12 Structural Foundation Tips, a Horror Story and a Good Method

Choose the right Expert

Groundworks and foundations are potential financial black holes. They are often misunderstood and mistakes are seldom cheap or delay free. It is as much about knowing what not to do as how best to obtain the support you must have to carry off a successful project. There are a surprising number of so called experts who are ill equipped to lead technical projects with an equally surprising lack of understanding of the subject you are taking to them. This too often results in people leading projects for industry on the same basis as they would approach smaller or domestic works and that inevitably leads to delays, misunderstandings and unnecessary avoidable frustrations. This article helps to clarify various roles and milestones which will stabilise and smooth the path to a successful conclusion.

What do Engineers do?

The best foundation you can have for strength is a strong rock, like granite. However it is unlikely to be the right shape and rock is not easy to shape so what is the best sort of ground to have? Geotechnical engineering is a very big subject and often confused with structural and civil engineering. The answer to the question is ground with sufficient strength to be able to take the weight you wish to impose on it. The geotechnical engineer will be able to tell you what you have got by taking samples, measuring the compressive strength and analysing the materials sampled.

Structural engineering is simply about structures. Civil engineering has become associated with altering the shape of the landscape but its origins quite simply emanate from the civilian end of military engineering.

I divide it up into two categories for the purposes of building and construction. Above ground is everything which is factory prepared and brought to site to be erected and below groundworks, which include all the services works, preparations, slab and foundations works, comprise the onsite preparations.

The structural engineers need metallurgists and the civil engineers need geotechnical engineers. This latter part is something which vanishes into the mists of time until you want some work doing which involves the floor or beneath it so when the information is published at the very outset of the project it usually disappears into the groundworks designs and never re-emerges. Make sure you always keep a copy of it. If you want to develop the site in future, it is the first thing the engineers will ask you for.

Before anything can be constructed on land (or below water) you have to establish exactly what you are building on and whether or not it will support the weight of the proposed structure.

I am amazed at how many experts there are in this field who are prepared to take massive risks and place amazing confidence in the properties of concrete even after 60 years of use. It's a bit like assuming Blondini's tight rope would be as good today as it was the day it was put up and then deciding to go for an afternoon stroll across it in ski boots.

Ground moves, it's as much alive as you or me, there are hundreds of small tremors and vibrations at work all the time and this has an effect on everything we do or make. To just assume it will be safe to erect a mezzanine floor on a concrete slab is an unsound decision which could be costly. The same applies to shelving and racking especially if you intend to erect it on a mezzanine floor. If you load it to full capacity without knowing what you are doing you could be applying the equivalent of a stiletto heel load on balsa wood and we all know what stiletto heels do to lino and timber floors!

I was shocked after structural engineers had stated that a former canal side engineering works should have the floor strengthened that the directors of the company overruled the structural engineers and refused to pay for the works to be carried out. They went on to build cantilever racks designed to take 20 tonnes a bay onto a cracked floor stating that they had done the same at other locations and never had any problems. It's like driving south on the north bound carriage way at 2.30 in the morning in thick fog and saying it is safe just because you can't see anyone else and you are driving slowly!

Why does Pisa lean?

When we build load bearing structures these connect inevitably to the ground and that is where, with the aid of gravity, the full force is finally taken. You can make most things stable and perfectly able to accept very heavy and extreme loads. Steel will float if it is designed to do so and sink and re-surface again. Air will support metal. Groundworks are every bit as important and there are many ways of finding out what is going on in the ground. The leaning tower of Pisa is an amazing and famous example of problem ground. There was much argument and discussion regarding the work to save the tower from falling over completely and in particular how much of the "lean" to preserve in the reconstruction works. The answer was they reduced the lean by approximately 1.5 degrees to just short of 4 degrees and it leans because the ground is very weak and unstable. It was constructed over a substantial period of time which probably saved it in a period when little was understood about foundations. There were a lot of corrective building works which in fact make the tower curved as well as leaning. This is fine as a tourist attraction but you certainly do not want it in your factory!

12 Tips to help you understand foundations

1) What weight will the ground take? Core samples must be collected from key areas for any proposed load bearing application whether green, brown or developed sites. If you don't have the results of this sampling you are guessing.

2) Pick the correct professionals, they are faster and right. These samples are then analysed and a ground bearing capacity assigned to them and some sums, that could look like the ones below,may be done relative to the location and proposed work. If you don't understand them you probably require professional help.

