Condo Associations Require Documentation

100_1519As the economy slowly groans out of its slump, a few condo owners finally feel secure enough to work on their homes. You may know, many condos have tiny kitchens, and are dark because of the walls around those. We at CSES Engineering perform quite a few designs to remove the walls, and open up the space to make it friendlier and lighter. Even though the work is simple, we are often called in because the condo associations require documentation that your work won’t bother the fellow above you. We provided a design package for this man’s unit.

Beam Far Too Small For The Load

DSCN1669This young man is quite proud of his house, which he purchased on a few months prior. You can see what he wanted repaired, and the sagging of the structural beam over the garage door is obvious. As it happens, the beam was far too small for the load it was expected to carry – most likely, there were originally two doors rather than just one wide door. Anyway, CSES made one short visit to his home, and put together a package of sketches and calculations that were needed to obtain a permit for the repair work. We also recommended a couple of good contractors we know. The repair is now done, and he is quite happy with the outcome.

CSES Engineering solved the problem by stiffening main structural members.

100_1083This is a really unusual project. For privacy, I have not shown the front of the house. It is a sorority house, and CSES Engineering was called to solve a problem. It seems that one of their rituals involves over 100 sorority sisters in one room, jumping up and down in unison. The house mother was concerned because she noticed, no surprise, some rather large vertical deflections of the floor during this activity, reportedly two or three inches.

100_1081So in cooperation with a contractor and architect, CSES investigated the framing. It turned out that the framing was, in fact, more than adequate for normal usage, and the floor was solid and well built for most purposes. The jumping in unison set up a resonance, in which each jump coincided with the deflection from the previous jump, and made it a little larger. This effect was combined with what is called an Impact effect – that is if a 120 pound girl jumps up two feet, the force she hits with on the way down is much greater than 120 pounds.

100_1079CSES Engineering solved the problem by stiffening a couple of the main structural members, adding new members, and adding glued and screwed joints to create some additional damping of the system. All a bit technical in the calculations, but the resulting structure performed far better.

Property In Danger Of Sliding Downhill?

DSCN1629There are those who can afford to live on the edge. In this case, the edge of a steep hillside, overlooking Puget Sound. Many of those also enjoy a large, flat lawn from which to enjoy the view. These two things are compatible, normally, only with some intensive engineering of structures to stabilize the hillside.

This very nice older lady was concerned that her property was in danger of sliding downhill – and in fact, that is possible. The nice, flat yard you see in the photo is created by building a retaining structure some way down from the edge of the steep hillside, and filling behind that retaining structure with soil.

DSCN1623Decades ago, no one really thought about the effects such construction has on the hillsides. As it happens, the extra weight of soil reduces the stability of the underlying native soil, sometimes leading to slides. Decades ago, this was not really a problem, because even when such slides occurred, they usually did not affect anyone. But as the population density increases, and people build closer to the edge, the number of slides increases.

DSCN1627CSES Engineering was able to advise our client on several ways she might improve the stability of her hillside, and thus preserve her yard. All were expensive. But then, so is such a lifestyle….

Easy Fix For Seattle Home

DSCN1246When one purchases a home, it generally appears to be perfect in most ways. Then the blinders are removed from one’s eyes, and flaws begin to become apparent. Or perhaps the house is actually what we imagined, and it is the flaws that are mirages.

DSCN1251I think this North Seattle home is one of those. CSES was called out after the purchase to address some concerns of the new owners. One of those concerns was minor cracking in the foundation. The foundation crack in the photo seems worrisome, but does not affect the performance of the foundation in any significant way. It is what we call a tension crack, and formed shortly after the home was built (1970s) as a result of curing shrinkage of the concrete. The footing gripped the soil, the tension built up, and a crack appeared at a weak spot, releasing the tension. It has been that way ever since.

DSCN1253There are some minor concerns. Some of the sheetrock is not properly installed, and pier footings for the elevated deck were placed on top of patio pavers – clearly not conforming to the relevant code. A minor rockery needed a bit of rebuilding. These are easily (and inexpensively) taken care of. Not all such problems are solved so easily. Good luck, folks!

Deck Dry Rot Deterioration

DSCN1311It’s nice to have a view. This fellow’s deck was beginning to deteriorate, with unprotected wood splitting and cracking, and in some places showing dry rot deterioration. The deck was built by a previous homeowner, and most like was done without a permit. It sits on sleepers laid directly on top of a torch-down roof.

DSCN1308His desire is make it like new, and he wants to rebuild it, but using a better support system, using new support beams with loads traced down through the structure below. I pointed out that he could do that only if he raised the deck, which would make it higher than the sill of the door leading onto the deck. Water problems would ensue, almost certainly.

DSCN1307He had some record plans, from which I examined the roof framing, and found it to be adequate to support the deck loads as built. After looking at costs for the options I provided, he decided to simply repair the deteriorated wood on the existing deck. He saved a bundle in my estimate – that new design would have been fun, but messy and expensive.

Wood Foundation

100_0887A certain number of older homes in Seattle are constructed on top of wood foundations rather than concrete. Often this was done to save construction cost, and often the homes were built in what were, at the time, outlying areas – so that the buildings were intended for use as cabins or getaways. You will find these in the Alki area, in West Seattle, and Shoreline, among others.

Then the city grows and expands, and eventually the house finds itself in the middle of a neighborhood. The new owner wants to add a second story, or whatever.

This was one of those. The foundation was a combination of pressure treated wood directly on the soil, and minimal concrete in some places. CSES was able to provide an economical design for a foundation upgrade which allowed a beautiful addition to be constructed. The new foundation also eliminated the maintenance necessary when that wood foundation finally rots away. Which they all do, eventually.

Houseboats are restricted in size and must abide to a height limit.

DSCN1343Houseboat owners, generally speaking, are a non-traditional lot.  Houseboats are greatly restricted in size, and must abide, for example, to an 18 foot height limit – this is pretty restrictive.  This particular House Boat is one story, but I have designed 2-story versions, which often take some clever engineering to reduce the depth of framing, so as to obtain the largest possible ceiling heights.

DSCN1340Sadly for me, my involvement in the remodel of this houseboat is coming to a close.  I truly enjoyed working with the owner and helping to create a functional and funky interior space which suited the neighborhood nicely.

I’ll also miss the resident rodent you see in one of the photos.  She is quite old and cranky, but the neighbors take care of her.
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Enclosing Home Carport

DSCN1010This young man had just bought his first house, and it was small. Well, we all have to start somewhere. He wanted to increase his living space inexpensively by enclosing an existing carport. You can see how crowded the home is, even with a relatively small quantity of possessions.

We provided ideas at first, then later design and drawings, and he was able to improve his home so that he had more room.

Sloping Garage Foundation

DSCN1196Steeply sloping sites often are problematic, and many hillsides tend to migrate downward over time. This is frequently the result of gravity combined with rain, sometimes with a dash of bad planning thrown in. In this project, a contractor was hired to rebuild the foundation of a garage which had, over the years, undergone substantial settlement. It was an old garage, but still useful. If you have one of these, you know how much old stuff it can hold, that you do not want in your house.

Some contractors like to consider this a repair. Not so, the City of Seattle. Halfway through the construction process, a city inspector noticed the work and red-tagged the project – which means that no further work could be done until a permit was obtained. Documentation and calculations for the new foundation were necessary, and CSES was on the spot to provide those quickly, so that the construction could be completed, and all of that junk – I mean valuable older possessions – could be returned to its rightful storage venue.