Category Archives: construction defects

California Adopts Emergency Regulations Governing Balconies and Walkways

 

6 died and 7 seriously injured when the Berkeley balcony collapsed. Inspections may have caught the problem before the tragedy occurred.
6 died and 7 seriously injured when the Berkeley balcony collapsed. Inspections may have caught the problem before the tragedy occurred.

Following the collapse of the balcony in Berkeley, that killed 6 and seriously injured 7 others, the California Building Safety Commission adopted me regulations on building and waterproofing Elevated Exterior Elements EEE for short.

The adoption of these emergency regulations will increase balcony safety standards by increasing load design, using decay resistant wood and Inspections of waterproofing before covering with other materials, such as a concrete overburden.

Testimony from the Irish families and victims has helped cause these changes. Jackie Donohue, mother of one child killed in the collapse has been leading the charge in bringing changes to  balcony construction along with requiring inspections.

After Berkeley adopted ordinates requiring inspections, over 800 balconies in that city alone have been found to be deficient.

https://www.dgs.ca.gov/dgs/Newsroom/tabid/72/ArticleID/146/California-Adopts-Emergency-Building-Standards-Regulations-Aimed-at-Preventing-Repeat-of-Berkeley-Balcony-Tragedy.aspx

From Contra Costa Times- Lawsuits Filed By Victims and Families of Berkeley Deck Collapse

Prior complaints by tenants about mushrooms growing out of balcony allegedly ignored.

Reporter Thomas Peele’s (@Thomas_Peele) latest article on the Berkeley deck tragedy reports that the families and victims of the deck collapse have filed a lawsuit alleging some of the defendants named in the suit knew of problems with the deck after it was built and the building occupied. Other defendants allegedly “deliberately ignored” the plans for the deck.

BERKELEY — Tenants of a Berkeley apartment had complained to building managers for weeks that mushrooms were growing on a wooden balcony before it collapsed during a party in July, plummeting six people to their deaths, lawsuits filed Thursday allege.

But their complaints were ignored, survivors and families of the victims claim in a negligence lawsuit that alleges the building owners and construction company could have prevented the tragedy.”

Read the whole article here- http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29110468/berkeley-tenants-reported-signs-rot-weeks-before-deadly

The allegations, if proved true, would leave many of the named parties at risk of being exposed to millions of dollars in liability costs.

I’ll say it once again, decks must be built using best building practices and with the highest degree of skill and materials available, not the most cost effective, cheapest materials and labor. If successful, this lawsuit may just change the way builders hire sub-contractors-today the cheapest wins, the most responsible skilled contractor loses. It’s time for a change.

From Contra Costa Times-As Berkeley begins balcony inspections, records suggest safety problems are common in region

Photo by Contra Costa Times Photographer  Karl Mondon
shows two balconies falling off a building in San Francisco.
The sliding doors are not blocked to prevent access, a
dangerous condition.

An investigative report on Berkeley’s new deck inspection ordinance by Matthia Gafni, David Early Sr & Thomas Peele shows that other Bay area cities with inspection requirements reveals the difficulty in forcing building owners to repair their buildings. Gafni interviewed me on my opinions and expertise on the subject. 

“A rotting deck railing at a San Francisco house suddenly snaps during a birthday party, and three people fall onto concrete below, suffering serious injuries. Posts tenuously prop up the collapsing balcony of four San Jose apartments that city inspectors may soon order vacated, fearing an imminent collapse.
In Concord, inspectors find balconies at an apartment complex badly rotted and order immediate repairs, citing danger to residents.
These details — gathered from inspection records reviewed by the Bay Area News Group — suggest just how common the types of problems are that doomed a Berkeley balcony and killed six young adults last month.”

My personal professional opinion is landlords and property management companies have decided to not fix decks until someone dies. Read my opinions in the article here at this link. http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_28538504/berkeley-begins-balcony-inspections-records-suggest-safety-problems

Signs Your Deck Needs To Be Inspected

We have had a lot of traffic recently to our site from people who are concerned about their decks. We want to assure you that your waterproofed deck probably isn’t going to collapse, but many wood decks do collapse on a near everyday basis in the US. How can you check your waterproof solid surface deck to see if it has any warning signs of danger?