Moment causing rotation

= load x lever arm = [(q - qo) x B] x [½B]

Moment resisting rotation

= shear strength x length of arc x lever arm= [s] x [p.B] x [B]

At failure these are equal:

(q - qo ) x B x ½B = s x p.B x B

Net pressure (q - qo ) at failure = 2 p x shear strength of the soil

This is an upper-bound solution.

3) Decide what weights and loads your process imposes. This is just the beginning. It now goes to the structural or consulting engineer who uses the data to construct a suitable specification for the base building materials. You are never going to see these. Before this can happen they need to know what weights and loads are to be placed on them and how. Its all a bit like a computer, there are several levels between you and the plug in the wall and what you can do on the key board. It is this that is so frequently missed and simply not understood.

4) You need calculations. Once the soil conditions are understood a technical design can proceed. There are pages of calculations and scenarios required to do this. When you take over someone else's property or building you assume the floor won't collapse beneath you and thanks to building regulations it probably won't.

5) Research as much as you can from existing archived information. In order to start a building project from the ground up, the first thing you need is a floor that will take the weight. To do this you will need to trace back the history of the build to the original core samples and calculations, not the drawings of the slab and foundations but the two prior stages. The architect won't have them but may know where you can get a copy. There should be a set lodged at the local authority if your building is less than 10 or 12 years old but if you can't find them its back to item 1 again, core samples.

6) Understand good ground conditions. There are many ways to construct foundations. Before you can commence you need to support and stabilise the ground into which they are going. Generally speaking you will need more than 50 kNm2 ground bearing pressure and most fabricators cover themselves by stating minimally 150 kNm2. The fact is that without this information building regulations won't allow you to proceed or worse still will allow you to proceed and then condemn the building.

7) Organise good control procedures If a floor in its current condition won't take a load you can open up the ground and strengthen it. This is a good way of doing things because you can see what you are dealing with. However disturbing the ground can be fraught and if it is brown ground or very soft ground you might as well bury your wallet in it because the costs will just spiral.

8) Stabilisation options. With the right type of ground you can stabilise it by adding man made resins. This bonds the soil material together and self seals itself so damp proof membranes are less of a problem. As it is the engineer's equivalent of keyhole surgery there is little or no mess and it is very quick. It is cheaper than piling and the ground can be used straightaway once the process is installed.

9) Get to grips with the basic site. With good ground or new works it is always going to be cheaper to conventionally construct foundations. If the ground is poor, restoring the strength is going to be expensive. It is always dirty and takes a minimum of 15 days before you can really use it.

10) What you should be concerned about. Foundations can, and do, cost as much as the intended build on them. They can be a bottomless pit for money and beware of anyone who does or says any of the following:

a) Oh planning won't be a problem - you cannot say that until it is awarded.

b) I don't think building regulations will apply - building regulations always apply.

c) I have already done the building regulation drawings for you - why would you do that? They are supposed to be submitted after the works are complete, as constructed.

d) Well first we will go for planning approval, that will only take 4 weeks - in your dreams!

e) Your building project can be done in less than 6 months - highly unlikely.

f) What are percolation tests? - these test what happens to surface water and are an indication of the drainage requirements and also are used to check they are working properly, for example French drains. The local authorities will expect to see drawings and the results of these tests and might make you dig the drainage up if you can't prove them.

g) Oh the builder will sort the foundations out and you won't need planning for this - this is a cavalier approach, almost guaranteed to cost you extra money. If the foundations have not been done the builder is not going to be in a position to provide the calculations required by the local authority.

h) I know this man who can do that cheaply for you - in this case I would find out who he is and go and see some works he has done cheaply for other people.

i) Doesn't know anything about your business - or want to - an indication that he is working to a hidden agenda.

j) Doesn't quote, advise or know about any of the content of this article - deeply suspicious - avoid.

11) Legs - Finally if you are going to have anything with legs or pillars involved you have to know how much weight it will put on the floor and be sure the floor (slab) can take it. You may be asked to mathematically prove it. If it fails load tests you will need a block of concrete or construction to support it in the ground. I have seen this crop up as an expensive afterthought on dozens of occasions - don't get caught out.

12) The difference between planning and building regulations

If you did the building regulations drawings they would be wrong. The only reason for doing them prior to planning consent is ignorance or increasing fees to the unsuspecting client. Either way your money is down the drain. Building regulations are the main area of flexibility, whereas planning is much more restrictive. Why?... because the engineers run that part so the build may have to vary, but it still has to comply with regulations because planning governs shape and building regulations deals with method and content or put another way planning is about 'what' and the building regulations are about 'how'.

