Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Construction Defects

Hazards Can Lurk Anywhere … Watch Your Step …

While on a lunch stop during a recent vacation trip through Tennessee, I happened across a safety hazard that required immediate attention.  The establishment had a raised concrete patio at the front with a steel railing around the perimeter.  At one edge of the patio was a set of stairs with a continuation of the steel railing used as a handrail.  The top edge of the patio had light strings wrapping the top metal bar as accent lighting for the perimeter.  The light string continued down the stair handrail wrapped in the same manner as the rest of the patio.

Electric Hazard Guardrail photo

FIGURE 1 – A view of the subject patio

While walking down the stairs, it was noted that two bulbs were missing from the sockets on the portion of the light string that wrapped the handrail.  The sockets, a common Edison-style base, were open to the weather.  More significantly, the open sockets were in the path of a person’s hand (adult or child) sliding down the handrail while traversing the stairs.  The damaged condition of the light strings due to the missing bulbs presented an electrocution hazard.  While the risk of electrocution may be mitigated if the light strings are supplied by the required National Electric Code (NEC) Article 527.5, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protected circuit, the condition of the light string presented a hazard.

Closeup photo of one of the open lamp sockets

FIGURE 2 – Closeup photo of one of the two open lamp sockets

Further, the wrapping of the light string around the handrail violates the International Building Code (IBC) requirements.  Section 1012.4 Continuity states that “Handrail gripping surfaces shall be continuous, without interruption by newel posts or other obstructions.”  The random placement of the cable from the light string randomly interferes with the continuous profile of the handrail.

View of the cord wrapping the handrail interfering with usability

FIGURE 3 – View of the cord wrapping the handrail interfering with usability

While there was likely good intent with the placement of the light string to add light to the stairs, the method that was used impeded the use of the handrail.   Further, lack of maintenance by not replacing the missing bulbs crated a shock or electrocution hazard.   Beware of these lurking hazards, if things don’t look right, they probably aren’t.

Tom Kelly has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, along with a Master of Business Administration with emphasis in strategic leadership from Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina. Tom’s 25-year career in electrical engineering includes forensic engineering investigations involving industrial electrical accidents, electrical equipment failure analysis, control system failures, robotics and automation components, and scope of damage assessments.  He has conducted investigations for fires, arc flash incidents, electrocution and electric shock accidents and lightning strike evaluations.

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Water Damage from Leaking Shower Stalls

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Have you ever had to have a leaking shower pan for a tiled shower stall replaced, only to have a recurrence a few years later? If so, it is likely that it was not properly built and/or repaired. In most installations, the shower stall is constructed with an underlying one-piece flexible membrane of PVC that is attached to the wall studs before the backer board and wall tile is installed. No nails or screws should penetrate the membrane below the level of the curb of the shower stall. The only opening in the membrane below the curb must be the hole for the shower drain to connect to the house plumbing. The shower drain is designed to allow water on top of the membrane to flow into the drain via weep holes for that purpose. Read More

Corrosion on treated wood deck.

Why Should I be Concerned About Galvanic Corrosion?

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It is fairly common knowledge that the use of dissimilar metals in plumbing systems can quickly result in a leak due to a corroded pipe or fitting. Read More

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Uninvited House Guests: Mold and Other Fungal Growths

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The wet, relatively warm weather recently experienced in the southeast has caused a high incidence of mold and other fungal growth complaints in homes and other structures.  Engineers at Warren Group are often called upon to investigate the cause(s) of these problems. Read More

A condensate drain that has been obstructed by nesting animals.

Air Conditioning Evaporators

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This is the third and final of three articles concerning the basics of air conditioning systems.  This article concerns the evaporator, a part of the air conditioning system that is usually unseen inside the air handling unit. The evaporator, in concert with a fan, supplies cool air to a building interior. Read More

A typical residential HVAC Unit.

Air Conditioning Condensing Units

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The condensing unit is a key component of all vapor compression air conditioning systems.  We are all familiar with condensing units as the noisy exterior portions of air conditioning systems that blow hot air to the environment. Read More

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Air Conditioning System Basics

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Air conditioning systems are everywhere in our lives – at home, in our vehicles, at work, in manufacturing facilities – yet most people give them little thought other than setting a comfortable temperature until they stop working or malfunction in some other way. Read More

Roof drain with membrane installed in opening.

Water Intrusion/Moisture Issues – Finding the Source and Location

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What you see is not always what you get.  This commonality exists in the numerous cases I have investigated for water intrusion and moisture issues in buildings.  The source that appears most obvious and straightforward may not, in fact, be the root of the problem at all. Read More

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Collapses of Decks, Balconies and Railings: An Engineer’s Viewpoint for an Adjuster

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Most failures of decks, balconies and railings can be avoidable if properly designed but when a collapse occurs it usually leads to personal injuries and even death. According to the North American Deck and Railing Association (NADRA), “It’s estimated that 2.5 million new or replacement decks were built last year.  Almost every new home being built today includes an elevated deck or porch. And, existing decks on older homes are being replaced at a very high rate. In fact, the number of personal injuries and deaths related to decks each year is likely to continue to rise because more decks are being constructed each year and existing decks are deteriorating.” Let’s examine the design, construction and inspection of these systems. Read More

Foundation issues

Identifying Foundation Issues for Adjusters

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As a structural engineer, I am often called upon to determine the cause of commercial and residential building problems. Common problems I investigate include doors or windows that don’t open properly, cracks in interior and exterior walls, gaps in the trim, leaking roofs when the exterior covering is otherwise in good condition, sloped and out-of-level floors and leaning walls. Many of these problems are a direct result of foundation cracks, settlements and/or failures. Read More

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