Do use our photograph’s to check your deck for signs of problems and dangerous conditions. If you find these conditions, you’ll want to have a deck inspector review your deck and give you a report with a basic scope of work to use to obtain bids with. Don’t let a deck waterproofing contractor write his scope of work, they may be complete and truthful or they may be adding extra work and profits on.

Even if your deck is in no danger of collapse, water getting under the surface of a waterproof deck can cause damage to framing and the plywood substrate.

1.) Therefore, cracks on a deck are a warning sign. Look at your deck carefully in the field of the deck. Many times plywood moving will cause a deck to crack.

Urethane deck with seam tape showing through coating.
We recommend a professional inspection and evaluation. 

Long cracks in the field of the deck
should be inspected and repaired. 
Some decks crack because of moving plywood. This deck’s
coating cracked because of plywood not being level. 

Cracks at the edge of a deck may indicate a more serious issue underneath.
Further evaluation is recommended.

2.) Rusted metal flashings on deck edges or at deck to wall areas. Rusted areas in field of deck. Rusted railing bases.

Rusted railing bases have lost their strength and now may present a hazard
as they won’t be able to retrain you from falling. An inspection and fast repairs
need to be done in many cases to maintain safety. 

Any type of plant growth around a railing bases indicates moisture
conditions underneath. 

Rust on the metal flashing like this is a sign that further inspection
should be done and a scope of work written.

3.) Ponding Water. After a rain storm, your waterproof deck should be dry within 24 hours to at most 48 hours. Water should not ever pond longer than that. An inspection of the problem areas can help you determine what work can and needs to be done to correct a ponding water issue.

Ponds in the middle of a walkway always create problems.

Water sitting at the wall can attack exposed sheet metal causing rust and leaks.

Water sitting on an edge indicates a high edge. 

Watch for future articles discussing drains and scuppers.

Architects, General Contractors & Pest Control Technicians Have Little Understanding of Waterproofing, Why Does Berkeley Want Them to Inspect Decks Then?

On June 24th I wrote a detailed letter to the City of Berkeley’s Building Department, City Manager and City Solicitor regarding their memorandum of proposed changes to the Cities Building Codes.

They want to implement various changes related to the construction of and methods of waterproofing balconies, along with requiring inspections of decks and balconies on apartment complexes and condominiums, While their proposed changes are well intentioned, some of them are a little crazy in my opinion.

My biggest objection is having Architects, General Contractors and Pest Control Technicians inspecting decks…why do I say that?

Read my letter and leave a comment telling me what you think!