My customer took 5 months to get planning consent with a book of conditions that his professional adviser would really struggle to deal with. If he thought he should do building regulations drawings first he is unlikely to understand or take seriously the consent terms.

Horror story tip

If you think none of this happens I have a customer who was told by his "professional" adviser (who had full professional memberships and accreditation with internationally respected Royal Charter Institutes) that he was going to get planning approval in 2 weeks prior to the government's re-organisation of the local authorities in 2009. He couldn't make certain changes because he had already done the building regulation drawings so the work had to be built the way he had drawn it. This is what actually happened:

• There were serious issues with the highways department that our "professional" knew nothing about.

• He had no idea about groundworks and hadn't even had a ground survey done.

• He obviously had no idea of how to approach a planning application.

• He seriously underestimated the timescales.

If he did know all this then the implications are even worse because he knew what he told my customer was wrong. I would like to say this is rare but it is far from rare, it is common place to tell the customer what they want to hear to get their work. NEVER ever get building regulations drawings done prior to planning approval because at that stage you don't have:

• Permission to build

• Technical designs

• Planning conditions

• Ground or environmental survey information

The epilogue - How to do it right - A Good Method

8 months later his project had still not concluded. It should have taken 12 weeks to plan, 8 weeks to build and 4 weeks to fit out. Unfortunately 6 months was too slow for my customer and then when someone told him it could be done in two weeks it was time for us to walk away. This is very common. This is what should have been done.

• The newly re-organised authority should have been contacted straightaway. They would have had better facilities anyway. Getting snarled up in the changeovers with the demised departments guaranteed this project was going to fail to meet expectation from the outset.

• Consult the highways department where parking or road access is an issue.

• Consult the client with a suggested range of solutions.

• I would then have taken a set of discussion plans (really cheap rough information) and tested the local authority for other lurking problems.

• Don't do the ground survey until there is a strong chance of obtaining planning consent. The survey usually is the lesser of the two costs but you may find the likely terms of consent exceed your budget expectations in which case the survey money is wasted in the event you abort.

• Work backwards from the finished article/design to ensure your ground designs are right. If you think design work is expensive and time consuming wait until you try demolition!

• Only when all this is agreed should there be a move to a planning application. Why? Because if you want a door or window moving or changing, it is a new application and/or associated cost. It could even delay or abort the project so always keep the exit route of least cost open

• Nail down contractors, suppliers and work schedules with fixed price contracts.

• Check for hidden costs and delays. Obviously you need to know where these are likely to occur but that is one very good reason to implement regulations prior to work beginning

• Once the work is completed to the planning terms, then and only then, are the final "as built", building regulation drawings done. Up to this point you will be using manufacturer's drawings derived from the planning consent drawings which is why you never do the building regulation drawings otherwise the cost of revisions would be enormous. One of my projects had 31 drawing revisions prior to the building regulation drawings. Revisions are normal, they are there to save costs and not to incur them.

• You can't change the procedures. The planners make sure you don't try because many people depend upon them. Their job is to help everyone safely use the system and benefit from its supporting role. This attitude is what gets applications through the quickest.

The moral of all this is if it sounds too good to be true it probably isn't true.

How to Avoid Building Construction Failure in Kenya

Of late, several buildings have collapsed in Kenya.

There are procedures and best practices that should be followed to avoid this.

Step 1.

Have the building designed by registered professionals. Architects in Kenya are registered by the Board of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya. The Board of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya is under the Ministry of Public Works. The registration process is rigorous and is a 2- year examination whereby the Government ensures that the applicant has undergone training under a registered Architect for a certain period after graduating from a recognized Architecture School.

After registration as an Architect, the applicant can then register with the Architectural Association of Kenya as a corporate member.

The Architectural association of Kenya also registers students-student membership, architecture graduates who are not registered-graduate membership, building contractors, developers, draftsmen-virtually everyone with an interest in construction.

This begins the confusion in that a would-be developer will approach a quack who is not registered to give Architectural services in Kenya. The quack will then prove to the innocent developer that he is registered to offer Architectural services by producing a registration certificate from Architectural Association of Kenya as a Licentiate member. What the developer doesn't know is that only Corporate and Fellow members have the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors certification as a must have requirement.

