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How to Avoid a Rowhouse Collapse

by Lark Turner

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After buildings collapsed on K Street earlier this month, UrbanTurf decided to look into how to avoid those kinds of catastrophes in your own home. We talked to Cliff Kornegay, from Capitol Hill Home Inspection, who gave us some insights into how city properties are vulnerable to collapse, and what kinds of steps homeowners can take to prevent a collapse from happening.

A home inspector and a structural engineer can give you tips on how to make a structurally unsound home safe or just make sure your home doesn’t suffer damage from nearby development. Kornegay told us his company has recently received several calls about structural concerns from property owners in NoMa, where lots of large-scale development has taken place in recent years. He also fields calls from people turning adjacent property into condos. The kind of earth movement from that type of development can create problems, especially for a house that wasn’t built with 21st-century building standards in mind.

When examining the structural integrity of a home, inspectors look for cracks, uneven foundation settling, stair-step cracks, mortar issues, moisture infiltration and other visible property problems, Kornegay said. He noted that collapses were quite rare in DC.

“We don’t hear about a house collapse very often, unless there’s some construction involved,” Kornegay said.

Here’s a bit more about structural issues, why they occur and how to handle or preempt them:

  • Nearby development can be a good reason to call up an inspector and if necessary, the property’s developer. The amount of earth moved for large developments can cause problems, especially for people living in old or ill-constructed homes.
  • Many DC properties are built on inadequate foundations or on soil that isn’t ideal for building.
  • Sometimes engineers can install monitoring equipment that will let you know if your home is vulnerable to structural issues from nearby construction.
  • Underpinning a foundation can be a good solution to the problems mentioned above, but it is critical to get it done right. An improperly completed underpinning can sometimes be another vehicle for collapse, Kornegay said.

Photo: Twitter/@MichelleScharf

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/how_to_avoid_a_rowhouse_collapse/8479

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