June 24, 2015
City of Berkeley
Mr. Eric Angstadt, Christine Daniel, Zach Cowan
Building & Safety Department
2120 Milvia Street
Berkeley CA 94704
Dear Mr. Angstadt, Ms Daniel and Mr Cowan,
Let me first say that I am deeply sorry and anguished over the tragedy that occurred last week with the deaths and injuries to thirteen people. I cannot fathom the sorrow that the bereaved parents and families must be experiencing.
My background includes six years as an estimator/sales person for several large deck waterproofing companies doing business in the San Diego/LA/Orange County/Ventura/San Luis Obispo areas, as well as being a CSLB licensed (currently inactive) waterproofing contractor for seven years. I am now a consultant and perform deck inspections for real estate transactions and for HOA’s. I have sold and installed hundreds of thousands of square feet of deck systems in my career.
I have been one of the experts used by several media sources for comments and opinions on the causes of the deck failure. As owner of DeckExpert.com I promote the use of Pedestrian Traffic Coatings at our website of the same name for use on balconies, stairs, roof decks and walkways. Pedestrian Traffic Coatings are walkable waterproof membranes typically used on decks, stairs and balconies covered with plywood decking and these are also listed and evaluated as roof assemblies for low slope roofs. These membranes are listed in ICC-ES’ website under Division Seven Thermal and Moisture protection under 07 18 13.
I would like to take a few moments of your time to lay out my recommendations that the City of Berkeley should consider implementing to avoid another tragedy in the future. I understand that there are several recommendations already in the works, and I would hope you will consider incorporating my recommendations as well.
As you know already, the deck that failed appeared to have a Grace 3000 bituthene membrane as it’s waterproofing, covered with a topping slab of concrete. Basically this is the same as a plaza deck, found over below grade parking structures with the living units built using wood framed construction. These plaza type decks must be carefully assembled as once covered with a topping slab, the waterproofing is impossible to inspect or repair without removal of the topping slab. Plaza decks must have a subsurface drain system in place to deal with water that is bound to get under the topping slab.
Plaza decks in my opinion and experience have had many problems with their assemblies in the past, due to the technical skill necessary and the usual lack of skilled labor who understands how to assemble them. I believe that these types of assemblies should be banned from use on top of wood framed and plywood covered decks.
  1. In lieu of plaza deck assemblies, I would instead propose that the City of Berkeley consider implementing a requirement that only pedestrian traffic coatings be used on plywood covered decks. The main reason for this is that pedestrian traffic coatings are “an all in one” solution to waterproofing these decks while providing a walkable surface at the same time. They can be easily inspected and are relatively easy to repair if damaged. Most Division Seven Pedestrian Traffic Coatings are also Class A roof rated systems (ASTM E-108) and many are also rated as One Hour assemblies (ASTM E-119), therefore meeting the Cities fire resistant requirements. Many of these systems can be finished in any number of ways with texture and pigmented sealer as well as stained/stamped etc to look like tile, stone, wood etc. There are several different system types available, leaving architects and specifiers choices among concrete based coatings, liquid applied coating, slip sheet systems and sheet goods. Concrete and many of these coatings can also be used to correct deficient slope conditions, so achieving a 1/4” slope per foot is very easy to do on flat decks that were not framed with slope in them.
  2. In regards to the Berkeley Building Code changes proposed, I concur with the recommendation to require Ventilation of weather exposed enclosed assemblies under Section 1203.6. Most of our manufacturer’s already require this in their general requirements in their CSI specifications. I also concur with the inclusion of access panels on the underside for inspection of the framing.
  3. In regards to adding Section 1404.13 Projections exposed to weather, after consideration, I concur with using pressure treated wood or steel for framing the deck. I do believe that properly waterproofed, conventional douglas fir framing is perfectly suitable for the framing, however, rot resistant materials will certainly perform better if exposed to water over a longer period of time.
  4. Under Section 2304.11.4.2 Wood structural members, I propose that the City eliminate the use of moisture permeable floors or roofs such as concrete or masonry slabs. My reasoning is that these types of assemblies trap water in them and as they are typically part of a plaza type deck system, are not conducive to using them on balconies covered in plywood anyway.
  5. Regarding adding Section 601.4 Structural Maintenance; I concur with requiring inspections. I have several changes to propose; these being requiring inspections every two years instead of the proposed five year interval. In my experience as a waterproofing contractor and consultant, five years is to long between inspections. A lot of serious damage can occur in a short time. Manufacturer’s of Pedestrian Traffic Coatings require as part of their warranty that their systems be inspected yearly. Regarding who should inspect the decks-waterproofing is a specialty trade. In my work as an educator, I usually have a room full of people where 90% or more are general contractors. General contractors are just that, generalists. I’ve found in my experience that most do not understand waterproofing in general and decks in particular. While structural pest control licensees know the signs of dry-rot, wood destroying organism infestations etc, they do not understand waterproofing either. Engineers and architects are generally familiar with waterproofing concepts and can certainly recognize inherent defects and issues with contiguous building materials