I also noticed that even leading Banks and Financial institutions still can not differentiate between the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya certificate and an Architectural Association of Kenya certificate. They insist that for someone to offer Architectural services to their customers, one has to hold the Architectural Association of Kenya certificate. What they don't know is that the Architectural Association of Kenya Licentiate certificate is open to a wide variety of applicants-except the Corporate Membership certificate. This is the trick that is used by most quacks to confuse innocent developers and Financial institutions that they have certificates to offer architectural services since none of the developers will insist of Corporate Membership certificate because they don't know about the categories of membership.

If a law is established to create one centre of reference for Architects-such as with the Law society of Kenya, we will be one step ahead in ensuring qualified personnel offer Architectural service to Kenyans.

Step 2.

Once the developer has maneuvered their way into getting a licensed Architect to offer the service, drawings are produced and lodged for approval at the relevant Local Authority.

Most local authorities don't have adequate technical personnel to decipher the drawings and give the necessary input for approval.

Nairobi city council has the personnel but they are too few to handle all the workload that comes to them daily.
Since the council can not offer professional technical information regarding the approvals, due to understaffing and lack of the technical know-how, this creates a perfect recipe for corruption. The developer's approvals are delayed to the point that he is forced to part with some money for the plans to be approved-usually without the plans being scrutinized. If the plans are scrutinized and all processes are followed, a fatal omission will be easily noticed and structural drawings from a registered structural engineer are supposed to be produced. The Local authority is also supposed to check that the plans have been produced by a registered architect.

Of late, local authorities have been insisting on the architect's registration-registration from the Board of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya.

This is a good step but the quacks and corrupt council officials have found a way of going around this by attaching a 'real' architect's certificate on the drawings produced by the quack. This can be easily stopped by ensuring that all buildings being constructed should have a sign-board showing the name of the professionals who have been involved in the design.

Step 3.

After the developer getting the necessary approvals to commence construction, he is supposed to contract a registered building contractor for construction services.

Building contractors are registered by the Ministry of Public Works.

The developer can either single-source a contractor or request several registered contractors to quote or the building construction and choose the best.

The registration of the building contractor is supposed to show that the contractor has proved that he understands building construction and has agreed to adhere to the best practices as stipulated by the Government.

In Kenya, most developers do not use the building contractors. This requirement is again not enforced in private developments. In Government, Parastatals and corporate developments, this requirement is fully followed to the letter.

The Architect who has been contracted by the developer is supposed to offer periodic supervision of the building construction until completion of the building whereby he is supposed to certify that the building is complete and ready for human habitation. These processes are enforced by the local authority who as we said earlier, are understaffed and don't have enough technical personnel hence this step is rarely taken unless when the developer wants to insure his building and the insurance company insists that they need to see the completion certificate.

In corporate sector projects, all these processes are followed to the letter-that's why we never hear of the 20 -plus storey buildings collapsing in Upperhill, Kilimani and other areas where the corporate sector develops even though the buildings are approved by the same local authorities and constructed within the same laws that govern the individual-owned buildings which are prone to collapse. The building construction collapse is mainly on the individual-owned constructions who do not follow the laid -down procedures and whom the local authorities are too overwhelmed to cater for. If all the laid-down procedures are followed regardless of the size of the project, collapse of houses will be a thing of the past.


Building Contractors - Master Builders of Homes, Buildings and Roads

Building contractors or general contractors are construction professionals that contract other individuals or companies for the construction or renovation of a house, building, road or any other structure. They provide estimates to clients by studying the blueprints of the structure. Subsequently, once a contract is signed, building contractors will then be responsible for the means and methods to be used in the construction of the house, building or road. They have to make sure that all the details of the signed contract will be met.

Building contractors, especially established ones, already have their own equipment, manpower and even construction materials to supply their clients. However, for those who are still starting out, the only way to execute the contract agreement is to contract other contractors, subcontractors and suppliers. Building contractors often work 24/7 throughout the duration of the project to be able to immediately solve problems that may occur from accidents or those caused by the weather. Other problems that may occur are lack of materials, malfunctioning equipment and lack of manpower.

Building contractors also accept projects for different government agencies and they are often referred to as the prime contractors. They often follow the same procedures similar to contracts they accept for private clients. In general, building contractors specialize in one type and size of construction project. Commercial contractors, however, sometimes accept residential projects and vice versa but most rarely take on large scale public works projects such as building industrial sites, bridges and sewage systems to name a few.

