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How do I know if a crack on a concrete building is serious or not?

One does not have to be a structural engineer to know that a crack anywhere on a building is not a good sign. Aside from being ugly, cracks can cause a lot of damage to a property that do not necessarily have to do with the structural stability of a structure. The truth of the matter is that cracks come in all shapes and sizes and depending on many factors, can hint at a serious issue or are merely unsightly and can be repaired rather easily.

Cracks that are not structural

Having performed thousands of inspections as a structural engineer, I can categorically state that the majority of the cracks I have seen are not serious to the point where a structural emergency repair is necessary. That is not to say that you can relax and ignore any crack. If you decide to ignore a crack on your house, you are risking that the crack is indeed serious and it could eventually lead to a safety risk.

There are many types of cracks that have strange-sounding names such as "crazing" and "shrinkage". I will try to keep this blog at a layman level and do muy best to explain some of the more common types of cracking that the common person is exposed to.

The most common type of cracking is what I would call a "surface crack" because it is of little structural consequence and it is basically what the name denotes. The origins of these cracks are varied but many times has to do with the manner in which the stucco is applied to the surface or the manner in which the plasterer mixed the stucco (maybe with too much water in the mix). If you look at most properties closely, you will see these types of cracks somewhere. These cracks are not serious in the sense that the structure will collapse. These cracks, however, are serious in the sense that they could allow water and moisture into the property and damage the interior or allow insect infestations. These cracks can be repaired by applying an exterior grade spackling you can buy at your local hardware store, or by merely painting the property and maintaining it throughout the year.

Crack that are structural

Concrete structures are designed by engineers to withstand outside forces. When a building is subjected to forces that the property was not designed to withstand, then cracks will inevitably appear. These outside forces include, but are not necessarily limited to, hurricanes, earthquakes, loads imposed by the occupants, snow, and settlement of the soils underneath, just to name a few.

Here in Florida it is common to see cracks at the corner of a house that are diagonal. An experienced engineer will be able to identify the type of crack and, depending on the severity, provide a solution to deal with the problem. Other cracks can appear next to a window or at the uppermost beams that are located adjacent to the roof structure. These types of cracks are easy to point out, but are more difficult to diagnose and provide solutions for.

Structural cracks are a serious matter since they can become worse over time and eventually render the structure unsafe. Engineers employ different investigative techniques and tools to diagnose different structural failures, but nothing compares to the experience the engineer has. While it is not in the scope of this blog to educate the reader about all the different types of cracking, their seriousness, and their consequences, it is important to note that hiring a structural engineer to look into it is of utmost importance.

If you suspect that there is a crack on your property, I strongly suggest that you seek out a local structural engineer to take a look at it. Depending on your area, an inspection and a report will cost you between $200 to $500. The report should contain the engineer's observations, his conclusions, and recommendations on what the next steps should be. If it is indeed a serious problem, the engineer should tell you right there and then.

Do you need to hire a suitable professional? Contact us (954) 434-2053. In G. Batista & Associates we have highly qualified engineers to carry out the work

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How to choose an engineer for your concrete restoration project?

choose an engineer

Introduction

Choosing the right engineer is vital to a concrete repair project.  You can compare your engineer to a head coach of a basketball team. The coach teaches and advises the team members on the best approach to compete.  He can also present a plan that will ensure ultimate victory.  Therefore, it is important to hire your coach at the very beginning of the repair process. Your engineer is the professional that is experienced and qualified to help you through all the complicated steps.

Many people begin with choosing a contractor. This is the wrong way to approach your concrete repair project.  A concrete repair contractor may provide you with a good report and quantifications, but these cannot be used to submit these repairs for a permit. Only an engineer can sign and seal the plans required for a permit.  If a contractor performs this engineering work for you, it will likely be a waste of time for him, since the inspection will have to be redone by an engineer.

Choosing the Engineer

Choosing the right engineer doesn’t have to be a grueling task. A written proposal to complete the job should suffice as a tool to compare candidates to each other. You should ask them to provide the following information with their proposal:

  • Past projects
  • References
  • Qualifications
  • Copies of their licenses
  • Insurance information (Errors & Omissions insurance)

Many Associations have found it helpful to ask the engineers to talk to the Board and introduce themselves and answer questions on the spot. But you must keep in mind that the cost of the engineer is typically a fraction of the eventual cost of the repairs.  All your energy should not be focused on hiring the right engineer. Instead, allot more time to finding a reputable and competent contractor.

Checklist for Choosing the Right Engineer

I have compiled a checklist as a guide for those seeking an engineer for their concrete repair project.  Ask for the following:

  • Florida Professional Engineer License Number.  Confirm if the license is valid by logging on to www.myfloridalicense.com. You can also verify if any complaints have been levied against the Engineer.
  • Years of Experience in Concrete Repair.
  • Amount of E & O (Errors and Omissions) Insurance. Also known as Professional Liability Insurance. This covers the Engineer (and thus the Owners) from mistakes or omissions made in the normal course of the work. $1  Million is the norm for established firms.
  • Amount of General Liability Insurance. $1 Million to $2 Million is the norm for an established firm.
  • Intangibles. Insist on meeting the licensed Engineer in person and any person that he will delegate your project to. Rate your engineer on his communication and interpersonal skills. Is the engineer approachable and accessible? Does the engineer exude leadership, respect, and confidence needed to lead the team?
  • Amount of Technical Staff to perform the work (including required inspections) when the project requires it.
  • Does the engineer have an established physical office? For how long have they had this office?
  • Has the engineer ever been sued or have any legal claims been made against him or the company with reference to his duties as an engineer? Are there any current and pending claims?
  • Always ask for past project references.
  • Does your engineer also have hands-on experience in concrete repair (Contractor) and is someone who can bring that dimension of experience to the table when performing the engineering facet of the project?
  • Memberships in Associations related to the concrete repair industry
  • Leadership Positions or in Professional Organizations (Is the Engineer respected in his field?)

Notes:

Choosing the Engineer1- Keep in mind that the cost of an engineer is typically a small fraction of what your construction costs are going to be. Make your main focus hiring the right contractor and helping your engineer stave off issues before they happen.

2-  This Checklist is to be used only as a general guide in order to help you choose the right engineer and to empower you to ask the right questions of those you are looking to hire.

Final Word of Advice

Engineering contracts for concrete repairs can be complicated.  On the simple side, an engineer can give you a contract that is only for him to provide you with plans for the repair.  On the complicated side, the engineer can provide you with a contract that could include additional services such as inspections and other administrative duties during construction.  Finally, you should always hire an attorney with some experience in the construction industry to guide you through the legalities.