and would be suitable candidates to perform inspections. I believe the best candidates to perform deck waterproofing inspections are waterproofing consultants. As a group, we are very familiar with installing and maintaining waterproofed decks and balconies. It may sound self-serving and I appreciate anyone thinking that it is, however, as an example, I’ve spent nearly 14 years as an estimator and owner and applicator of a firm specializing in waterproof deck installations. I’ve found that many of my peers were applicators and as we “age” out of being able to work on our hands and knees we seem to transition into consulting and inspecting. The Roof Consultants Institute (RCI) and Sealant Waterproofing Roofing Institute (SWRI) are two organizations that are focused on roofs, decks and waterproofing systems and are probably best qualified to do such inspections. We have familiarity with general building requirements and understand the importance of contiguous building materials needing to be weather resistant as well.
  6. I would suggest that the City add the following requirements for deck waterproofing; these being that building inspectors begin inspecting the waterproofing of the decks as it’s being installed, including inspecting the flashing system and substrate prior to covering with a membrane. Most importantly, inspectors should verify that the deck is sloped or tag the deck so that it will be sloped and they can check the slope before signing off and allowing finish coats to be installed. Once the membrane is installed, but before it is decoratively finished, it be inspected again. As part of the requirements, the City should allow only ICC-ES pedestrian traffic coatings with Class A ratings minimum and One Hour where already required. The ICC-ES report should be made part of the submittal for building permit approvals.
  7. Regarding substrate-the use of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for pedestrian traffic coatings is not accepted by ICC-ES nor any manufacturer. All fire testing is performed using plywood only. OSB, in my experience, despite the claims by manufacturer’s that it’s better at water resistance, is a sponge. I’ve seen OSB expand and it doesn’t return to it’s original dimensions. Therefore, OSB should be banned for use on decks and plywood be the only acceptable substrate allowed. I would caution against requiring pressure treated plywood, mechanical fasteners used on some systems may not be compatible and liquid applied coatings may have issues as well with compatibility.
  8. Regarding railings-steel/aluminum railings that mount onto the deck should be banned. In my experience I’ve found that it is impossible to guarantee a waterproof deck won’t leak when railings penetrate the waterproofing. Only metal railings that mount to the fascia should be allowed. Wood 4×4 posts penetrating through the plywood and bolted to the deck framing can be flashed and waterproofed. The key in waterproofing these wood posts is that they MUST be wrapped with bituthene/Tyvek/building paper and then either boxed in for a final finish or a post sleeve, typically made of plastic/synthetic materials is slipped over and finished on top with a decorative “hip roof” style cap to shed water.
As a general note, it is contained within the CBC 1998 code 1402.2 that openings in exterior walls are required to be flashed in such a manner as to make the opening weatherproof. For waterproofing purposes on decks, metal flashings, be they galvanized steel, copper or stainless steel, are meant for the purpose of terminating our coatings to. All deck waterproofing systems must be run up the vertical leg of the flashing so that contiguous building materials are installed down over the flashing, forming a weather resistant barrier. Counter-flashings, be they Z bar or weep screed for stucco provide the mechanism for water to be shed off and away from the buildings interior.
Furthermore, as a general note, building inspectors and the building department must ensure that proper weather resistant barriers meant to waterproof the decks, the building and the foundation are specified and installed properly. These systems are just as, if not more important to long term comfort, use and enjoyment of the building than framing, mechanical and electrical systems. Inspectors should be required to closely inspect all weather resistant barriers, including siding, windows, doors, foundation waterproofing and the decks and roofs to ensure they meet or exceed code requirements.
I sincerely appreciate your concern in wanting to strengthen and improve building codes and requirements for the safety and security of occupants. I hope these recommendations will be considered and implemented. I am willing and able to appear in front of any panel, council meeting or with the building departments staff to discuss these recommendations. Please let me know if you would like me to appear to testify/discuss.
Sincerely,

William Leys  

New San Francisco Chronicle Article Reports Witnesses Say Balcony That Failed in Berkeley Had "Unusual Slope"

Award winning reporter Jason Van Derbeken in his latest article reporting on the Berkeley deck tragedy reports-

“Attorneys representing the family of a Berkeley balcony collapse victim have contacted prosecutors to alert them to witness accounts that the deck had a “seemingly unusual slope” before it gave way during a party.”

Decks are required to have a minimum of 2 percent slope to them do water will drain of and away from the building. If the deck pitches much more than 3 or 4 percent, anyone standing on the deck will feel like they are being pitched forward and will have to make adjustments to their posture, but will remain uncomfortable. Imagine walking down a steep hill; it’s not comfortable and you make adjustments in your gait and posture.

The same feeling will occur on a deck with a high degree of slope on it. To me this indicates a warning sign of problems in the deck. It wouldn’t necessarily indicate that the deck was ready to fall, but I would, if I was inspecting a balcony with that condition, raise a red flag.

Read the Chronicles article here http://m.sfgate.com/crime/article/Berkeley-balcony-had-unusual-slope-before-6353451.php