3 Kinds of Structural Failures in Buildings

It is important for you to ask an engineer to make a correct diagnosis of any defects that you see or suspect in your building before attempting any repairs. This article discusses some of the most common structural defects that may occur in your home or commercial building.

Concrete Failures

Concrete can fail in two principal ways. The first is a failure of the material at the time it is prepared or poured. For example, the contractor may fail to vibrate the concrete appropriately after it has been poured. That oversight can cause the material to develop honeycombs or hollows within it. Such material failures are rare because contractors are now aware of the risks of installing the material incorrectly. The second type of failure occurs long after the concrete has cured and a building is in use. For example, the concrete may develop structural cracks due to freeze-thaw cycles. Air entrainment additives in a concrete mix usually prevent moisture from entering concrete that is exposed to the elements.

Steel Structure Failures

Failures in steel structures can also occur during installation or long afterwards. Inadequate bracing during the installation process is one of the major causes of failures in steel structures. The failures that occur later when a building has already been occupied are more serious. For example, improper structural designs can cause the steel structure to fail and bring a building tumbling to the ground. Poor anchorage, weak weld joints and corrosion can also cause the steel structure to fail.

Foundation System Failures

Different kinds of settlement can cause a foundation to develop defects. For example, excessive settlement of the entire building can cause foundation failure. Similarly, the differential settlement of a section of the building can also affect the foundation since the load of the structure will no longer be distributed uniformly within the foundation. Inappropriate foundation designs can also result in structural problems for the building. Construction errors could also cause a foundation to fail. For example, screw piers/piles may have been driven to a lesser depth than was required. 

Any defect that you see in your building may have its origins in one of the types of failures above. For instance, a foundation failure can trigger a structural defect in a concrete column. It is therefore important for you to find an experienced construction engineer who will conduct a detailed inspection of the building. Only then will the underlying cause of the problem be diagnosed. Appropriate remedial measures can be taken once the problem has been defined correctly.