carpeting is one of the worst things you can do to a balcony. Carpet, artificial turf and similar floor coverings tend to hold water, impair drainage and retard evaporation. The longer water remains in contact with concrete, the more opportunity it has to exploit small cracks and the natural porosity of concrete in pursuit of a favorite target… steel (in this case the embedded reinforcement). When water contacts steel, it usually results in corrosion (rust). Rust occupies more space than the parent metal and the force that accompanies its formation is more than enough to shatter (spall) concrete that confines it.
If you simply cannot live without carpet on your balcony, at least coat the concrete with a protective surfacing; but beware, appropriate coatings are not cheap (and mere paint will not suffice). It should also be noted that carpeting will reduce the serviceable lives of coatings and fairly frequent re-application may be necessary.
It’s equally ill-advised to carpet wood balconies. Prolonged exposure to water contributes to decay (rot) and distortion (warping/cupping) of the wood, as well as corrosion of steel components.
It’s hard to find a building today without concrete surfaces stained by rust. Rust stains can adversely transform the aesthetics of a beautiful building. How can rust stains be removed? Let’s find out!
Once rust staining has occurred, it is important to remove the stains without altering the color or finish texture of the concrete. Two techniques which can be implemented are dry methods (i.e. sandblasting, wire brushing, grinding, etc.) and wet methods (i.e. waterblasting, chemicals, etc.). If surface texture is not a priority, the dry methods can be a quick and cost-effective way to remove stains. If the final finish is important, as is commonly the case with architectural concrete, chemical treatments are recommended.
Mild stains usually can be removed with an oxalic acid or phosphoric acid solution, applied to a water saturated concrete surface. Deeper stains typically require a poultice, which absorbs the chemical solutions and then forms a paste over the stain. Older buildings require more attention with stain removal because the chemical treatments may remove other contaminants in the concrete, creating a lighter color than the adjacent concrete.
The rule of thumb when putting a cleaning solution on your stained carpet or clothes applies with concrete. Be sure to test different chemicals on small, inconspicuous areas to evaluate the treatment. Also, the longer you let a stain sit, the more difficult it is to remove, so seek help quickly when rust stains appear!
Alfred Hitchcock had bird issues (especially seagulls), but in the Baltimore-Washington area, the most common pest birds are pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings. These birds are undesirable if they land, roost, and nest on or in our buildings because they bring unwanted noise, odor, and often disease. Plus, no one likes their deck, patio, lawn furniture, or other belongings adorned with bird droppings.
If you’ve ever tried getting rid of pest birds, you probably know that they annoyingly adapt to many control methods and won’t go away without a fight. After all, they’re called “pests” for a reason. So how do you win this battle and get them to leave for good? You have to think like the bird. Birds seek flat, unobstructed roosting surfaces and they are looking for food. If you take these two things away, they’ll find somewhere else to go.
To reduce or eliminate surfaces on which pest birds roost (i.e. ledges, railings, parapets, awnings, etc.) you should consider installing one or more physical barriers, which typically include spikes (plastic or metal), netting, and electric barriers. Physical barriers are humane, eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions that have high success rates. Spikes and netting are inexpensive and easy to install, but are best suited for hidden areas or where building aesthetics is not a priority. Wires and electric barriers (low-voltage, non-lethal) are less obtrusive and often virtually invisible.
Another great way to make flat roosting surfaces unavailable is to cover them with wood or metal sheathing at a 45° or steeper slope. If you are considering a roof or façade repair/replacement project, this would be the perfect time to implement these methods.
Other bird control systems like sound, traps, aversion chemicals and killing are inhumane, expensive, temporary, and/or ineffective options. We and the Humane Society do not recommend them. As for plastic owls and hawks, they only work on the stupid birds. Savvy city birds aren’t fooled.
The last thing to do to keep birds away is limit availability to food. Implementing better trash management and asking residents to not feed them are two ways to encourage birds to inhabit other areas.
Since every building has its own unique roosting sites and bird access, there is no “one size fits all” bird control option. Be sure to have a qualified professional discuss with you which options are the most appropriate for your building and goals
Always nice to collaborate with others in the industry. Outstanding work by ETC’s Chief Structural Engineer, Chris Carlson, PE and Project Engineer, Luke Valentine, PE. Job well done!
On a recent project, we discovered a “scary” sight – an Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) that was not installed properly. The exposed wall revealed channelized white foam insulation, an inconsistently placed liquid waterproofing membrane applied on the sheathing, several different brands of materials, and incompatible asphaltic flashing to cover the building facade.
The manufacturer issued a warranty for a drainable system, but no weep holes were installed around the windows and doors to allow the water to drain. This cobbled together assembly is not only a problem for keeping the building watertight, but the warranty seems to be invalid.
This highlights the need for field inspections by Certified EIFS Inspectors (CEI) and installation by Certified EIFS Mechanics (CEM) and Contractors as designated by the AWCI (Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry) to help ensure that the system is installed and performs as it was intended.