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16 questions that help reveal a buildings structural integrity

By Tessa Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:08:00 03/19/2010

Filed Under: Engineering, Architecture, Research & Development
HOLD IT, DON'T PRESS that earthquake panic button yet. But it sure would help to be
a bit more concerned now. Before the Big One hits us (and it?s a question of when, not
if) we should ask ourselves: Will our roofs and walls stay where they are when shaken
to their very foundations?

In three separate interviews, Inquirer Property asked the views of several structural
engineering teams, including those of Palafox Associates as well as AR Esclanda &
Associates principal Agripino R. Esclanda and Jerry Tan Lui. Here?s what they revealed,
and the critical questions you must ask yourself, your builder and/or the engineer.

1. Is your building?s documentation clean?

Corruption and building integrity don?t mix. The Palafox engineering team stresses as
much: ?Bureaucracy and red tape in securing building permits must be stopped. There
may be building officials and government engineers who do not review the structural
calculations or seismic analysis of particular projects because of bribes.?

2. Did your builder study the lay of the land?

Geotechnical studies prior to building are a must. Just like what developer Alveo Land
revealed to Inquirer Property last week, geotechnical studies should be undertaken prior
to the start of structural analysis.

3. Did your engineer ?read between the (fault) lines??

Find the faults. Identify the location of fault lines within the vicinity you plan to build your
structure, so that the structural engineer can make adjustments in their structural design,
the Palafox team says.

4. Was your builder faithful to the blueprint?

Lui stresses that a structurally sound building must be designed and computed by a
competent civil or structural engineer, and that the plans and specifications are followed
and implemented to the letter.

5. Was your builder/engineer faithful to the Code?

Follow the code. To counteract the effects of earthquakes and other disasters,
Palafox?s engineering team says that one should thoroughly review the National
Structural Code of the Philippines to determine if the design guidelines can withstand a
magnitude 8.0 temblor. Esclanda of AR Esclanda and Associates reveals to the Inquirer
Property that ?the structure must be designed based on the national structural code; the
structural framing configuration is balanced and all structural members possess
adequate strength and ductility to safely support various type of loadings combination.?

6. Did your builders account for the gravity and lateral loads?

Take into account gravity and lateral loads. Esclanda notes that the foundation and
structural framing system must be arranged and interconnected to resist efficiently the
various combinations of gravity and lateral loads. Gravity loads account for the weight of
the structure itself, the objects inside it, and the occupants. Lateral loads are the
external forces acting on the structure, such as the wind and soil.

7. Did your engineers ensure that the building?s structural members are seismic

Seismic resistance must be accounted for. Esclanda adds that the structural members
must have proper proportions, and the connection detail is seismic resistant.

8. Did your engineers keep their eyes straight and aligned on this?

Alignments are crucial. Esclanda says that the vertical and horizontal alignments of
structural framing of the building must be maintained.

9. Did your builder check on its neighbor?

Old buildings must be ?reviewed.? Your new building might be safe and sound, but can
you say the same for the old building beside it? Palafox stresses that a structural review
of old buildings (specifically those built during the 1970s or earlier) is in order. Those
found unfit must at least be retrofitted.

10. Has your building been routinely inspected by the city engineer?s office?

City officials must make routine inspection. There must be routine inspection and
structural audit of all buildings, particularly the older ones, by city and provincial
engineers. Buildings found beyond repair must be condemned or demolished.

11. Are the cracks you see in your house superficial or serious?

Cracks tell no lie. Even just hairline ones, found on slabs, beams and columns of a
residential abode, they must be inspected by a structural engineer. And if warranted,
these must be sealed using high-grade structural epoxy, according to the Palafox team.
Lui says the absence of cracks on structural members such as beams and columns and
floors are good signs the building is safe.

12. Is your building at its maximum tolerable stage?

Don?t wait for the maximum tolerable stage. According to Palafox, if possible, try to
implement the ?under reinforced system? on the structural design of a building or
establishment to be able to see the cue of failure/cracks on the concrete before it
reaches its maximum tolerable stage, thus giving an early warning to the public and
officials as to when a structural part of a building would collapse completely. Lui adds
that a structurally sound building shows no distorted or warped steel members.

13. Did the builders cut corners to cut costs?

Take no shortcuts, please. Builders and contractors must follow the technical
specifications provided by the structural engineer. Avoid using cheap and substandard
materials, for this will just hasten the deterioration of the structure. Avoid shortcuts in
labor procedures, the Palafox team says.

14. Have you heard cracking sounds lately?

Listen, don?t just look. Keep an ear out for cracking glass. ?A good building should
have an absence of breaking glass pane and cracking sounds beneath the ground.
(Before they collapse), buildings usually have glass doors and windows breaking
unexpectedly,? Lui says.

15. Is the building perfectly perpendicular to the ground?

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is not a good build model. Lui says buildings must be plumb
and not leaning on either side. A leaning building only means that there has been an
obvious failure in the determination of the building?s center of gravity, or there has been
an uneven settlement of the foundation where the building rests.

16. Has this building?s reinforcements gone over the top?

Watch out for overreinforced buildings. Lui says ?buildings with big-sized beams and
columns and with more deformed steel bars do not ensure structural stability. In fact,
over-reinforced structures would more likely give way in an event of an
earthquake. ?Buildings should be designed to sway during earthquakes, like bamboo
which sways in times of strong wind. In developed countries like Japan, they put rollers
and springs on the (building) foundations to counter the swaying and jumping effects of
earthquakes. In the Petronas Tower in Malaysia, they put a pendulum (near the top) to
counter the swaying of the building,? Lui says.

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