Building contractors often start out as construction workers mastering in carpentry, insulation, landscaping, plumbing and other similar jobs. After gaining the necessary skills, they will then work as apprentices or assistants for other contractors or developers. Before becoming a contractor themselves, they should have at least 5 years of experience in the contracting field and have certifications in mastering a construction skill. They are also required to get a degree in construction science, construction management or civil engineering. Many states require contractors to be licensed before they can work and get clients from the area. Building contractors must complete several requirements before they can be granted their licenses.

Other ways of getting a license aside from taking a four year course degree is to attend training programs plus at least two years of college programs in construction science or construction technology. The American Institute of Constructors and the Construction Management Association of America often offer voluntary certification programs for aspiring contractors. Once you have completed the requirements and passed the written examinations, you will be granted your certification.

Working as a building contractor can be very demanding and stressful but can also be very fulfilling. With an average $69,870 annual income and with the employment rate for contractors and other construction personnel and workers increasing until 2014 (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), there will surely be a lot of opportunities for building contractors for the next few years.

How to Manage a House Construction Project

After you have your architectural design approved by the local authority, the next step is to commence construction work.

Careful selection of your building contractor is crucial. Invite several reputable building contractors to quote on the blank Bills of Quantities and give a specific return date for the quotes.

With the help of your architect, analyze the quotes in terms of previous similar works performance, time period to finish the contract and the pricing.

Construction contracts are available at the architectural association of Kenya offices, professional centre, Nairobi.There is a provision for a performance bond to bond the contractor to carry out the works as specified and within a given time frame, failure to which he forfeits a specified amount of money, usually 5 % of the contract sum.

Once the building contractor finishes the contract, the architect inspects the works and if satisfied, he issues a practical completion certificate to certify that the works are practically complete and the owner can move in to the house. This document enables the building contractor to get back his performance bond from the bank.

The construction contract also specifies the amount to be retained from each payment, usually 10% of the contract sum. Once the contractor is through with the contract, half of the retained amount is paid to him and the other half is paid after 6 months-this period is known as the defects liability period. This retention will be used to rectify any damage that might occur after 6 months from taking possession of the house. If defects occur after 6 months from possession of the house, the costs of repair should be undertaken by the owner of the house.

After the 6 month defects liability period, your architect checks if all the defects have been rectified such as leaking roofs, doors not closing properly e.t.c. If he is satisfied, he issues the contractor with a final certificate so the contractor can now be paid the remainder of the 10% retained amount.

The architect also inspects the construction works on a regular basis, usually every two weeks and holds a site meeting with the client, contractor and other consultants such as the Quantity Surveyor, Interior Designer, structural engineer, electrical engineer and mechanical engineer -building services.

These site meetings and inspections help to track the progress of the construction works from start to completion and are useful tools used to diagnose problems, come up with solutions and resolve disputes within the contract period.

If you are planning to build a house in Kenya, Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, this article will be very useful in giving you an insight as to how to go about in managing your project effectively.

Atlanta Construction Lawyers

Atlanta construction lawyers represent clients such as contractors, homebuilders, suppliers, owners and sub-contractors in Atlanta. The construction litigation practices of Atlanta construction lawyers include trials, arbitrations, and mediations involving contract disputes, architect and engineer liability claims, products liability and warranty claims, building design defects, transportation and airport concerns, environmental concerns, public and private surety bond claims, construction liens, and acceleration and delay damages claims. Atlanta construction lawyers are members of the Atlanta Bar Association.

Contract negotiations undertaken by Atlanta construction lawyers are for large commercial projects, homes, and public buildings. The contracts include architectural and engineering contracts, design-build, and engineer-procure-construct, and construction management agreements.

Atlanta construction lawyers argue cases with regard to non-payment, changes in scope of the construction project, timing, and defective work. Dispute resolution options are mainly arbitration and litigation. Most Atlanta construction lawyers prefer arbitration over dispute resolution. Even though it is not very profitable, it is faster and private. But some clients prefer litigation, because arbitration decisions cannot be easily appealed.

An experienced construction lawyer can avoid disputes, as he can advise you about possible problems and take appropriate remedies for problems that might arise later. Many Atlanta construction lawyers work as a team with engineers, project managers, and advisors. The fees that Atlanta construction lawyers charge may be success fees, where lawyers take an amount that is pre-determined; or, they may opt for an hourly rate where the fees is in accordance with the time spent in these cases. Before signing a contract with your lawyer, it is necessary to have a clear view of the issues involved and the budget for the entire procedure.

Internet research and interviews will help in determining which Atlanta construction lawyer is suitable for your claim. It is recommended that you choose a lawyer with ideal characteristics and good personal chemistry with you.